Sex-Tech Companies Are Having More Fun Than the Rest of Us at CES

If there was ever a metaphor for the newfound openness around women’s sex tech at the annual consumer electronics fest, it might be the Lora DiCarlo truck. The experiential box truck is made partly of goldenrod metal, but the side walls are mostly glass and completely transparent—save for one splotch of color where the catch phrase “Seize the Yes!” is emblazoned on the glass.It rolled up to the Venetian hotel Tuesday morning behind an endless vertebrae of Las Vegas cabs and limos. Its interior, a predictably midcentury, Instagram-inspired setup with a shag rug and a couple of token plants, was awash in hot yellow Vegas sun as we drove down the strip. Just as I climbed into the truck, someone spilled their coffee on the rug.
Despite the bumps in the road, the box truck transported four of us comfortably. Five if you count DiCarlo’s fluffy pomeranian, full name Enzo Ferrari Drift DiCarlo, who seemed to be taking CES in stride better than most of the flustered, sweaty humans at the show. Behind DiCarlo herself, three different robotic sex devices sat in boxes on shelves.These sex products have made DiCarlo—her name is Lora Haddock DiCarlo, but she often goes by Lora DiCarlo, since it’s also the brand name—something of a celebrity at CES. She travels with a public relations team, and when we eventually arrive at the show floor, a photographer and videographer are there to capture her first look at her company’s booth. Later, a woman will throw her arms around DiCarlo and tell her she’s the reason her company is there. But if CES giveth, CES also taketh away.

That’s what happened in early 2019, when DiCarlo and her team were awarded a CES Innovation prize in the Robotics and Drone category. Their product, the Ose, was a prototype of a robotic, hands-free device designed to simultaneously stimulate a woman’s clitoris and the erogenous area known as the G-spot. It was codeveloped with Oregon State University's robotics and engineering lab. (DiCarlo’s pitch to potential collaborators: “I had an orgasm when I was 28, and I have a great idea for a product.”)Shortly afterward, when DiCarlo applied for exhibition space, the Consumer Technology Association disqualified the Ose. It was “immoral,” “obscene,” “profane .”Backlash ensued. DiCarlo hired a PR firm. News outlets, including WIRED, picked up on the story of the rescinded prize. This was not because the Ose itself was so obviously defensible—it was still just a prototype, few people had tried it—but because the views of the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on CES, seemed so perniciously outdated. A line had been drawn in the desert sand. Men, and it is mostly men at CES, could grin their way through VR porn demos in the far corners of the show as recently as 2017. But the gadgets geared toward women, particularly as the internet-of-things trend emerged, were overwhelmingly products like undulating baby bassinets, smart breast pumps, pulsing skin-care wands, and self-emptying vacuum cleaners.

“It was so shocking, because we really thought this was turning the tide on how we approach female sexuality—and just sexuality, period,” DiCarlo told me. “We view female sexuality as sacred. We don’t view it as something vile or disgusting.”

Then, last summer, the CTA sent out an email detailing a few policy changes for CES 2020. This year’s show would include tech-based sexual products on a one-year trial basis, provided the products were deemed “innovative” by the CTA. They would be put into the Health and Wellness bucket, and they had to include some sort of new or emerging tech to qualify. Your vintage vibrator wouldn’t cut it.