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What is a Penile Implant?

By J.L. Drede
Updated May 17, 2024
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A penile implant is a device inserted into the penis via surgery. It is most commonly used a method to treat erectile dysfunction when medication does not work. Penile enlargement implants also exist, although surgeries to enlarge the penis are controversial, uncommon and not often successful.

Medication to treat erectile dysfunction usually works for most men. Exceptions to this usually occur in men with diabetes or blood vessel disease. Often times men who have suffered from an injury in the pelvis or have had pelvic surgery may also loose the ability to achieve an erection. In these cases a penile implant is usually seen as the best option to restore normal sexual function to the penis.

There are two kinds of penile implants: semi-rigid, or non-inflatable implants; and inflatable implants. Semi-rigid implants are rods that are inserted into the penis. These rods can be easily bent, allowing the person with the implant to have an erection wherever he wants. Semi-rigid implants have less of a risk of failure compared to other implants, but they are also less natural and require more time to heal. Also, with a semi-rigid implant the penis is never completely soft, which can cause discomfort and pain in some men.

There are two varieties of inflatable penile implants: a two-part and three-part implant. Both function in similar ways. Cylinders are inserted into the shaft of the penis. These cylinders are connected to a reservoir. In a two-part implant this reservoir is in the base of of the penis, and in a three-part penile implant it are located in the abdomen. Inside this reservoir is salt water, which is pumped into the penis whenever the man wants to achieve an erection. The pump, along with a release valve, are placed inside the scrotum. After sexual activity, the man uses the release valve and his erection subsides. Strenuous sexual activity is usually possible a month after the surgery.

Side effects for all three of the penile implant surgeries are usually minimal. Scars are typically barely visible, and in most cases the appearance of the penis does not change. Sexual pleasure and the ability to ejaculate are not affected by the devices. However, if the devices are removed any ability for the man to achieve an erection on his own is gone. Occasionally the cylinders may leak, when this happens the implant will need to be repaired.

Penile enlargement implants are less common than implants to restore sexual function. There are questions within the medical community as to whether the procedure is even ethical when performed on a man with a normal-sized penis. When they are performed, penile implants to enlarge the penis are typically not very successful. On average, less than an inch is added to the length of the penis, and that measurement is based only on the length of a flaccid penis that has been stretched.

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