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Sex Tech Steals the Spotlight at CES

January 9, 2020, 4:00 PM UTC

Despite what you may have read, sex toys are really nothing new at the annual CES tech show in Las Vegas.

Just ask Suki Dunham, whose company, OhMiBod, has exhibited on the main show floor for 10 years. In 2016, in fact, it won a Best of Show award for its Lovelife krush kegel exerciser.

To get into the show the first time, though, OhMiBod had to play a game of semantics with CES, which had a policy of not allowing sex toys at the show. The company’s then-flagship product worked in conjunction with the iPhone (a rarity for sex toys at the time), so it was allowed to be part of the “wireless” section of CES, alongside Verizon and Yahoo. In following years, it was moved the iLounge, near companies offering phone cases and power bricks for iPhone and Android devices.

Dunham says that presence gave her company a big lift, giving her the opportunity to meet vendors, suppliers, and buyers, including one from Target who eventually invited OhMiBod to sell its products at the chain retailer.

“It’s been massive on all different levels,” says Dunham. “We never tried to push the envelope or tried to make a statement, because we want to make people comfortable, so, in turn, they feel more comfortable buying these products or carrying them in their store.”

CES and its chilly attitude about sex emerged into the open last year after CTA, the show’s organizer, gave an Innovation award to Lora DiCarlo for its Ose sex toy. But the organizers then rescinded the award after realizing it was a sex toy.

Lora DiCarlo loudly and very publicly complained about decision. Months after the show, the CTA restored the award and said it had changed its policy regarding adult novelty companies, welcoming them to the show.

This year, 10 companies specializing in sexual wellness, including OhMiBod, are attending CES and showing their products on the floor, alongside the new TVs, smart home devices, and autonomous cars. They’re all hoping the exposure the show brings translates into more sales.

“I think it will help this category to grow significantly,” says Jerome Bensimon, president at adult novelty company Satisfyer, which is also showing its products on the CES show floor. “It’s a product where a lot of people hesitate to buy the first one but once they do, they buy more.”

The reaction from show attendees has bordered on fascination. Turnout at the booths showcasing adult novelties has been steady, as people learn there’s actually a lot of technology behind pleasure products

Sex toys are already a huge industry. In 2018, the category brought in $24.6 billion, according to a study by eSherpa. It’s expected to grow to over $38 billion by 2025.

Beyond the increased media exposure, one of the chief CES benefits for companies in the sex toy industry is the mainstreaming of their products. While it’s not unusual to find adult novelties in Walmart or even Nordstrom these days (which has carried products from JimmyJane), there’s still a lingering taboo factor.

“We’ve demonized human sexuality for too long,” says Lora DiCarlo, founder of the eponymous company. “[At CES,] we’re not being compared to something people normally associate with these products [the porn industry]. We’re reaching a market where people normally wouldn’t have access to these devices. They wouldn’t go in a sex shop. Here, they’re able to touch, to feel and see what the devices are like.”

Last year’s troubles with CES officials certainly helped raise awareness for her company. The company said that Ose, which isn’t yet available, had pre-sales of over $3 million in December after surpassing its initial goal of $1 million in just five hours.

Later this year, DiCarlo (the founder) says she hopes to sell her products through other outlets, including stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, where shoppers won’t be scared away by Ose’s $290 price tag.

Mainstream exposure is good, but sex toy companies (even those that reject the label “sex toy,” arguing it makes their product sound frivolous) would be wise to continue working with stores that focus on adult entertainment. OhMiBod may be a CES regular, but Dunham says, for now at least, most of the company’s sales still come from retailers that focus on sex.

“Everything that has happened the last few years at CES is baby steps,” she says. “The sex tech world has always been taboo. There’s been a stigma around them. People talk about them quietly. By being here at CES, people start to see it’s not such a big deal. It helps to destigmatize the category in general.”

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