As thousands of tech entrepreneurs, global electronics giants and an estimated 40 million public relations people will attest, it’s tough to get noticed by the press at the Consumer Electronics Show.
The makers of the Osé sex toy, by that measure, have had it easy.
The hands-free vibrator they brought to the CES earlier this month won an Innovation Award in the Robotics and Drones category. Then the award was taken away from them before the big show started -- and they lost the right to display the product on the CES floor.
The Consumer Technology Association, which runs the show, claims the product’s entry violated a clause that prohibits items that are “immoral, obscene, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.”
The press reacted. Stories about the way Lora DiCarlo, a start-up company, was treated showed up on NPR, Wired, the BBC, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Mashable, Glamour.com, The New York Times and many more.
As earned media goes, it’s doubtful any sex toy has ever gotten more of it even before it hit the market. (The Osé will be available in the fall, for $250.)
More than one of those stories--actually, almost all of them--pointed out the CES show has had plenty of sex-related products on display before. In fact, as DiCarlo notes on its website, at last year’s show, one company showed off the fleshy “Harmony,” the first “sex doll” at CES (The website Engadget noted her “porn star proportions.”).
The DiCarlo website is virtually given over to the issue. Lora Haddock, the president and CEO, is now urging people to petition the CES, accusing it of a whopping double standard that goes beyond her product and extends to the entire show’s gender bias that is stifling tech innovation.
She cites other exhibits at CES that let men get their jollies. But, she writes, “Female sexuality, on the other hand, is heavily muted if not outright banned. You cannot pretend to be unbiased if you allow a sex robot for men but not a vagina-focused robotic massager for blended orgasm.”
That term "describes a sexual climax reached from simultaneous external and internal stimulation," according to The New York Times. Haddock notes the sex aid was designed with help from Oregon State University’s nationally noted Robotics Lab, and has eight patents pending.
The DiCarlo website says, “Osé uses advanced micro-robotics to mimic all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue & fingers, for an experience that feels just like a real partner, no need for desensitizing vibration. It even adapts to your body for a personal fit that hits all the right spots.”
If you’re following along, that description may be graphic. But, wandering the CES aisles with 188,000 other attendees at this year’s show, which took place earlier in the month, the sex toy would have looked just like a vibrator-sized version of a single quote mark.
Gary Shapiro, longtime head of the CTA, and Karen Chupka, its executive vice president, apologized to Haddock, but said the product was ineligible for any existing category, even after it had won one.
They told the New York Times, "CES is a professional business show, and porn, adult toys and sex tech products are not part of the event. CES is a large show with over 4,500 exhibitors. We acknowledge there are inconsistencies in exhibiting companies, and these will be addressed.”