The sex toy company Lora DiCarlo had planned to present its debut product at CES this week alongside a plaque for winning one of the show’s Innovation Awards. But neither of those things happened — the organizers behind CES revoked the award and the company’s ability to exhibit at the show, then gave a bunch of ridiculous reasons for why it happened.
Lora DiCarlo’s first product, the Osé Robotic Massager, won the “honoree” designation in the robotics and drones category of the CES Innovation Awards, according to the company’s founder, Lora Haddock. The awards are supposed to be determined by an independent panel that ranks a series of products, with any product that gets a high enough score becoming an honoree.
But after ranking high enough and winning the designation, Lora DiCarlo was apparently told that its product didn’t comply with the rules. The show’s and award’s organizer, the Consumer Technology Association, allegedly cited rules saying products that are “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified.” It then backtracked and said the product simply didn’t fit in the robotics and drones category.
CES has long failed to include and represent women. While organizers have slowly come around to prohibiting companies from hiring “booth babes,” the show didn’t feature any women as keynote speakers during its past two years (two were later added in 2018 after criticism) and just one-fifth of 2018’s attendees were women. Mashable wrote last January that “CES still fuels the sexist narratives so many have worked to change over the last year.”
Having Lora DiCarlo at the show would have helped. The company is founded by and almost exclusively run by women. Its massager is also designed for women.
CTA spokesperson Sarah Brown said in an email that the award was revoked because “the product does not fit into any of our existing product categories and should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program.” Brown also told TechCrunch that the company isn’t allowed to exhibit “because they don’t fit a product category.” We’ve asked for clarification on why other sex tech companies are allowed to exhibit, but haven’t received a response.
This controversy is absurd for a handful of reasons. For one, sex toys and sex tech have regularly been featured at CES. One CES event in 2016 featured an oral sex simulating device, the company OhMiBod has shown its sex toys for years, and the film producer Naughty America has even been able to show private VR demoes. On top of that, CES’s Innovation Awards are borderline meaningless — walking around the show floor, it can seem like every exhibitor has one, and it’s surprising to hear that the CTA takes any real oversight whatsoever when distributing the awards.
But most of all, it’s just a foolish move for an association that ought to be promoting inclusivity in tech. This morning, the Consumer Technology Association even opened a $10 million venture fund focused on “women, people of color, and other underrepresented startups and entrepreneurs” to help improve representation. The CTA ought to take a harder look at its flagship trade show, too.