The XX Factor

New Heat-Activated Penis Implant Might Be the Best Hope for Some Men With Erectile Dysfunction

“Where did I put my remote control …” 


Scientists are developing what they hope will be a new option for men experiencing erectile dysfunction. In a paper published in the January issue of the medical journal Urology, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health assistant professor Brian Le and colleagues from Northwestern University and Southern Illinois University describe a penile implant they have developed using a nickel-titanium alloy that expands when heat is applied. The rod would be implanted via a simple surgery, and it would expand when activated by a remote-controlled device but remain flaccid the rest of the time.

Inserting a nickel-titanium rod into one’s penis might sound horrifying to men who don’t suffer from erectile dysfunction, but it’s potentially a huge improvement over other options for men who don’t respond to pharmaceutical interventions. A press release about the paper explains the existing surgical options for men with erectile dysfunction, which don’t typically interfere with a man’s orgasm but aren’t exactly ideal:

The current gold standard is an inflatable pump, but the surgery to implant it can be tricky, involving a reservoir of water and a pump. It can be awkward to use and have complications. A simpler solution is a malleable device, more popular in developing countries because the operation is simple and cheaper. The downside is a permanently erect penis and potential tissue damage.

Indeed, when your existing choices are either pumping fluid into your penis or experiencing a permanent erection, an implant that expands with heat sounds like a dream. Then again, the proposed nickel-titanium (NiTi) implant is not exactly hands-free. “Le and collaborators at Southern Illinois University are currently working on a remote-control device that can be waved over the penis, using induction to heat the NiTi a few degrees above body temperature and ratcheting open the alloy prosthesis to expand the penis in length and girth,” states the press release. God help the man who loses track of that remote control device! Then again, maybe relinquishing the remote control to a trusted partner could add a frisson of surprise to foreplay?

Either way, God bless Le and all the other scientists working to make erectile dysfunction less uncomfortable and embarrassing. Everyone deserves the ability to pursue a satisfying sex life, and if it takes “an exoskeleton of temperature-tuned Nitinol tubing from a commercial provider surrounding a pliable core of latex rubber buttressed on both ends by silastic caps” to get there—as Le’s paper pithily puts it—so be it.