Cucumber on a blue background and measuring tape wrapped around it

Male Enhancement – Does It Work and Is It Safe?

All too many men find themselves unhappy with the size or shape of their penis.1 There are various options to choose from when it comes to packing on inches or straightening an unwanted curve.

My article answers the questions: is male enhancement safe and does it actually work?

Man with check markI’ll cover popular products, procedures, and exercises to upgrade your penis. You’ll learn what each one is all about, whether or not it works, and what potential side effects you could encounter. 

What Is Male Enhancement? 

Let’s start simple. Male enhancement is a broad term that refers to different strategies for improving the way your manhood looks, works, or both simultaneously. 

This includes devices, prescription medications, over-the-counter supplements, exercises, and surgery. 

Which One Is the Best Choice?

Cogwheel with check markThere’s no particular method that I can recommend to you. Just like any other body part, our most sensitive organs are unique to the individual. 

There are multiple factors that you must consider before you settle on one. Some are a matter of personal choice; others will depend on your schedule and finances:

  • Objectives: Do you want a thicker, longer penis, or are you seeking to straighten out a curve? Are you suffering from impotence or weak erections? Make a list of all your issues (mentally or on paper). Some male enhancement techniques are better than others: for instance, medications may boost your erections but won’t gain you inches.
  • Health: Do you have Peyronie’s disease, Chordee, or a urological disorder? How about another chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure? You’ll need to clear any non-surgical, non-prescription male enhancement plans with your physician first.
  • Finances: Dollar coinsHow much can you invest in your manhood without breaking the bank? Extreme measures such as cosmetic enhancement can cost thousands of dollars. A quality penis pump or a penis extender can be well over $100. 
  • Schedule: Certain products and techniques require daily use and practice. Are you the type with a hectic work schedule? Can you barely commit to the gym, let alone find extra time to spare for penile exercises or gadgets to boost size? Think about this issue carefully before you spend hundreds of dollars on something you won’t be able to bring yourself to do. 
  • Daily activities: Almost all non-surgical tactics can fit into your day if you try hard enough, with one exception. If your job is highly physical, penis extenders may not be right for you as they must be worn for hours. You don’t want to risk something bumping your extender out of place.
  • Personal preference: The quick fix of cosmetic surgery may appeal to one man while simultaneously terrifying another. Some users may be wary of prescription medications and prefer to try over-the-counter supplements instead. It’s crucial to find a route to male enhancement that makes you comfortable. 

Penis Stretching Exercises 

Man doing stretchingStretching exercises involve manipulating the penis with the goal of increasing size and boosting blood circulation for stronger erections. The only equipment you’ll need to try this type of male enhancement is your hands.

There are different ways to approach it. You can experiment with pulling your penis side to side, or milk it in a semi-erect state. There are plenty of guides and routines available from stretching enthusiasts online. You can see our in-depth jelqing guide here

Repeated massaging, stretching, and pulling of the penis supposedly promotes growth at a cellular level. Cytokinesis (cell division) occurs through microtears prompted by the constant stimulation over time.2

As the penis is not a muscle and can’t be built up, the only way it can grow larger is through new tissue production.

Physical stimulation, such as male enhancement massage, can increase blood flow to the targeted area.3 The regular hands-on attention could translate to more powerful erections. 

Do Penis Stretching Exercises Work?

Foot massageThere are few studies investigating penile stretching exercises. That doesn’t necessarily mean massaging your penis on a regular basis is a bad idea, but you might not see the dramatic results you’re hoping for. 

Are They Safe?

Overall, stretching exercises are safe if you apply common sense and monitor your penis as you work. Popular techniques such as jelqing involves repetitive motions, which can become painful if you use too much force or your skin is dry.4

If you do decide to try this form of male enhancement, don’t overdo it. You can cause bruising or skin irritation if you overhandle your penis. 

