A Bend-based robotic sex toy startup Lora DiCarlo won a CES Robotics Innovation Award — only to have it rescinded a month later. As the tech show kicks off in Las Vegas today, founder Lora Haddock is “calling out the organization for gender bias and inconsistency in addressing sex-positive women’s products versus male-oriented devices,” according to a story in Venture Beat. The story notes that one of the most puzzling aspects of the situation is that sex toys are not actually banned at CES.

More on that momentarily. This is an innovative Bend startup that spent much of the fall working away in the OSU-Cascades Co-Lab in Bend. There’s many things to love about Lora DiCarlo’s mission and journey. The startup’s first product, the Ose personal massager, was developed in partnership with the OSU robotics engineering laboratory and by a team of nearly all women engineers. It’s the subject of eight pending patents, the company reports.

Lora is unabashedly passionate about Ose and exceptionally proud of her team’s work. In the Venture Beat article, she says “We don’t hide what we do, and we firmly believe that women, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and LGBTQI folks should be vocally claiming our space in pleasure and tech — both of which are still heavily dominated by male-CEOs and executives.”

“We also believe that society needs to drop the taboo around sex and sexuality — it’s a part of life and health that absolutely should be part of mainstream discourse. No shaming, no embarrassment, just the comfort and freedom to be yourself and enjoy your own body,” she says.

The Venture Beat piece continues …

(Lora) said that was the reason the company submitted its first-ever product, Osé, for the CES Innovation Awards. The hands-free device is an unapologetic sex toy, but one that is built with technology with the goal of delivering “the holy grail of orgasms — the blended orgasm.” It uses micro-robotic technology that mimics all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers “for an experience that feels just like a real partner.”

But shortly after receiving the award, the CTA (the organization the runs CES) took it back, saying that it was award was a mistake, and that Ose didn’t fit into any CES product categories. The CTA didn’t offer much more in the VB story, saying only that the “Ose should not have been accepted for the Innovation Awards Program. CTA has communicated this position to Lora DiCarlo. We have apologized to the company for our mistake.”

The startup notes that they were later informed that “entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified.” The award-take-back raised a lot of questions, chiefly that other sex-focused companies had been at CES before including Naughty America, which is a VR porn company that showed off its technology in a CES meeting room two years ago, and a robotic sex doll company that launched on the floor of CES last year.

Double standard much? That was the take of the Lora DiCarlo team, which appealed the decision and has been circulating an open letter about gender bias as CES. From that letter:

CES and the CTA have a long, documented history of gender biassexismmisogyny, and double standards – much like the tech industry as a whole. From the exclusion of female founders and executives to the lack of female-focused products allowed to exhibit on the floor – there are demonstrable issues with diversity.

Gary Shapiro has even defended the use of scantily clad booth babes while denying that there is a hostile environment for women at CES. We’ve seen token concessions, like the attempted  50/50 split of female and male keynote speakers in 2019 after an all male lineup in 2017 and 2018 – but sadly it’s just cosmetic. It is not trickling down to who’s allowed a seat at the table.

There is an obvious double-standard when it comes to sexuality and sexual health. While there are sex and sexual health products at CES, it seems that CES/CTA administration applies the rules differently for companies and products based on the gender of their customers. Men’s sexuality is allowed to be explicit with a literal sex robot in the shape of an unrealistically proportioned woman and VR porn in point of pride along the aisle. 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.

CES kicks off today and the Lora DiCarlo team is still attending, showing its product at a party at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas tonight. The team also plans to attend AVN, a porn show in Las Vegas at the end of January, according to Venture Beat.

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley