Sexual Health Q&A

What is a constriction ring? Why should one be used with caution?

A constriction ring (sometimes called a “cock ring”) is an elastic ring designed to help a man maintain an erection.

To understand how constriction rings work, it may help to review the mechanics of an erection. When a man becomes sexually stimulated, his penis fills with blood. It is this blood that makes his penis firm enough for sex.

The blood enters the penis through arteries. Once the erection occurs, veins in the penis constrict (tighten) to keep the blood inside. In this way, the erection stays rigid until the man ejaculates.

For some men with erectile dysfunction (ED), the veins in the penis do not constrict enough. When this happens, blood leaks out of the penis back into the body and the erection is lost.

A constriction ring is worn at the base of the penis and helps keep the blood inside. It is often used in conjunction with a vacuum erection device (VED), a tool men can use to achieve an erection.

A VED comes with a plastic cylinder that is placed over the penis. Then, a special pump is used to create a vacuum, which leads to an erection. Once the erection is in place, the constriction ring keeps it firm.

Constriction rings vary in size, shape, and tightness. It may take some time for a man to find one that is both effective and comfortable.

Men need to be careful when using constriction rings. Most manufacturers warn against wearing one for longer than 30 minutes. The penis can be permanently injured if the ring is left on too long.

For example, necrosis – the early death of living cells – can occur because while the constriction ring in place, new blood cannot flow into the penis and bring much-needed oxygen to the cells. In severe cases, men can develop gangrene and may have to have the penis amputated.

Men should remove a constriction ring right away if they feel pain or numbness or if the penis starts to feel cold. If the penis becomes swollen and they cannot remove the ring, they should seek emergency treatment immediately. Metal rings should be avoided.