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  • Writer's pictureCarolina MIlanesi

SexTech Was On The CES Show Floor And We Are All Better For It!

If you have been reading anything about CES 2020, you could not have missed the news that this year, SexTech was allowed on the show floor. This development follows the Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA) change of heart on whether this category of devices deserves a place among other tech gadgets aimed at our overall wellbeing.

In 2019, the Lora DiCarlo Osé personal massager was selected as a CES Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone product category. However, in a case of what the CTA giveth, the CTA can also taketh away, Lora DiCarlo was stripped of the award because the CTA deemed the entry “to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.” After a great deal of public outcry that called out the role of gender-bias in the decision, the award was reinstated. Since then, Lora Haddock DiCarlo has worked to enlighten the CTA as to the role that SexTech can play in our overall wellbeing.

The Double Standard of Sex and Tech

Some SexTech brands have been present at CES for years. I chatted briefly with Suki Dunham, the founder of OhMiBod, who told me that the first time they had a booth, ten years ago, they were put in the wireless section right between Verizon and Yahoo because their device was considered wireless. The following year, they were placed in the iLounge, together with many Apple accessories, because they had an iOS app that went with their device. This year was the first time they landed with all the other brands in the Wellness section.

What is ironic and perhaps the most significant point of contention since the 2019 Lora DiCarlo award incident is that sexual content has always been part of tech in so many ways: porn and the choice of VHS over Betamax or porn and the Personal Computer, porn and VR, robot-dolls... The big difference, of course, between those and the SexTech companies we saw displayed at CES is the audience they target.

All of these experiences had men as their target audience, which is entirely in line with the addressable market most tech companies have first in mind when they market a tech product or a service, especially if they are cutting edge. Women are part of these services and devices only at the pleasure of the men, whether they are the men behind the products or the target market.

Fighting An Outdated Idea of SexTech

As I was talking to people at CES and then reading through the list of requirements, the CTA imposed on the brands showcasing in Vegas, it hit me that SexTech, aside from a double standard, is also suffering from a very outdated idea of what this market has to offer.

In many ways, I see parallels to the gaming industry and gamers. Up to a couple of years ago, many thought of gaming as an addictive waste of time and saw gamers as unemployed grown-up men who gamed in their mother’s basement wearing sweatpants and eating bad food. Mobile gaming started to change that perception and E-sports elevated gaming to a profession, a college degree and E-sport discipline that builds valuable life skills.

Alas, SexTech has ways to go if brands are still required to follow rules “that their giveaways do not resemble genitalia, or that booth personnel should not use overt-sexual or lewd language.” While I am sure, there were a few good double entendre marketing messages we could have all enjoyed, the rules that the CTA established seem to reflect a real lack of understanding of the current SexTech market.

Talking to senior retail marketing manager Ian Kulp, at the Lora DiCarlo stand, it was so refreshing to hear him speak about the importance of diversity on their team at all levels, including product engineering. It seems to me that some of these brands have a thing or two to teach more “traditional” tech product brands. Some of the conversations I had with these SexTech brands were not even about sex and this is the other aspect that the label “SexTech” leads us to forget.

So Much More Than Sex

Many of the conversations I had about these SexTech gadgets were about women’s health and couple’s intimacy.

There has been a lot of talk over the years about the role sex gadgets play in helping women work their pelvic muscles back to health after giving birth or help prevent and alleviate incontinence as they get older and might be less sexually active. As these devices gain more and more sensors and share data that can be analyzed through an app, they could provide more data as to how effective the exercises can be and that data could be shared with a gynecologist over the course of treatment. In relationships, remote intimacy is taken to the next level, as the sophistication of the app control allows a partner not just control the device but also see real-time what the response to a setting or a pattern.

Even if you have a hard time believing that sex and pleasure are part of life and women have the same right to them as men, I doubt you could argue that women should not be given the right to health and wellbeing.

Privacy and SexTech

From a business perspective, some of the numbers released by Lora DiCarlo on the Osé sales, around $3 million over a five-week period, show the opportunity these brands have and why they are getting the attention of investors. I bet many wearables companies would be delighted with sales figures like that!

As SexTech is better understood and more broadly adopted, there is certainly valuable information that these companies will collect through their apps over time. It is often the case that apps aimed at women to monitor menstrual cycles and fertility don’t have users’ privacy as a top concern. The more we talk about FemTech and SexTech as health, the more companies will be held at a higher standard on privacy.

I look forward to seeing more companies take on the CES floor next year and talk more broadly about how SexTech can really help us and our relationships.

This article was originally published on Forbes



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