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Sex toys will show up as CES after vibrator award scandal

The group behind the show will also more strictly enforce its dress code, part of a wider slate of diversity-related announcements.

lora-dicarlo-ose-solo-sex-tech

A sex toy opened up a debate about the kinds of products that can be shown off at CES. 

Lora DiCarlo

The Consumer Technology Association, the group behind CES, said next year's show will include sex tech products. The move is a reaction to the controversy over the treatment of startup Lora DiCarlo, whose sex tech device had its show award revoked and then later returned.

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.

The incident sparked a debate over the kinds of products that can be displayed at the show, while also drawing criticism at the trade group for its heavy-handed approach. It came at a time when more products than ever are being given smarts and a technological makeover. Jean Foster, head of marketing and communications for the CTA, acknowledged the group didn't handle the situation well, and admitted Tuesday's move was in response to that criticism. 

"We are excited to share that Lora DiCarlo will be on the show floor at CES 2020 in the health and wellness area that will now include sex tech," the startup said Tuesday. "We're optimistic that this is a step in the right direction." 

Another company, Lioness, is hopeful this will lead to greater acceptance of sex tech overall. "CES has been a gatekeeper for press, retailer, and investor attention for 'what's innovative' for so long," said CEO Liz Klinger, "and it's great to see the innovations in this area get the recognition it deserves."

One company that's exhibited at CES for the past decade welcomed the open call for submissions. Suki Dunham, founder of OhMiBod, said "CTA's announcement outlining their new partnerships, programming, and policies of inclusivity and equality acknowledges that the playing field is not always level, but that they are dedicated to being an agent for change."

The CTA's announcement was part of a broader range of diversity-focused news it rolled out. It also plans to more strictly enforce its ban on scantily dressed models. While a ban had already been in place, the CTA said it'd enforce its rules with tangible penalties like less prominent placement of a booth in future shows.

Exhibitors will no longer be able to have personnel wearing sexually revealing clothing, or clothing interpreted as undergarments, marking stricter and more specific guidelines. The CTA now has a way to penalize anyone who violates the rule, and can deduct "priority points" from exhibitors that could jeopardize where they are placed at the next show.

Karen Chupka, executive vice president in charge of CES, said these guidelines will also apply to partners and attendees, and she hopes it'll extend to other CES-related events outside of the booth. 

The CTA will also enforce a ban on any pornographic material. In past years, there have been unofficial demos of VR porn experiences or stripper robots, and Chupka said it would be harder to enforce those non-sanctioned events.  

The CTA also announced that it's funding two venture capital firms, Harlem Capital Partners and SoGal Ventures, as part of its $10 million commitment to invest in women, people of color and other underrepresented groups.

Originally published July 16, 11:18 a.m. PT.
Update, 1:11 p.m. PT: Adds comments from multiple companies. 
Update, 5:25 p.m. PT: Adds further background.