One Woman’s High-Touch Bid to Upend the Sex-Toy Industry

On a sunny morning last January, a box truck with see-through walls drove down the Las Vegas Strip, showing off a set of sex toys. The company behind the truck, Lora DiCarlo, had come to town for CES, the Consumer Technology Association's annual showcase. This was the same event from which it had been disinvited just the year before, when its female-pleasure-focused products were labeled “obscene.”This time, Lora DiCarlo would get the royal treatment : prime positioning for its booth, panel-speaking slots for members of its team, nonstop party invitations, and scads of glowing press for its groundbreaking debut device—the very one that had been the source of scandal 12 months earlier, a sensual massager called the Osé.

This feature appears in the November 2020 issue. Subscribe to WIRED . Photograph: Kevin Cooley
CES itself had changed to make this possible. There would be no more booth babes on the floor for the 2020 show, pornography was banned “with no exceptions,” and sex-related gadgets had a home within the Health and Wellness section. In sum, an industry whose primary consumers were women had at last been granted access to the boys' club. Sex toys were now sex tech .There was, perhaps, no more important figure in this evolutionary leap than Lora DiCarlo's CEO, founder, and namesake. Her face was emblazoned on the side of the company's booth, set between scaffolds of yellow and white. A squad of roller derby players, brought in for the event, skated around the show floor wearing black and yellow tank tops printed with the phrase “Seize the Yes!” This was all a tribute, of a sort, to Lora Haddock DiCarlo: self-professed “anatomy geek,” medical school dropout, self-taught inventor, feminist provocateur, and now a data-driven, visionary entrepreneur.
DiCarlo's fight with CES the year before had been the twist that turned her into a tech celebrity. It started with an angry open letter calling out the trade show for its “long, documented history of gender bias, sexism, misogyny, and double standards.” Case in point: Just a few months before, CES had honored the Osé with an innovation award in its Robotics and Drones category, only to rescind the prize on account of its indecency. Yet, as the letter noted, the show had no problem making room for gynomorphic sex robots and VR porn for straight men.
Her critique was covered by The New York Times and NPR, on the WIRED website , and in blogs and newspapers around the world. (That summer, DiCarlo gave it once again on an episode of This American Life.) By the time CES 2020 kicked off, the show's parent organization had been shamed into offering an apology, along with numerous, new accolades for the company (including a restoration of its original CES award, plus two new ones). And when the company's website started taking presale orders for its device, on November 26, 2019, DiCarlo claimed it brought in $1 million in the first five hours. Now, with that revenue, plus several million dollars more from investors, she was ready to pursue her plan to “close the orgasm gap.”
By the time she rolled back into Vegas nine months ago, with her truck of robot dildos on the Strip, DiCarlo was more than a CEO: She was a conference-hopping activist, an icon on a mission to erase the shame around women's sexuality. Her Instagram feed showed a growing global influence. There she was, snorkeling in Bora Bora, on the stage at Women in Tech Stockholm, touring the Vagina Museum in London, posing with the NBA All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, and on a panel at TechCrunch Disrupt with her pet Pomeranian, Enzo Ferrari Drift DiCarlo, stretched across her lap.