Open-minded IFA shows CES how to exhibit sex toys in a classy, educational way

Commentary: For years, Europe's biggest tech show has been displaying a more enlightened approach to sex toys.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

MysteryVibe's Poco.

Katie Collins/CNET

Vegas tech bonanza CES could be described using a multitude of words -- "sexy" isn't one of them. But in 2020, that'll likely change, as the Consumer Technology Association, the group that runs the event, has said sex toys will be allowed at the show for the first time. 

Following a controversy at CES earlier this year over the treatment of startup Lora DiCarlo, whose sex tech device had its innovation award revoked and then later returned, the CTA revised its rules about sex tech companies attending the show. The products will fall under the health and wellness category or be featured at the show's startup wing, and they'll have to demonstrate a level of innovation, the CTA said.

Sex tech might be new for CES, but on the other side of the Atlantic at German tech show IFA, sex toys have been displayed since 2017. As the CTA prepares to welcome sex tech startups for the first time, it could do worse than mimic IFA's enlightened approach.

For the past three years running, British sex toy company MysteryVibe has chosen the Berlin-based event as its venue to launch its latest products, and 2019 is no exception. Founder and CEO Soumyadip Rakshit praised the attitude of the organizers as he showed me a display of flexible silicone toys  at the MysteryVibe stand, including the new Poco, a small, flexible, app-paired vibrator with two motors, 16 intensity levels and eight preset patterns. 

"Every year we want to use IFA again, because there's such an open-minded platform where everybody comes and genuinely wants to understand what this is about, rather than think it's frivolous," he said. "We can present it in a very logical, well-informed way to consumers, and without having to hide it."

Watch this: CES 2019: Sex tech is everywhere and nowhere

IFA might have been supportive of Rakshit's company and mission, but MysteryVibe is once again the only sex tech company at the show this year. It's something he hopes will change -- he'd love to see more companies exhibiting alongside him. "One of our main objectives is to start the conversation," he said.

When I ask Rakshit why he thinks more sex toy companies don't exhibit at consumer tech shows, he says it's because they've been "historically rejected" from mainstream spaces. So they stick to conventions for the adult industry, which MysteryVibe attends too, he added, "but we are preaching to the converted."

IFA, which opens to the public this weekend, provides ample opportunity for Rakshit to introduce MysteryVibe's products to people who otherwise might never have considered them -- those who wouldn't necessarily go into a sex shop, or who may stop by and realize tools are available to help them resolve issues they have in the bedroom.

Thanks to the CTA's change in policy and the established sex tech industry in North America, Rakshit expects the sex tech presence at CES to be impressive this year. MysteryVibe will be among those attending CES in 2020 as a sex toy exhibitor, but it's not the company's first Vegas rodeo. 

In the past it's been able to attend, but as part of a group of other hardware companies with no emphasis on sex allowed. Come January, you'll be able to see them in the health tech section of the show. (MysteryVibe is currently running trials to seek FDA approval so doctors can prescribe its products to men and women suffering from various forms of sexual dysfunction.)

Asked if he's looking forward to attending CES next January, Rakshit's eyes light up. He knows the CTA and has talked to the organization over the years, giving it assurances that the MysteryVibe stand won't be flanked by naked women. Instead, it'll be much like it is at IFA -- clearly about sex, with vague illustrations of human bodies on display, but in a mellow, arty, tasteful kind of way. 

"People have crazy assumptions about the sex world," Rakshit said. "We want to delight and bring pleasure and inform, educate, make it really friendly. Traumatizing people is not going to get us anywhere."

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