CES, the annual conference showcasing the cutting-edge in consumer tech, has a reputation for not only being dominated by men, but largely catering to them. That bias was spectacularly on display this week after an impressive-sounding sex toy had its award revoked for being “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.”
The sex toy in question comes from the mostly women-led sex tech company Lora DiCarlo. The product, called the Osé, is a hands-free, adaptable device that uses “advanced micro-robotics” to create “all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers.” Lora DiCarlo submitted the sex toy to the CES Innovation Awards—and was selected as a CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone category. But then administrators from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the organisation that puts on CES, rescinded the company’s award.
The industry group initially said the device—after having been vetted and judged by an independent panel—was somehow “immoral” or otherwise unacceptable. Then the group backtracked, as CTA president Gary Shapiro and executive VP Karen Chupka sent Lora DiCarlo a letter declaring that Osé just wasn’t eligible for the “Robotics and Drone” category.
“Seriously? Our product that was designed in partnership with a top university robotics engineering laboratory (Oregon State University has ranked the #4 ranked Robotics Lab in the US), inspiring the genesis of OSU Professor John Parmigiani’s Prototype Development Lab,” the team wrote in a blog post detailing the incident. “Osé is the subject of eight pending patents and counting for robotics, biomimicry, and engineering feats. We have a team of absolute genius woman and LGBTQI engineers (and a few wonderful men) working on every aspect of this product — including a Doctor of Mechanical Engineering with expertise in Robotics and AI and a Mechanical Design Engineer who specialises in Material Science with a background in Chemistry. Osé clearly fits the Robotics and Drone category - and CTA’s own expert judges agree.”
The CTA’s statements perpetrate misguided notions around sex and gender. They are, to be frank, extremely prudish. For starters, a device aimed at improving the sexual experience of a woman is hardly “obscene.” What’s more, as the Lora DiCarlo team meticulously detailed above, the device is deeply rooted in the field of robotics. To insinuate that it is not simply because it gets someone off is remarkably lame—and furthers the stigma around sex positivity. It’s hard not to view the belated “this doesn’t fit the product category” excuse as anything beyond puritan arse-covering.
And perhaps, if the CTA really does believe that such a device doesn’t fit into one of its categories worthy of being honored for innovation, then rather than eliminate Osé, they should create a new category that is more inclusive. CES has a history rife with sexism and gender bias—there were those very sad robot strippers, naked women selling phones on the conference floor, consecutive years without any female keynote speakers, booth babes (and the women executives mistaken for them), and no code of conduct, to name a few—and at last year’s conference, only about a fifth of the attendees were women. Revoking an award created by and for women does not inspire faith that the organisation wants women to feel welcomed and celebrated for their achievements. And the ripple effects are troubling.
“At its core these biases smother innovation by blocking access to funding, exposure, and consumers that could take brands and products to the next level,” the Lora DiCarlo team wrote. “You never know how technology can be used, the future of healthcare might well be in the patent for a sex toy. But if CES and CTA are so intent on keeping women and sex tech out, we’ll never find out.”