A recent communique, published in the journal European Urology, has generated an understandable wave of press coverage. It essentially suggests that a possible way to stem premature ejaculation (PE) in men involves the use of mild electrical shocks to the lower leg.
Before we get into the somewhat messy details of this, however, let’s backtrack a little.
PE is a widespread problem that’s largely based on perception. As noted by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), it’s loosely defined as a male ejaculation that occurs “too quickly during sexual intercourse”. It’s generally based on average ejaculation times that men have self-reported, with an average of around 5.5 minutes cropping up in various places.
The point, as the NHS emphasizes, is that it’s up to each individual and couple whether or not an ejaculation time is “premature” or not. Sex has no defined average duration, and it’s (clearly) about a lot more than just reaching the, ahem, finish line for the man.
Saying that, some individuals do have a problem with the speed in which they unleash their load, and there's a range of reasons put forward as to why this may happen, from the psychological to the physiological. Similarly, there are various treatments available with wildly varying efficacies, and there’s not much of a consensus as to what works and what doesn’t for each unique case.
A recent review of pharmacological methods to treat PE, also published in European Urology, concluded that the efficacy of plenty of commonly available drugs “remains unclear”, and that only one seems to have any significant effect on the issue.
Indeed, this new paper’s researchers – all from the Bursa Yuksek Ihtisas Training and Research Hospital in Turkey – are also clearly cognizant of the ambiguity of the problem they’re treating. Despite this, they go for a seemingly unorthodox method of treatment.
Named “transcutaneous posterior tibial nerve stimulation”, or TPTNS, it involves focused, extremely mild electrical shocks to a nerve that passes through your lower leg and ankle, and which is interconnected with other nearby nerve branches.
Treating 30 men suffering from PE, and giving 30 other men placebo treatments, each for 30 minutes per day for 12 weeks, the research concluded rather more ambiguously than others have suggested.
“TPTNS was achieved a statistically significant increase in the duration of ejaculation,” it notes, verbatim. It also points out that “the placebo and patient group’s mean IELT duration… were statistically significantly increased after the treatment.”
IELT refers to the time taken by a man to ejaculate during vaginal sex. So this means that both the placebo and the TPTNS worked, with “no statistically significant difference between the placebo and patient groups in terms of… post-treatment IELT percent change.”
Interestingly, this type of electrical stimulation has been used before, but to treat pains. A review in 2008 found it to be emergently successful in this respect, but the NHS maintains there’s not enough evidence to say either way right now. There’s even less information available with regards to PE, and in general, such stimulation isn’t officially recommended for a range of ailments.
That aside, the small sample size here is a clear problem. More importantly, however, this isn’t a peer-reviewed study. It's a “supplement” one that’s just been presented at the annual European Association of Urology Congress in Copenhagen. Other notable journals like The Lancet refuse to publish these supplements as they often fail peer review and are sometimes biased due to commercial funding.
So, in the meantime, don’t try this yourself, and take the claims with a hefty pinch of salt.