The Tech Innovator Fighting to Give Women Better Orgasms: ‘It’s About Helping People Understand Themselves’
Lora DiCarlo, the award-winning sex-toy inventor, opens up to Aurora Snow about fighting for her place within the male-dominated tech world.
Lora DiCarlo won the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Robotics Innovation Award for Osé, the company’s premiere product—“a robotic massager for hands-free blended orgasms.” A few months later, CES parent company Consumer Technology Association took the award back, calling it a mistake due to the nature of the product.
“There’s a lot more to that story than, ‘They took an award away and gave it back.’ When they took it away and called it obscene, that was too much. It was shocking. This is sexual health and wellness,” says DiCarlo, CEO and founder of the company. “When we challenged them, we pointed out their gender bias. They had male sexuality representation on the floor.”
Just a few years prior, a Mashable reporter chronicled his VR porn experience at CES. Thousands of attendees reportedly flocked to a well-known adult entertainment company’s booth to test-drive the new tech, and as a bonus participate in an intimate VR experience featuring explicit POV-style sex scenes, all filmed from a heterosexual male perspective. VR porn continued to be made available during the CES conventions that followed in 2018 and 2019, when DiCarlo’s award for her patent-pending microrobotic women’s device was rescinded. In a letter cited by TechCrunch from CTA to DiCarlo, entries judged “in their sole discretion to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with the CTA’s image will be disqualified.”
Though the award may have been temporary, DiCarlo’s presence has become permanent, in part due to the debacle. It caught fire, and the amount of support she felt was “jaw-dropping.” When CTA circled back to the company last year to make amends, DiCarlo seized the opportunity to make a difference—not just for her business but also for her industry. “We realize as women in this space, in this sexual space in sex tech, we understand that all boats rise with the tide. So when this happened to us last year at CES, one of the first things we wanted to do was shine a light on the disparities that other women in tech had experienced,” recounts DiCarlo. “We’ve kind of just grasped hands even though we are competitors and tried to raise each other up across the board.
“[We wanted] to take advantage of this opportunity to do right by not just ourselves, but the people who deserve to be at this show, in this industry. There is a lot of tech that is being done very tastefully, very respectfully, that doesn’t objectify bodies or demoralize women and that deserves to be in [this] show,” adds DiCarlo. “They said, ‘What if we give you your own section?’ We were like, ‘NO. You already did that.’” (AVN’s Adult Entertainment Expo, aka the Oscars of porn, began in the 1980s as a part of CES.)
Recognizing sexual health as an unsegregated equal within the health and wellness genre is pivotal to addressing the stigma and bias that shadow it. “If it’s a constant conversation you are having then it’s something you slowly get used to, and the awkwardness melts away over time,” says DiCarlo, who’s focused on broadening our sexual-wellness dialogue.
“I was very surprised by how little we know about our bodies,” says DiCarlo. “In the amount of people we surveyed, we found a staggering amount of women didn’t know exactly where their clitoris was or exactly how to locate their G-spot, and even fewer straight women knew how to identify those structures.”
To develop the ideal product and mimic her experience without a partner, DiCarlo says she “wanted something that didn’t vibrate, that moved like human partners do.” At first she was focused on creating a product to replicate her experience, but as DiCarlo gathered data for the project she began to see this as an opportunity to give back, to create a better society. “It’s become a purpose-driven mission that is much bigger than Lora DiCarlo. It’s about helping people understand themselves and understand others.”
In DiCarlo’s pursuit of a hands-free self-pleasuring product with biomimicry, she made a startling discovery: women had hardly been studied this way. “In order to fit multiple bodies, you need data about multiple bodies. I’m pre-med at the time so I know how to look for that information and I find it doesn’t exist. Nobody’s ever gathered it before, no one’s asking about women’s clitorises,” says DiCarlo. “No one’s asking where they’re positioned on most people’s anatomy, and then half the people don’t even think the G-spot exists. Which is ridiculous.”
Proactively surveying people to better understand not only the issues they encounter in the sexual health and wellness space, but also what motivates or prevents them from exploring their interests, has become a company-wide quest. “It’s data-driven, it’s curious, we’re trying to solve problems that exist within sexual health and wellness by creating and using new technology in order to solve these problems,” says DiCarlo. “We’ve had vibrators for 80 years, we’re due for an overhaul.”
Gathering data only solidified DiCarlo’s belief that sexual pleasure is health and wellness. “We send out multiple surveys asking: What are the problems? What do people want to explore, and what is stopping them?” says DiCarlo. “We asked people, ‘Why do you masturbate? Why do you use toys? Why do you explore your body the way that you do?’ The top three answers were: 1) to sleep better, 2) they wanted to reduce stress, and 3) was better mood in pursuit of pleasure. To me all three of those screamed health and wellness.”
Sexual health isn’t a new concept. The World Health Organization (WHO) implemented the term nearly 50 years ago, which today is defined as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”
So why do businesses refuse to see past the “novelty” of women’s sex products?
“From a [company] perspective, sexual wellness is still considered risky in a lot of cases,” says Liz Klinger, Lioness CEO. Last August, Klinger was invited to Samsung’s Women in Tech event, but it wasn’t until after she’d set up her pre-approved booth and displayed the company’s Lioness smart rabbit vibrator that a Samsung senior director requested the product be removed. “This was an event that was supposed to be about women’s health and all of the other products there were about fertility, which was so frustrating because there are so many different aspects of women’s health that get ignored, like pleasure,” says Klinger. “Pleasure gets ignored and dismissed, especially women-focused pleasure.”