Prescription Male Enhancement Drugs 

Medicine bottle and pillsThis category of male enhancement consists of pharmacological agents used to treat erectile troubles. These can only be prescribed by your doctor—you won’t be able to buy them on your own. They’re classed according to how you use them:

  • Oral agents (taken by mouth).
  • Topical agents (applied directly to the penis in the form of creams or gels).

Pills

PillThere are lots of varieties of male enhancement pills on the market, but they all work in more or less the same way. They affect chemical processes in your body that help and hinder erections to stop you from losing your hard-on halfway through the intercourse. You take your pill 30 to 60 minutes before the action starts.

The majority are PDE5 inhibitors, which work by interfering with phosphodiesterase enzymes.5 High levels of these enzymes can weaken your erections, or prevent them from happening at all.6 Pills that we’ve all heard of such as Cialis or Viagra are PDE5 inhibitors.7 

Do Male Enhancement Pills Work?

Hand holding a trophyYes, (ED) erectile dysfunction pills generally have a high success rate. One study revealed that 80 percent of men taking PDE5 pills for ED showed improvement after three months.8

These medications are generally the first-line treatment doctors prescribe for ED. However, the triumph (or failure) of the pills will rely on your compliance. If you stop taking the male enhancement pills, your failing erections may make an unwanted return.9

Are They Safe?

PDE5 inhibitors are generally considered to be both practical and safe for long-term use for the average healthy man.10 Those of you taking nitrates for a heart condition; or alpha-blockers for urinary afflictions will have to give these drugs a miss. Your blood pressure could drop to dangerously low levels.11

Head with thunderNote that some users face unpleasant side effects while taking these drugs. Symptoms can include:

  • Nausea.
  • Headache.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Sinus congestion.
  • Urinary tract infections.
  • Priapism (an erection that won’t subside).

If you find yourself dealing with these problems, speak to your doctor. You might be switched to a lower dosage of pill or a different brand.

Creams

Skin creamCreams are an alternative to pills for men who aren’t tolerating the treatment well. They’re also a possibility for those of you on other medications who can’t take pills.

These topical solutions generally contain alprostadil, a drug that encourages your blood vessels to expand. Such creams tend to work faster than pills; within 15 minutes of application.12 

Do Male Enhancement Creams Work?

These creams are the second line of approach most physicians will take to tackle erectile dysfunction. Research has proven that they are effective and well-tolerated by most men who don’t have the choice of taking pills.13

Are They Safe?

Man with helmetA trial investigating the effects of topical alprostadil demonstrated that participants didn’t experience any seriously off-putting effects. Many of the men did report skin discomfort, which means that creams may not be appropriate for allergy-prone users.14 

If you have sex bare-back with a long-term partner, you’ll also have to gauge how they respond to the cream. You don’t want to set your significant other’s nether-regions aflame literally.

Injections

Injecting drugs directly into the penis is a last-resort alternative for severe cases of ED. As with creams, the main ingredient is typically alprostadil.

Do Male Enhancement Injections Work?

Injections are proven to work, and patients are usually satisfied with treatment. The drop-out rate is higher than with male enhancement drugs administered orally or topically. That shouldn’t be too surprising: most of us are naturally opposed to having a needle anywhere near our penises.15

Are They Safe?

Injections are generally deemed safe for long-term treatment as long as patients follow up with the prescribing doctor and are trained in self-injection.16

It’s important to understand correct injection procedures before you head home. Possible side effects due to human error or a bad reaction to the drug can include:

  • Bruising.
  • Fibroids.
  • Pain.
  • Priapism (an erection that won’t subside).

Male Enhancement Supplements 

Bottle with supplementThe male enhancement supplement industry is a profitable one. These are non-prescription so-called “nutraceuticals.” Most claim to be capable of enlarging your penis, building up your erections, or both for a full penile upgrade.

Most of these formulas make use of natural ingredients to boost testosterone. As you likely already know, that’s the hormone responsible for all our most vital male features. That includes erections, penile growth during puberty, muscle growth, and more.17

Do Male Enhancement Supplements Work?

No pillsAny supplement promising to gain you inches is outright lying. There are no pills (of any sort) that can enlarge your penis. If there were, the creators would be among the richest people on the planet.

