Sexual Schizophrenia at CES Rises Again for 2020 Convention

LAS VEGAS, Nev.—There was a time when adult companies participated in the Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, but the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which puts on that convention, has long been, um, ambivalent about how it treats sexually oriented merchandise and those who create or sell it. 

Above is a reproduction of a photo of a sign that was posted outside the restrooms in the adult exhibit area of CES in 1998. Not very inviting, was it? AVN founder Paul Fishbein didn’t think so, and it became part of the impetus for the adult industry’s break with the CES when he started the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in 1998 with trade show company Advanstar—although, as it turns out, not all adult companies left. CTA has allowed adult retailers such as Naughty America, one of the pioneers in adult virtual and augmented reality, as well as sex toy manufacturer OhMiBod to rent booth/floor space at CES, and on October 10 of last year, toy manufacturer Lora DiCarlo was given an “Robotics & Drone Innovation” award for its sex toy, Osé, which uses micro-robotics to “mimic all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue, and fingers, for an experience that feels just like a real partner,” according to the company.

But then, about three weeks after informing Lora DiCarlo that it had won the award, the CTA decided to take it back, claiming that “Entries deemed by CTA in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image will be disqualified.”

“Immoral, obscene, indecent, profane”? Has the CTA taken a look at the consumer electronics field recently? Probably half the products shown at CES can be used to create sexual materials, view such materials or access such material on the internet—but the idea that “sex is a part of life” seems only to have barely registered with CTA.

Fast-forward [sic] four months and the CTA had a change of heart, and re-awarded its innovation award to Lola DiCarlo.

“CTA did not handle this award properly,” Jean Foster, a senior vice president of the organization, told Fortune. “This prompted some important conversations internally and with external advisors and we look forward to taking these learnings to continue to improve the show.”

And now, it appears that CTA has done so—at least partly.

“The conversation around sex tech was definitely front and center,” Jamie Kaplan, senior director of global event communications at the CTA, told Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat. “We started having conversations both internally and externally about how to bring sex tech into the show. On the big picture side, what we’re trying to do is for the show to be welcoming and inclusive. … One of the things about CES is that we’re always looking at how technology is evolving. How can we continue to keep the show relevant? Looking at the sex tech industry, we wondered how we could bring that into the show. And how could we do that in both a thoughtful and the right way? So it did take some time for the policies to come together.”

But all is not rosy for adult at the CES. While OhMiBod and Lora DiCarlo will both be allowed exhibit space at the convention, Naughty America is getting deep-sixed. The reason is, according to CES’s latest reiteration of its rule, “the existing CES ban on pornography will be strictly enforced with no exceptions for CES 2020.”

But that’s not all: “Booth personnel may not wear clothing that is sexually revealing or that could be interpreted as undergarments. Clothing that reveals an excess of bare skin, or body-conforming clothing that hugs genitalia must not be worn,” the rules now say. “These guidelines are applicable to all booth staff, regardless of gender.

And what’s CTA’s take on the fact that nowadays, consumer electronics and adult entertainment in all forms go hand-in-hand?

“I think what has happened over the years is that there have been inconsistencies with the policies, and then there’s an exception based on technology innovations, and moving forward, and there will be no exceptions,” Kaplan told Takahashi.

No worries, scantily and sexily dressed performers and Naughty America: You’ll always—and we mean always—have a place at AEE.

This article was edited at 4:34 p.m. to fix an inaccuracy about the history of the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo.


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