A penile prosthesis is another treatment option for men with erectile dysfunction. These devices are either malleable (bendable) or inflatable. The simplest type of prosthesis consists of a pair of malleable rods surgically implanted within the erection chambers of the penis. With this type of implant the penis is always semi-rigid and merely needs to be lifted or adjusted into the erect position to initiate sex. This type of implant is a good choice for men with spinal cord injuries and/or limited hand strength. Today, many men choose a hydraulic, inflatable prosthesis, which allows them to have an erection when they choose, and it's easier to conceal. It is also more natural.
A penile implant is usually used when there is a clear medical cause for ED and when the problem is unlikely to resolve or improve naturally or with other medical treatments. Sometimes a penile prosthesis is implanted during surgery to reconstruct the penis when scarring has caused erections to curve (Peyronie's disease) or to treat severe cases of recurrent prolonged erections (priapism).
Penile implant surgeries take about an hour and are typically done in an outpatient center. A man can resume sexual intercourse by 6 weeks after surgery.
How Does the Penile Prosthesis Work?
The inflatable penile prosthesis consists of two attached cylinders -- a reservoir and a pump -- which are placed surgically in the body. The two cylinders are inserted in the penis and connected by tubing to a separate reservoir of saline. The reservoir is implanted under the rectus muscles in the lower abdomen. A pump is also connected to the system and sits under the loose skin of the scrotal sac, between the testicles.
This penile prosthesis is referred to as a 3-piece inflatable penile prosthesis, due to the three different components. A 2-piece inflatable penile prosthesis consists of only two components: the attached cylinders and the combined reservoir and pump unit. Instead of the reservoir being placed behind the groin, it is combined with the pump into one housing unit that fits comfortably within the scrotum. The advantage of a 2-piece prosthesis in that the surgery is shorter and less complicated and there is no device parts in the abdomen. The disadvantage of the 2-piece prosthesis is that the smaller reservoir may not result in adequate erections in some men.
To inflate the prosthesis, the man presses on the pump. The pump transfers saline from the reservoir to the cylinders in the penis, inflating them and causing an erection. Pressing on a deflation valve at the base of the pump returns the fluid to the reservoir, deflating the penis and returning it to the normal flaccid state.
Is the Prosthesis Noticeable?
While men who have had the prosthesis surgery can see the small surgical scar where the bottom of the penis meets the scrotal sac, or in the lower abdomen just above the penis, other people probably will be unable to tell that a man has an inflatable penile prosthesis. Most men would not be embarrassed in a locker room or public restroom, for example.
What Is Sex Like With the Prosthesis?
When the penis is inflated, the prosthesis makes the penis stiff and thick, similar to a natural erection. Most men rate the erection as shorter than their normal erection; however, newer models have cylinders that may increase the length, thickness, and stiffness of the penis.
A penile prosthesis does not change sensation on the skin of the penis or a man's ability to reach orgasm. Ejaculation is not affected. Once a penile prosthesis is put in, however, it may destroy the natural erection reflex. Men usually cannot get an erection without inflating the implant. If the implant is removed, the man may never again have natural erections.
How Effective Are the Implants?
About 90%-95% of inflatable prosthesis implants produce erections suitable for intercourse. Satisfaction rates with the prosthesis are very high, and typically 80%-90% of men are satisfied with the results and say they would choose the surgery again.
Is the Implant Safe?
No surgery is totally free of possible complications. Complications associated with penile implants include:
- Uncontrolled bleeding after the surgery possibly leading to re-operation
- Scar tissue formation
- Erosion (tissue around the implant may break down) requiring removal
- Mechanical failure leading to re-operation and removal
Will Insurance Cover the Cost of the Penis Prosthesis Implant?
Insurance coverage for these operations is often good, as long as a medical cause of ED is established. Medicare covers the surgery, but Medicaid does not, except under extreme circumstances in certain states.