There are natural ingredients that can heighten testosterone and thus possibly combat weak or failing erections. Depending on the formula of the brand you buy, they can work to heighten your libido and have other positive effects.18

There is a caveat to that good news, though. Studies on individual brands are limited, and each person will react differently. 

Are They Safe?

Unfortunately, the male enhancement supplement market is not well-regulated. Dodgy manufacturers may promise their products are all-natural but incorporate pharmaceutical ingredients in their formula.19

FlagsEvery country has separate definitions and registration procedures for these supplements. If you’re ordering something from abroad, you can’t always be sure of how safe it is. 

Many male enhancement supplements tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were found to contain unlisted ingredients. If you don’t know what’s in the product, you can’t predict how you’ll react to it.20

Note that even approved testosterone-boosting supplements come with risks. These can range from mild (nausea and heart palpitations) to severe (stroke and heart attack).21

If you do decide to try one of these supplements, bear in mind these tips:

  • Box with handsTry to purchase a male enhancement supplement from a registered, reputable manufacturer rather than a random, unknown seller.
  • Read reviews from real buyers and research the product thoroughly.
  • Check with your doctor to see if the formula will mess with any medications you’re already taking.
  • Look for male enhancement supplements that are FDA-approved or approved by a similar organization from the country of origin. 
  • If you start feeling sick after you take the supplement (e.g., a constantly upset stomach), stop taking it and see if you get better.

Non-Prescription Male Enhancement Creams 

Cream packYou’ve probably come across these creams in the adult aisle of your local pharmacy or supermarket. These are male enhancement solutions that use natural vasodilators (compounds that enhance blood flow) to get you fuller and harder erections.

As with supplements, the ingredients can vary based on the brand you buy. Some might also contain menthol or other substances to encourage mild swelling for erections. How quickly male enhancement creams work will vary. 

Do Non-Prescription Male Enhancement Creams Work? 

The effectiveness of a non-prescription cream will depend wholly on the formula. Animal trials have shown Butea Superba, a common herbal ingredient in male enhancement creams, worked to improve rat erections.22

LeafA human trial on the herb showed that 82 percent of patients benefited from an improvement in erection quality. It isn’t clear if the male enhancement herb was topical or not in the overview, though.23

There isn’t much scientific research on these creams as of yet. As with oral supplements, there is an abundance of products available for sale, each with unique formulas.

Are They Safe?

Much like male enhancement supplements, I can’t tell you if the cream you choose is 100 percent safe or not. Hidden ingredients can provoke nasty reactions, such as swelling, burning, skin irritation, or pain. 

You may not know you are allergic to something until your penis is slathered in cream. Perform a small skin test (elsewhere on your body) before you move to your manhood. Follow the same precautions I advised for buying male enhancement supplements:

  • Research dataResearch your male enhancement cream of choice thoroughly online. Find out what side effects, if any, users have discussed.
  • Buy from a manufacturer that is well-known and has a good reputation. A cheap cream online may seem intriguing, but could also be ineffective or dangerous.
  • Lean towards male enhancement creams that are approved by the FDA or a similar organization from the country of origin (e.g., a CE marking for European creams).

Penis Pumps

PumpPenis pumps are vacuum devices that form pressure around your penis to force an erection. Blood gets drawn into your penis as the vacuum increases. They’re sold without the need for a prescription, and almost any man can learn to use one. 

With time, the repeated vacuuming stretches your manhood out. As with manual exercises, this will encourage cytokinesis (cell division) and tissue growth.

Some models use water (hydraulic pressure) to create a vacuum, whereas others use air. The latter can be either manual or automatic. For obvious reasons, hydraulic pumps are always manual—electricity and water don’t mix.

These gadgets are advertised for the treatment of Peyronie’s disease, erectile dysfunction, rehabilitation therapy, and enlarging inadequate measurements.

CalendarYou have to use your penis pump daily or at least several times a week to see significant changes in your manhood’s appearance. Sessions usually range from 15 to 20 minutes at a time, variant on the pump manufacturer.

