When Sex Toys Get the Tech-Startup Treatment
December 7, 2020
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In the earliest days of 2020, weeks before the pandemic put a hard stop on normalcy, the year’s biggest gadget convention took place in Las Vegas. And there was a literal buzz around the health and wellness section: Sex toys were showcased as part of the category and would qualify for innovation awards.

This was undeniably a promotion for sex-toy companies, which in years past had been present at CES but were denied prime real estate at the show. Back in 2019, a sex-tech startup had even received a CES innovation award for its biomimetic vibrator, only to have the award rescinded—earning the product widespread media attention.

Lora DiCarlo, who runs the eponymous startup that won the award, quickly became a kind of spokesperson for both her own company and the broader category of sex-toy entrepreneurs trying to create better, smarter, well-designed products. Many of them had been pushing innovative products and sex-positive messaging for years, but it was the DiCarlo incident that helped drive mainstream awareness.

There was only one problem: DiCarlo’s innovation wasn’t much more than a prototype in 2019. It would take nearly a year for the vibrator, called the Ose, to start shipping, and once consumers got their hands on it, the initial reviews weren’t altogether positive. People had paid $290 for a product that promised a life-changing orgasm; but some writers, like Lux Alptraum and Jess Joho, found it to be a literal pain. And DiCarlo occasionally stretched the truth when it came to marketing both herself and her company, as Alptraum reported in WIRED earlier this year.

Lora DiCarlo has since redesigned and rereleased the Ose, and has shipped four other toys. But the hype around the products raised important questions about what it means to approach intimate products with a tech-startup mindset. This week, Alptraum joins the podcast, along with Joho and sex historian Hallie Lieberman, to discuss them. DiCarlo offers her side of the story, too.

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