CES’ sextech rule changes are a PR win, but little else

CES 2020

If you’ve missed the news that CES has decided to change its rules around sex tech being included at its flagship conference in Las Vegas each January, then you probably haven’t been online much in the last couple of days. And while on the surface of it, that’s a positive move, it’s really just the logical conclusion of the awkward situation the show’s organizers (the CTA) created in January this year.

At the time, there was outcry when the Lora DiCarlo female pleasure-focused sex tech device was awarded an innovation in robotics prize, as it was then rescinded on the basis that it shouldn’t ever have been allowed in the competition. Some five months later, the prize was re-awarded to Lora DiCarlo by CES/CTA.

Having awarded, rescinded and then re-awarded the prize, what other stance could CES have adopted for next year’s show in relation to sex tech? It’d be hard to go through that whole palaver and then still not allow sex tech devices in the competition, so creating a category for it on the show floor was pretty much a necessity following the huge amounts of criticism it came under.

For CES 2020, sextech startups can now get a spot on the CES show floor… with the catch being that it’s part of Eureka Park, which isn’t in the main convention center, and is an utter nightmare for visitors to actually navigate.

So while sextech is now being recognized as legitimate in some ways, it still feels like they will be hidden away in corner, where only the most dedicated visitors will ever come across them.

Plus, of course, there’s a catch: ” Products must be innovative and include new or emerging tech to qualify,” the CTA said. So presumably, Lora DiCarlo couldn’t exhibit next year with its existing products, for example.

The double standard

While the rest of the tech world only seemingly woke up to the double standards of CES in 2019, we’ve been consistently reporting the different rules that are regularly applied to different companies. For example, in the past, a spokesperson said that exhibitors such as Naughty America – which has adult VR content on the show floor – were grandfathered in to the show, meaning they could be on the main conference floor, while other companies had applications rejected.

Alongside the change to create a sex tech category at CES, the CTA has also banned ‘booth babes’ – the practice of scantily clad women staffing the booths, and has said there will be no explicit material allowed on the show floor anywhere.

Whether these changes mean that companies like Naughty America and OhMiBod won’t be allowed their traditional spots in the main show remain to be seen, but we’ve contacted the CTA for confirmation and will update when we hear back.

If they’re not allowed, and are classed as sex tech, then they’d be restricted to Eureka Park (which isn’t going to be popular with either company, as neither is a startup). If they are allowed in the mainstream exhibitor spaces, then that must mean that they’re not classified as sextech in the first place, and thus the new category creation means nothing to them.

Oh, and all of this is couched in the defensive position that CES 2020 will just be a test run – the new sex tech category isn’t yet a permanent one.

In awarding, rescinding and re-awarding a prize to Lora DiCarlo, the CTA set CES on the road to having to accept sextech, whether it wanted to or not – and judging from the proposals put forward so far for 2020, it’s more a win for CES’ PR department than the sextech industry.

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