Do Penis Pumps Work?

Penis pumps are effective in rehabilitating penises following traumatic surgical procedures, such as radical prostatectomy. Regular vacuum therapy works to prevent length loss and produce instant erections.24

The vacuum principle of the pump can get you hard even if your penis has nerve damage. These male enhancement devices have a 90-percent reported success rate from men coping with both acute and chronic erectile dysfunction.25

WrenchVacuum therapy can also work to repair curvature as a result of injury (Peyronie’s disease). Out of 31 patients in one study, 21 reduced their curves by five to 25 degrees.26

As for enlargement, not too much research has been done on penis pumps for the purpose of enhancing dimensions. A trial showed men who pumped their penises for six months on a daily basis enjoyed a 10 percent increase in length.27

Are Penis Pumps Safe?

Penis pumps are safe if used as directed. Safety is contingent on buying your device from a quality manufacturer. A poorly-made penis pump isn’t likely to work well and could hurt you.

Users with diagnosed trauma to the genital region must receive medical clearance. If you have a urological condition, have had surgery, or your curve is pronounced, check with a doctor. Otherwise, your male enhancement experiments may worsen existing problems.

Read the instructions of your chosen product carefully. You don’t want to use your pump carelessly or to excess, or you could see:

  • Bruising.
  • Numbness or coldness.
  • Blue-tinged skin.
  • Blisters.
  • Skin irritation.
  • Pain or soreness.

Penis Extenders

Male legsPenis extenders use traction to enhance your manhood slowly but surely. Cytokinesis is the mechanism at play here, to stimulate tissue growth by way of cell division. That includes straightening out bent penises, adding to your length and girth, and improving erectile function.

These are the most time-intensive devices on the list. To see the effects, you have to wear your extender for at least several hours a day on a daily basis. 

What your extender looks like and how it’s worn is brand-dependent. Some models use straps; others use rods. There are penis extenders that include a vacuum suction component too.

Do Penis Extenders Work?

Penis extenders (read our guide) have a well-documented track record of successful, non-invasive enlargements. They can stop you from losing length following surgeries like a prosthesis implant.28

One trial showed a modest increase in flaccid and erect length. Participants with mild erectile dysfunction also had normal function restored after nine months.29

Data studyAnother study revealed that penis extenders could thicken your penis out as well as lengthen it. Participants used their devices daily for up to nine hours a day for six months.30

They’re an excellent choice for treating Peyronie’s, particularly if combined with other treatments (e.g., injections to dissolve plaque build-up).31 Doctors have started to prescribe penis extenders as an alternative to more invasive treatments, such as surgery.

Are They Safe?

Like penis pumps, penis extenders shouldn’t be purchased or used thoughtlessly. Consult your doctor if you’ve had penile surgery or medical troubles with your penis in the past. 

Aim to buy an extender from a manufacturer that’s well-known. You don’t want to trap your manhood in a shoddily-constructed device. 

Make sure you understand how to assemble and wear your model. If the penis extender is supposed to be removed every two hours, don’t pretend that doesn’t apply to you. 

Hand with weightsThe rules are in place to prevent you from exhausting your penis. You wouldn’t go to the gym and start lifting 200 pounds straight away, would you? 

Traction levels should be increased slowly to allow you to adjust. If you push it too far or misuse your product, you might suffer from:

  • Pain and soreness.
  • Swelling.
  • Blisters.
  • Skin irritation.
  • Blue-tinged skin.
  • Numbness or coldness. 

Penis Enhancement Surgeries

ScalpelThere are two types of penis enhancement surgeries: medical and cosmetic. Medical surgeries are for correcting a defect, such as Peyronie’s disease or serious erectile dysfunction. 

Cosmetic male enhancement operations are exclusively for lengthening your member out. I’ll discuss both in this section.

Note that most doctors will likely recommend other male enhancement strategies first. Surgery shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if you’re doing it for non-medical reasons. 

Prosthetic Implants 

These are implants that are inserted into your penis to serve as a permanent cure for stubborn impotence. The surgery usually takes one hour to perform, and you should be able to head home the same day.32

You’ll resume sexual activities six weeks after the procedure, barring any complications.

Muscle with plus signsSome prosthetic implants allow your penis to be adjusted manually into an erect state. Others include a built-in pump that you squeeze (e.g., located in your groin) to initiate a hard-on.

Do Prosthetic Implants Work?

Prosthetic implants are durable and considered effective in treating erectile dysfunction that doesn’t respond to any other treatment. As the implant doesn’t depend on blood flow or your mood to stiffen your penis, they’re a guaranteed erection every time.33

Are They Safe?

A modern male enhancement implant should last for five to ten years. Nonetheless, the device can break down, although it’s unlikely. There’s also a small risk (less than two percent) of infection eight to ten years out.34

First aid kitRight after the procedure is when complications, if any, are most likely to manifest. Following post-operative care instructions and choosing a qualified doctor will lower the chances of anything going wrong.35

Patients who have had their prostates removed (radical prostatectomy) could lose penile length after male enhancement implant surgery.36 There are techniques to prevent this from happening, such as vacuum or traction therapy.

Enlargement Surgeries

Numerous techniques have been developed to enlarge our phalluses by way of surgery. Surgeons will occasionally combine more than one surgery for maximum results. For example, performing a straightening procedure alongside a lengthening one.

Extra extra largeI’ve detailed common enlargement operations and short overviews of each here:37

  • Augmentation: Fat or another substance (e.g., silicone) is grafted onto the penis to enhance length and girth.
  • Suspensory ligament release: Doctors release (cut through) the ligament at the base of your member to allow the penis to point at an obtuse angle, granting the illusion of increased length. This operation is usually done in conjunction with a V-Y advancement and augmentation.
  • V-Y advancement: A V-shaped incision is made down the shaft of the penis. The skin is then pulled to elongate the penis and closed in a Y-shape. This operation is almost always performed with another procedure, such as augmentation or suspensory ligament release.
  • Sliding elongation: This operation is primarily for men with severe impotence or a loss of length after straightening surgery to fix a curve. Incisions are made inside the penis to space out and lengthen the tissue, with a prosthesis filling the gaps.
  • Suprapubic lipectomy: A suprapubic lipectomy isn’t for the penis itself. Rather, extra fat hanging over the pubic area is removed to make your member appear larger.
  • Flap reconstruction: Similar to a V-Y advancement, flaps of skin are cut from the penis and restructured to enhance length. There are several ways of performing this operation (free flaps, regional flaps, and local flaps). 
  • Penile disassembly: Tissue inside the penis, behind your glans, is removed to make way for a cartilage graft to improve length. 
  • Do Enlargement Surgeries Work?

    Body with scalpelYes, if a qualified surgeon undertakes these surgeries, then they usually produce the expected results. Patient satisfaction will depend on what the individual was expecting, and whether or not doctors were clear about how many inches would be gained.

    Are They Safe?

    Enlargement surgeries are universally invasive, meaning there is always a risk of complications.38 Men who have had these procedures have reported:

    • Deformity.
    • Shortening or length loss.
    • Scarring.
    • Sexual dysfunction.
    • Disappointment with the results.

Again, surgery is viewed as a final resort when all other male enhancement treatments and devices have failed. It isn’t a quick and easy solution to your size woes. 

Infection can strike if you don’t care for your manhood as directed, and the change may not be as drastic as you desired.

Summary

StarsThere are a plethora of paths you can go down to kickstart your male enhancement journey. There’s an appropriate method for every man; it’s a question of finding what works for you.

I recommend beginning with non-invasive tactics first. Buy a penis pump or a penis extender and see how well your manhood does with it. Chat with your physician about medications to ameliorate your flagging erections, if that’s your trouble. 

Surgery might be tempting if you want instantaneous results, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor who won’t advise you against it without trying something less extreme first. 

This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Nazish Idrees Chaudhary in October 2019

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The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.

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