What is a penile implant?

Until the advent of Viagra in 1998, and Levitra and Cialis shortly after, penile implants were the treatment of choice for erectile dysfunction (ED). These days, penile implants are often a last resort for men who don't respond to ED medications or can't take them because of health problems, because of the risk of infection or malfunction of implants.

Penile implants are surgically inserted into the spongy tissue of the penis, the corpora cavernosa, where they remain permanently. Implants can be semi-rigid or inflatable, with a corresponding device inserted into the scrotum to be used when a man wants to achieve an erection.

Studies show that 70 to 80 percent of men are satisfied with their penile implants, which makes them a useful option for men who can't take ED medications.
Marc B. Garnick, MD
Hematology & Oncology
Broadly speaking, there are two types of penile implants (also called a penile prosthesis):
  • Inflatable implants. These may have a two-or three-piece design. Three-piece implants consist of a fluid-filled reservoir in the abdomen, a pump with a release valve in the scrotum, and two inflatable cylinders in the penis. Squeezing the pump transfers fluid from the reservoir into the cylinders, causing an erection. Pushing the release valve drains the fluid back into the abdominal reservoir. In two-piece implants, fluid-filled reservoirs are in the rear portion of the cylinders; the pump is in the scrotum. Bending the penis returns the fluid to the reservoir.
  • Semirigid, or malleable, rods. As the name implies, this type of implant consists of bendable rods, usually constructed of braided stainless steel wires or articulating plastic disks, covered with silicone. The rods are bent upward to have sex and pointed down to conceal the penis under clothing
Most patients choose an inflatable device because the penis looks more natural than with semirigid rods. One downside to inflatable implants is the risk of mechanical trouble, such as a leaky reservoir that requires surgical repair. Most devices last 10 years or longer.

Malleable devices have their pros and cons, too. They are easier to manipulate than inflatable implants, and a single incision makes them simpler to insert surgically. But because the rods always remain firm, their presence is harder to conceal.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.