The penis gadget that sneaked into pop culture: the vacuum pump and its responsible use

A recent episode of ‘And Just Like That’ that featured the device has put the topic of erectile dysfunction back on the table

Sex Men
Vacuum pumps can help achieve erections, but there are a few things you need to know before using one.Getty Images / Blanca López (Collage)

In one of the latest episodes of And Just Like That, the follow-up series to Sex and the City, the man that Seema (Sarita Choudhury) is dating tells her that he might need a little extra help in bed. He suffers from erectile dysfunction. So what is that extra help that Seema’s date needs? A vacuum pump.

“This device is used to help men with erection problems or erectile dysfunction to achieve an erection,” explains sexologist Andrés Suro from the MYHIXEL male sexual health company. “It consists of a plastic or glass cylinder that is placed over the penis and creates a vacuum around it. By pumping air out of the cylinder, the pressure inside is reduced, causing blood to flow into the penis and creating an erection. Once this has been achieved, a constriction ring is placed at the base of the penis to keep the blood in the area and extend the erection. After intercourse, or whenever desired, the ring is removed to allow blood to flow back to the body.”

This is not the first time that the series has made sex products and toys part of the conversation. In an episode of the original Sex and the City, Charlotte becomes addicted to a vibrator, to the point of never wanting to leave the house; in another, Miranda’s housekeeper swaps one of her dildos for a statue of the Virgin Mary; in yet another, Samantha discovers the pleasures of a sex swing. The series has also touched the subject of erectile dysfunction, from men who needed Viagra to premature ejaculation, and in a previous episode of the latest season of And Just Like That, Miranda uses a strap-on to have sex with her partner, Che.

François Peinado, an urological surgeon specializing in sexual medicine, adds an important piece of information that sounds a bit less friendly than what fiction offers: “Vacuum devices produce an erection with venous blood, so they can turn the penis cold or even bluish. The ring should be removed at the latest 30 minutes after its placement, because the blood inside the penis is venous, with low oxygen levels.” In addition, “Metal or very hard rings should not be used because, sometimes, patients have had to go to the emergency room to have them removed.”

Beyond the penis

Erectile dysfunction is still a taboo; the topic appearing in a highly successful series is always positive. However, it would also be positive to see scenes of sexual intimacy in which penetration, erection or ejaculation are not a mandatory goal.

“We often forget, or are unaware, that the erotic encounter, in addition to the possible encounter of genitals, is about the encounter between two people who want to be together,” explains sexologist Sigrid Cervera from the Erotic Museum of Barcelona (MEB). “Regardless of size, erections or penetrations. ‘Erectile dysfunction’ is a diagnostic term that has been widely disseminated, contributing to make an issue of the erotic and lovemaking experience of many individuals who come to the clinic already self-diagnosed. As a sexologist, I prefer to talk about common difficulties and I would add, to quote [celebrated British sexologist] Havelock Ellis, that in the field of sexuality, there are more cultivable varieties than curable disorders.”

Among the items on display at the MEB, there is a Jes-Extender penis enlarger. Cervera warns that such a device should be regarded as a mere curiosity, and its use without the supervision of a specialist is highly discouraged. Peinado also considers the guidance and recommendations of a health professional specializing in erectile dysfunction, or a urologist, essential: “A doctor can assess a patient’s condition, identify the underlying cause of the erectile dysfunction and determine if a vacuum pump is a safe and appropriate option for your particular situation. Additionally, the physician will provide appropriate instructions on how to use the device safely and effectively. These devices, when used well, have high efficacy rates, but satisfaction rates vary greatly between patients and there is also a high dropout rate. The most frequent side effects are pain, swelling of the penis and small bruises. They can also cause difficulty to ejaculate.”

I have something to tell you

What is remarkable about the episode of And Just Like That is not only the use of the vacuum pump for the penis, but also the extended presence of objects related to sexual pleasure or health. After having sex without reaching orgasm, Seema pulls out a golden vibrator to finish up, and her lover takes offense. “Do you seriously have the balls to say something about my device when I wake up to your freshly washed penis pump drying in my dish rack?” she asks.

Is it appropriate to inform your sexual partner of its use, if you are only casual lovers? Suro points out that open and honest communication is essential to ensure that both parties are comfortable with and consent to any element that is included in the sexual experience, including the use of devices like a penis pump. “If you intend to use it during the encounter, it is recommended that you inform your partner before doing so. Communicating your intentions and the use of any device or sex toy is a show of respect and consideration for the other person, and allows them to make an informed decision about their participation.”

“It is essential to overcome the stigma associated with erectile dysfunction and to promote more openness and understanding around sexual health,” concludes Peinado. And the appearance of these problems (and their possible solutions) in the most popular series also helps. “The more people talk about it, the easier it will be for men.”

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS