A sex tech company won an award for innovation in robotics from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organization that produces CES—and then it took it back, deeming the women’s pleasure product too “immoral, obscene, indecent, [or] profane” for its tastes.
Lora DiCarlo, a startup that raised over $1 million in funding last year and developed eight technology and robotics patents in partnership with Oregon State University Product Development Lab, was named a CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone product category for its Osé personal massager (formally called Vela).
On October 10, 2018, the company received a congratulatory email from CES, naming it an honoree in the robotics and drone category. By October 31, CTA emailed Lora DiCarlo’s team to inform them that the association was revoking the award, citing the entry terms:
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.
“There is an obvious double-standard when it comes to sexuality and sexual health,” Lora Haddock, the company’s founder, said in a statement. “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 outrighted banned.”
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 90’s 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. Since its beginnings, companies showcasing wares at CES also often showcased “booth babes,” scantily-clad women hired to show off the products.
Nowadays, you won’t see as many booth babes on the showroom floor. But that doesn’t mean that the male gaze is gone from the show. Today, CES technically allows adult companies to showcase, but not on the main showroom floor. They have to set up their demos and displays in conference rooms, and hope the main crowds wander in. Last year, visitors could make their way to a separate room to demo virtual and augmented reality porn, and pole-dancing robots were an attraction at a nearby strip club, meant to coincide with the event. Visitors to CES this year can take a (unofficial) shuttle from Vegas to Sheri’s Ranch, a brothel in nearby Pahrump, to experience the “Sex Tape Room,” a studio that uses a voice-operated Amazon Echo to capture clients’ encounters with providers. This year, OhMiBod is revealing its remote Apple Watch app, which controls a vibrating “personal massager” (it’s a sex toy). In 2016, it was the only vibrator company at CES.
These examples aren’t to illustrate all the ways CES should sanitize itself from adult content just because it’s marketed for male consumption, but they illustrate an issue CES and CTA have come under fire for in recent years: A conspicuous lack of women and diversity being highlighted at the event.
Update January 8, 3 p.m.: A spokesperson for CES provided this statement to Motherboard: "The product does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program. CTA has communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo. We have apologized to the company for our mistake."