At this year’s CES Innovation Awards—the consumer electronic show’s “annual competition honouring outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products”—a sex toy company was selected as an honoree in the Robotics and Drone category, only to have their award swiftly rescinded by the organisation’s administrators after they deemed it “immoral” and ineligible.
The sex toy, Osé from Lora DiCarlo, mimics the feeling of the mouth, tongue, and fingers, and was developed using impressive technical achievements in micro-robotics. But according to the CTA, the organisation that hosts CES, the sex tech product doesn’t qualify for any of the CES Innovation Award Categories.
“The product referenced does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program,” a spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email. “CES does not have a category for sex toys. CTA had communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo nearly two months ago and we have apologised to them for our mistake.”
As it stands, there are 28 different product categories for the Innovation Awards, of which none are even tangential to sex tech. But should that matter? As the Lora DiCarlo team said in a blog post, the Osé “is the subject of eight pending patents and counting for robotics, biomimicry, and engineering feats.” It was developed by engineers specializing in both robotics and AI, among technical specialties, according to the company.
Is tech not actually tech, according to the CTA, just because it fucks?
“Lora DiCarlo shouldn’t have had their award rescinded,” Liz Klinger, the CEO of Lioness, a women-led company designing smart vibrators, told Gizmodo. “In a world where this wouldn’t be a problem it’d be different sex tech companies would be evaluated for their technological feat for their innovations, for consumer demand, and I think Lora, and us, and a bunch of the other companies that are in the sex tech category have that. But because of certain, I don’t know—certain decision-makers—people don’t see women led by women for women sex tech as something that is valid or worthy of innovation.”
It’s hardly revelatory that CES is toxic toward women. There are of instances to illustrate the point. Cindy Gallop, CEO of pro-sex video-sharing platform MakeLoveNotPorn, has tried to change that. She told Gizmodo that she applied to speak at CES this year after news of consecutive years with no female keynote speakers, offering to give a keynote about reframing how people view the sex tech category. But she was ultimately 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,” the CES Conferences team wrote Gallop in an email in October, which was shared with Gizmodo.
“Currently, CES is a brofest,” Gallop said. “Welcoming female founders in sex tech would pull a ton of women in.” She said people have asked her over the years why she doesn’t just organise her own sex tech conference. “What I always say is, I do not want a sex tech conference. I want sex tech to be front and center at tech conferences,” she said. “No, I don’t want a sex tech innovation award. I want sex tech to be absolutely reviewed and evaluated in the context of the technology we are all drawing on.”
The CTA did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment on whether the CTA would consider creating a sex tech category or why a product rooted in the field of robotics wouldn’t be eligible for the Robotics and Drone category.
Klinger drives home Gallop’s point that just because a product is designed for sex, it doesn’t need to have its own separate category. She said that when it comes down to it, the physical products on the show floor—not just the sex tech ones—are designed with the same hardware, software, and electronics. “It’s silly to me for it to have its own separate category, separate from robotics and AI for example,” she said. “Some of these products are using robotics and AI to make the product, and there’s innovation there, and it should be evaluated as such.”
Klinger detailed a similarly frustrating experience with the CTA, in which the CTA denied her company the opportunity to show on the floor at last year’s CES. But their application was turned down, and she characterised the ensuing discourse as “similar annoying back and forth emails” to what Lora DiCarlo experienced.
“Sex is something that everyone experiences in some shape or form, and there should be great products for that, too. And it doesn’t make sense why there’s this very specific delineation between certain products that are ok and certain products that are not and why,” Klinger said. She also pointed out that that the same year her product was banned, Naughty America was permitted space on the main show floor to demo their VR porn. They even had their name on the CES directory. “I ended up having to basically sneak in through a friend to have my own table on the show floor,” she said.
Klinger said that when Lioness was on the floor last year, two gold star CTA members—both men—approached her table and specifically asked her why her company wasn’t showing at AVN, the adult entertainment expo that historically takes place in Las Vegas at the same time as CES. “That was something that definitely stuck out,” Klinger said. “For a moment, I thought, are they going to remove me from CES?”
Despite the fact that only a fifth of last year’s attendees were women, the CTA continues to double down on rules that exclude women-led companies developing products around sex positivity. “I think specific to CES and CTA, it’s been just incredibly frustrating to see all of the boring companies be allowed on the floor and then all of these weird rules around female sexuality and specifically vibrators,” Polly Rodriguez, the CEO of luxury sex toy company Unbound, told Gizmodo. She said that she didn’t attend CES this year after seeing the emails Klinger received last year banning her from showing her sex tech products on the show floor. “We’re not going to try and have a presence there because they don’t want us there.”
“I think CES is basically furthering the narrative that women can be used to sell tech and they can be objectified on that technology,” Rodriguez added, “but that women who are creating a narrative around sexual health and owning their body, the fact that that’s prohibited, those policies tell women everything they need to know about how CES views gender equality.”