UPDATE: The tech gods have reconsidered — wisely — and re-honoured Lora DiCarlo with its Innovation in Robotics award, more than six months after it was revoked just before CES in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year. The awards organization’s leadership apologized, sorta, for how it handled the embarrassing situation, saying it “did not handle this award properly,” and vowed to make changes for future conferences to ensure this didn’t happen again.
There have been “important conversations” about the innovator awards and how CES responds to, includes and views sex technology, but it’s not saying anything specific or providing any details just yet. We’re probably still several months away from getting any hints on what those changes might be.
Is it possible they’ll eliminate any technology related to sex in order to prevent another slip-up? Not likely, if we’re being honest, because there’s too much of a male-oriented market and audience for it, especially at shows like CES.
The management at Lora DiCarlo are glad to have their rightful award and promise to press on.
“The CTA and CES have been receptive to our recommendations, although their explicit agreement to make these changes, and a defined timeline, has been harder to come by,” the company says. “We are going to keep pushing for meaningful and progressive policy change until we see the representation of all people in this space.”
In the meantime? Lora DiCarlo, just before the CES award decision was confirmed, announced an additional $2 million in financing from new and repeat donors.
“I invested because Lora DiCarlo is positioned at the intersection of sexual health research and cutting-edge robotic technology creating new products that help everyone have more satisfying sexual interactions,” said new Lora DiCarlo investor Richard Kado, President of Kado Family Inc. “Additionally, Lora DiCarlo’s commitment to low-income and underserved communities demonstrates an exceptional level of corporate social responsibility while also providing meaningful tax advantages for investors.”
A woman-led company that has worked closely with research firms and a university to create an industry-leading device won a prestigious award at CES.
And then it was taken away.
And the company told they couldn’t participate in the gadget-a-palooza because there was no category for it or its devices AND the device could be considered obscene or in poor taste.
In 2018, sex robots were on display throughout the Las Vegas Convention Center. In 2019, a sex toy designed for women was booted out and stripped of its accolades.
The company, Lora DiCarlo, has been awarded eight patents for its Osé device, five of which were granted to the company in partnership with Oregon State University. The other three patents belong solely to the company, created and owned by Lora Haddock.
Osé was submitted to CES and the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes the convention, because it is a “product that pushes the limits of engineering and design and opens the door to even bigger leaps in innovation, beyond even the sex tech uses,” the company says.
A month later, before this year’s event, the invitation and award were rescinded.
CES changes course
“The CTA has been extremely cagey on why they took away the award,” the company says. “Their first excuse was to cite this rule buried in their legalese,” which states that CTA can use its collective and sole discretion to deem an entry “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.”
— LoraDiCarlo Official (@LoraDiCarlo_HQ) January 8, 2019
If that’s the case, how did 2018’s sex doll for men get onto the floor? How did Osé make it through early rounds of consideration?
“Clearly CTA has no issue allowing explicit male sexuality and pleasure to be ostentatiously on display. Other sex toys have exhibited at CES and some have even won awards, but apparently there is something different, something threatening about Osé, a product created by women to empower women,” the company says.
Lora DiCarlo says CTA and CSE have ‘fessed up and tried to address its blatant double standard, from the use of “scantily clad booth babes” to “the attempted 50/50 split of female and male keynote speakers in 2019 after an all male lineup in 2017 and 2018.”
But this is the same convention where a tech journalist was given the literal run-around when she tried to find a place to pump breastmilk while covering the show a few years back. She was ultimately instructed to use a regular bathroom.
The tech press is not playing nice, either.
“It’s truly shocking that high-profile tech organizations are still making gendered blunders like this,” writes Holly Brockwell, founder of Gadgette and a progressive and proud voice for women in technology. “It’s as if they’ve learnt nothing from the many, many brands who’ve lost respect and customers as a result of their sexist advertising, employees’ treatment of women, unnecessarily gendered products, total lack of boardroom diversity, and of course use of ‘booth babes’ – the half-dressed female models hired to look pretty at a brand’s exhibition stand, while knowing precisely zero about the products (believe me, I’ve asked).”
Brockwell notes that most products at CES that are blatantly and joyfully designed for and aimed at women are usually cosmetic based, or otherwise meant to help women look more attractive, or are engineered to help busy working moms, or even stay-at-home moms, make their home lives a little less stressful and more efficient.
(There’s nothing wrong with home gadgetry on its face, I just purchased a floor mopping robot because I hate cleaning, but that’s not the point here. Men use them too, possibly even more frequently, to get out of the same chores.)
“There is an obvious double-standard when it comes to sexuality and sexual health,” Lora DiCarlo says on its website. “While there are sex and sexual health products at CES, it seems that CES/CTA administration applies the rules differently for companies and products based on the gender of their customers. Men’s sexuality is allowed to be explicit with a literal sex robot in the shape of an unrealistically proportioned woman and VR porn in point of pride along the aisle. Female sexuality, on the other hand, is heavily muted if not outright banned.”
A shared history with porn and “adult entertainment”
As BizBash notes, “Try as it might to separate itself from adult industry consumerism, CES was founded alongside – if not thanks to – the sex tech industry. From the ’90s until 2012, CES coincided with the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, and the two shows grew up together as consumer tech like home video cassette recorders and displays developed with an evolving porn production industry in the ’90s, and attendees to CES wandering over to meet porn stars at the Adult Entertainment Expo.”
Fortune points out that another “adult novelty” company, OhMiBod, regularly attends CES and won a Best of CES award in the Digital Health and Fitness Product category in 2016. Trojan has displayed and touted branded sex toys in the past. Naughty America, a porn studio, was on the floor at CES this very year, “albeit in a private meeting room in the back.”
When asked by TechCrunch why OhMiBod is not only allowed to exhibit but had been awarded and recognized for its sexual health and wellness devices, Sarah Brown, CTA’s senior manager of event communications, did not immediately respond.
“It’s worth noting that OhMiBod’s product that that year (2016) helps to strengthen the pelvic floor. However, OhMiBod is back this year, exhibiting a remote-controlled vibrator that allows partners to control one another’s vibrators.”
Cindy Gallop, CEO of the video-sharing platform MakeLoveNotPorn, told Gizmodo that she applied to speak at CES this year but was turned down. “While your expertise and passion on the topic of how technology and human sexuality meet is evident, we regret to inform you that this is not one of the topics we’re focusing on this year,” she was told.
The Gizmodo article has the best headline, by the way: CES Will Honor Your Innovation so Long as it Doesn’t Fuck.
A slight tweak might be needed: CES will honour and welcome your innovation so long as it doesn’t allow women to enjoy sex or achieve better orgasms.