Every year for the past 20 years, the tech industry has descended on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). It’s one of the industry’s top events, showcasing the latest and most innovative in technology, with floor spots coveted for their marketing and networking potential. Last year, pleasure tech company Lora DiCarlo submitted their first product, Osé, a sexual stimulator that promises hands-free “blended orgasms” — which means a combination of clitoral and G-spot stimulation — for CES 2019. According to the company's founder, Lora Haddock, in an open letter, they not only were accepted to show, but were declared a CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone category. Bustle reached out to CES for comment, but did not receive an immediate response.
“My team rejoiced and celebrated,” Haddock wrote. “A month later our excitement and preparations were cut short when we were unexpectedly informed that the administrators at CES and CTA were rescinding our award and subsequently that we would not be allowed to showcase Osé, or even exhibit at CES 2019.”
Haddock immediately responded to CES and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), their parent company, asking what the reason as for their award and place and at the show being revoked. According to Haddock's statement, CES pointed to a line in their terms of service for the awards, saying:
Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified. CTA reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any entry at any time which, in CTA’s opinion, endangers the safety or well being of any person, or fails to comply with these Official Rules.
Haddock was confused. How could Osé have gotten so far as to be named an honoree if they violated the rules? Additionally, she noted, it wasn’t as if sexually-related products hadn’t been shown at CES before.
“It’s also important to note that a literal sex doll for men launched on the floor at CES in 2018 and a VR porn company exhibits there every year, allowing men to watch pornography in public as consumers walk by,” Haddock wrote. “Clearly CTA has no issue allowing explicit male sexuality and pleasure to be ostentatiously on display.”
In a statement to TechCrunch, the CTA confirmed that the toy — which was formerly known as Vela — was in fact mistakenly accepted.
“Vela does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program,” CTA senior manager of event communications Sarah Brown said. “CTA has communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo. We have apologized to the company for our mistake.”
One other sex toy company that has shown at CES is OhMiBod. The company was an early developer of app-connected toys that can be used solo or with a partner and has been showing at CES for the past nine years. They even took home an award for Best in Show in Digital Health and Fitness for their Kegel Exerciser.
OhMiBod Founder Suki Dunham tells Bustle that while they had to advocate for themselves in the beginning, it’s been fairly smooth sailing since then. When asked why she thinks OhMiBod has been able to show while other vulva-focused sexual products have not, Dunham suggests that maybe the focus on apps somehow puts them more firmly in the “tech” category than other products. But, ultimately, she says, she’s as unclear about that as anyone else outside of the CTA is.
Ti Chang, founder of the design-focused sexual pleasure company Crave, points out that the hypocrisy behind CES revoking Lora DiCarlo’s award goes even deeper than the fact that they’ve allowed sex dolls and VR porn on the floor in the past. CES and adult entertainment, it turns out, have a long history together.
“They had a show about computers and electronics and they were like, ‘How do we get people to show up? Oh, I know! We’ll time it at the same time as the AVE,’” Chang tells Bustle. “Which is now called the AVN — Adult Video News. Which is also known as the Porn Awards.”
AVN and CES have been held on different weekends since 2012. But in an article about the two conventions splitting up, the Las Vegas Sun called them “two conventions with a long, informal relationship.” Chang suggests that this relationship seemed to benefit CES until they grew large enough to no longer need the adult industry to boost their attendance.
After being told that their product broke the rules, the Lora DiCarlo team says they received a letter from CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro and CTA executive VP Karen Chupka that said Osé was “actually ineligible for the Robotics and Drone category entirely,” according to Haddock's open letter. This confused them even more, as Osé was designed in partnership with the robotics engineering lab at Oregon State University, which is ranked as the #4 Robotics Lab in the United States. Additionally, they say their engineering team consists of “absolute genius woman and LGBTQI engineers,” including “a Doctor of Mechanical Engineering with expertise in Robotics and AI and a Mechanical Design Engineer who specializes in Material Science with a background in Chemistry.”
Chang thinks this reasoning is even more disingenuous than the first. “To be honest, this is really just censorship at play,” Chang says. “They’re saying ‘We don’t have a product category’ but really they’re just not owning up to the fact that they’re playing the moral police and censoring what they deem to be proper consumer electronics.”
Haddock points out in the open letter that it’s clear that the CTA isn’t against products targeting women. In fact, this year’s show includes “‘female-oriented" products like "breast pumps, Kegel exercisers, and even robotic vacuums.”
“There’s nothing that serves an individual person with a vagina and empowers that person,” Haddock tells Bustle. “It’s always in service of someone else, like a child or a partner.”
And to make the entire situation even more confusing, while Lora DiCarlo was banned from the CES floor, they weren’t banned from the ShowStoppers Consumer Electronics Show press event, which is an invite-only, media-only event that gets “participating companies” in CES in front of more than 1,500 journalists. Haddock says she and her team attended the event, talked about their tech, their iteration process, and said they’d been banned from the CES floor and their award was revoked.
At this point, Haddock and her team are ready to refocus the conversation on their product, not the controversy around this show.
“We want to be talking about the tech and how we improve and keep moving forward and this distracts from that,” Haddock says. “At this point, in 2019, we shouldn’t be fighting to be allowed in a show. It doesn’t make sense.”