Hardness: the last 5% can be the sweetest

Many men, including prostate cancer survivors, struggle to achieve and maintain full erectile hardness. But how hard is hard enough? If you have suffered from erectile dysfunction (ED), you probably know that semi-hard penetration can be disappointing. (And it can also be lovely!) After more than a year of ED I have learned a lot about that last 5% of erectile hardness:

  • The exquisite sensation of an erect penis increases enormously when it’s fully stretched. At 95% erection many men report that they feel more rubbery than before, less sensitive, and struggle to reach orgasm. The last 5% can be the sweetest.
  • Full hardness allows the penis owner and partner to adjust angles of penetration to maximise contact and pleasure. Lose that last 5% of hardness and it is a bit like pushing a rope. Many men despair after humping away without the thrill they always experienced before – and a man’s disappointment has a huge impact on his partner too.

Fine tuning your vacuum erectile device (VED) for full erectile hardness

This article addresses medication-free solutions with a vacuum erectile device (VED). These can be used in conjunction with, or as alternatives to, drugs like Viagra or Cialis. I have been using a Vacurect VED for two years now, and this is like the “2 year, 100 000 km road test report.”

Used correctly, a medical grade quality VED produces reliable erections 95% of the time. My experience is with the Vacurect brand. Different people prefer different models of VED and you might have to try an alternative brand till you find your best fit.

Note: If you are too big for the Vacurect, don’t persist with it – get another pump. The internal diameter of the Vacurect is about 50 mm/2 inches, and it is a little more than 20 cm/8 inches long. If you are bigger than that, the Vacurect won’t work for you and there are alternative plus-sized VED pumps to choose from.

Key elements for fine tuning your VED experience

You can get and sustain full erectile hardness with a VED, but it takes quite a lot of fine tuning to get there. Key elements include:

  1. Finding the right ring size
  2. Getting over the awkwardness in the bedroom (or wherever you have sex)
  3. Keep all the paraphernalia handy
  4. Pumping up the right amount
  5. Arousal and direct stimulation.

And for those with foreskins there might be some extra fine tuning because the pumping process can tend to pull back that skin more than you were previously used to.

If you are new to vacuum erectile devices you might like to first read the beginner’s guides to penile rehabilitation and using a VED to support penetrative sex.

1. Finding the right ring size

Experiment a lot with the rings that fit around the base of your penis and help retain whatever hardness the pump induces.

I find I need a range of rings. I use a bigger ring when I am just exercising or not planning penetrative sex. Tighter ones for penetration and full erectile hardness. Tightest (which hurts a bit) when I want to penetrate even though my natural erectile function is at its lowest. Sometimes I add a soft squishy non-Vacurect ring for sustainability and comfort.

2. Getting over the awkwardness

There is so much to grieve about no longer being able to simply get it up and have it stay up. Sex felt so spontaneous back in those days! Now, it takes some preparation. I have to get my partner’s support for that and

I have to bring myself into a new frame of mind: I love sex, I love my partner, I want to penetrate. And to do that my penis needs some help.

It’s OK to get help.

If your natural erectile function is not enough for penetration, get over the fact that you need a pump to get you there. Preferably introduce this to your partner(s) – “in order to make love, I need a little help from this pump.” If you really can’t bring yourself to have that conversation, I do know some men who slip off into the bathroom to pump in private and that is OK too.

3. Keep your supporting paraphernalia handy

Now that full erectile hardness is not as spontaneous as it used to be, it pays to have all your supporting gear handy. Depending on what works for you, that might include

  • Your vacuum erectile device (VED) pump, lube and rings
  • Additional cock rings
  • A vibrator (see here for practical examples with Manta)
  • Any medication you use to support erectile function

Many people don’t want these on display in their homes – so find a private part of your nightstand where you can stash this gear. Private enough and yet easy to access when the mood grabs you and your partner.

I can’t stress how much you and your partner need to be able to get over the occasional pause while one or other of you gets additional help (such as a vibrator, more lube, a pump or whatever). Relax into the journey including the rest stops and help stations along the way.

My partner is really open and accepting about needing all kinds of help and paraphernalia to enjoy sex particularly as we get older, so I have the privilege of being able to say “I think I need the pump right now.” I keep it in the nightstand and simply haul it out and pump before continuing with sex. Think about what kind of conversation you need to have with your partner to get there.

4. Pumping up the right amount

When I first started, I was just glad to have my old friend standing up at all, in any form and for any period of time. These are the joys of penile rehabilitation after surgery or other ED-inducing experiences.

Now after two years I am beginning to be more discerning about how hard is hard enough. Each person will have different needs, but as a friend writes in his Prostate Adventures blog, with the help of a pump you can decide how hard you want to be and use the pump to dial your erection up accordingly. He speaks of a firm but flexible sensual mode and a rock hard wild thing mode.

And if you are feeling like your erections are rather rubbery, or your experience of penetration is less stimulating than before, perhaps you just need the extra 5% of hardness your VED can give you – and a tighter cock ring can help you retain.

5. Arousal and direct stimulation: crucial for full erectile hardness

Everybody knows our biggest sex organ is our brain – and if you are worrying about erectile function it is difficult to engage your brain in erotic arousal. But don’t give up. Find your favourite activity or fantasy to turn you on, alone or with your partner.

And I have been surprised that my penis needs much more direct stimulation than it did before. This has been a learning curve for me and my partner – how do adapt our lovemaking to deal with me not just being “always on.” Recently, we have been having fun with a Manta toy.

Of course it is not just about penile stimulation. Find out what other parts of your body enjoy sexual touch and engage your partner’s attention on them. All forms of arousal and stimulation contribute to your hardness, and to the pleasure you and your partner might derive from love making.

Note for the uncut

If your foreskin is intact, you probably have a more sensitive glans than those who were circumcised at a young age. Be aware that the combination of vacuum pump and cock ring tends to retract your foreskin more than usual. This is because the ring anchors the skin more firmly than usual around the base of your penis, while the pump causes your old faithful erection to blossom to full size.

This extreme retraction can make you over-sensitive. I don’t have any perfect solutions to this, but I have gotten used to it over time. If it happens to you, at least you won’t be surprised. And let me know if you find a good solution.

The bottom line with VED and rings

There are plenty of ways to enjoy sex without an erection. But for those of us with penises there is great joy in getting back to full erectile hardness, at least sometimes. And you can do it without harming your body or taking any drugs. Up to 95% of men with ED can enjoy full hardness with a combination of vacuum erectile device (VED), expertise, persistence and good humour.

Update: a new bottom line if/when partial erectile function returns

December 2023: If and when your body is able to at least partially grow an erection through physical or mental stimulation, or even the spontaneous nocturnal variety of erections that may arise while you are sleeping – then you might be a candidate for the innovative cock rings from Firmtech. There is one model that simply measures erectile function including the nocturnal unconscious activity and plots it on an app on your phone. There is another model that is enormously helpful in reaching the last 15-20% of full hardness and maintaining that during pleasurable sexual activity. You can read more about why it is my new favourite cock ring.

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