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Gordon Lawson has had prostate cancer, high blood pressure, and issues with his kidneys—all medical conditions that research has linked with erectile dysfunction (ED).
Yet despite Lawson’s health problems, the 75-year-old says his sex life is as solid today as it was when he was 18. And it isn’t because of a little blue pill.
Lawson tried Viagra for several years to combat his ED, to varying degrees of success. Sometimes the medicine helped him maintain erections, but having to perform on its timeframe often took the impulsiveness out of having sex.
“It’s like you’re trying to catch the train with your partner,” says Lawson.
Other guys have similar complaints. In a recent U.K. study, men over 50 who use PDE5 inhibitors—a class of drugs that includes Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra—for their ED still reported problems with their sex lives, including diminished sexual spontaneity.
Determined to find a fix, Lawson turned to penile injection therapy. But that led to the same problem: If he wanted some action, he had to stick a needle in his penis 5 to 20 minutes before intercourse to boost blood flow. So much for spur-of-the-moment sex.
Out of ideas, Lawson sought the help of Brian Steixner, M.D., Director of the Institute for Men’s Health at Jersey Urology Group. The doctor suggested a surprising option: penile implant surgery.
Though penile implants have been around since 1973, they haven’t always been reliable, says Dr. Steixner. And when the first FDA-approved drug to treat ED came out in 1998, the majority of men elected to take pills to cure their ills.
But today, technological advancements make the surgery just as successful as oral treatments. About 25,000 penile implant surgeries are performed each year, Dr. Steixner says, and 94 percent of patients who underwent the procedure reported they were satisfied with the results 2 years later.
Here’s how it works: Through a tiny incision, doctors put a small pump inside your scrotum that draws from a reservoir filled with sterile water, placed behind your abdominal wall.
If you press on the pump, it sends water into two plastic cylinders inside your newly constructed penis, filling them up and stimulating an erection.
Urologists can perform the 45-minute surgery, but refer most patients to implant specialists, says Dr. Steixner. Most insurance companies, including Medicare, cover the procedure, he says.
Your risk of infection after penile implant surgery is about 5 percent, says Judd Moul, M.D., director of the Duke Prostate Center at Duke University Medical Center. But those complications are relatively low, so Dr. Moul still recommends the surgery to his patients.
We know what you’re thinking: Someone’s going to slice open my penis? Hell no!
Lawson was hesitant, too, but he vowed to try anything to save his sexlife. “I’m a Marine Corps veteran, so it takes a lot to terrify me,” Lawson says.
He scheduled surgery in time to surprise his wife on her birthday. The 6-week recovery process following the procedure was a little painful, says Lawson, but he knew the rewards would be sweet.
“You focus on the objective—to have an erection on demand—and that overrides any discomfort you have.”
After 4 weeks, Dr. Steixner showed Lawson how to inflate the implant by gently squeezing the pump inside his scrotum. Shortly after, Lawson and his wife were able to have sex whenever they wanted—without any time crunch.
Before his surgery, Lawson says his ED made him feel nonstop anxiety. “It affects your confidence. And it isn’t just in the bedroom or with your partner—it spreads to your whole life.”
But now he knows that he and his wife don’t have to deal with performance issues.
“You don’t have to stop after one orgasm,” says Lawson. “You can go to position number two, position number three—it’s perpetual. As long as your partner wants to go, you have that capability.”