For years CES shared the Las Vegas Convention Center with the Adult Entertainment Expo (AEE). But when AEE decided to reschedule its show in 2012, the biggest tech show on earth lost its adult edge. That is, until this year. Over the course of three days, I met with four companies showcasing sex-related products in and around the show.
When OhMiBod founder Suki Dunham and her co-founder/husband Brian attended CES for the first time six years ago, just registering was an uphill battle. Despite the physical crossover between the world's largest tech show and the AEE, the sex-toy maker had to lobby the Consumer Electronics Association to secure an official presence on the trade show floor.
"We signed up for our booth and were kind of rejected, and so we had to lobby to prove that we had a right to be here and that we had some legitimate tech that was interesting," Dunham said. "We all know that this technology, all these technologies, are becoming a part of every part of our lifestyle, whether you're listening to music or you're cooking, or whatever it is you're doing in your world, so why not have sex be part of that?"
Since then, the Dunhams say both the show's organizers and attendees have embraced them.
"Our first year people would walk by us and look at us cross-eyed, like 'What are you doing here,'" Dunham said. "And now, we are welcome with open arms and people are really interested in what we're doing and understanding our messaging."
That warm reception is an experience shared by the founders of B.Sensory, a French Internet of Things startup showcasing an e-book-connected vibrator called the Little Bird at CES 2016. The company's founder, Christel Le Coq, says registering for CES was a straightforward process. Her device even won a CES Innovation Award before the show started.
As is the case with many more traditional tech companies, two of the outfits we spoke with chose to attend in an unofficial capacity. Nuelle, a Silicon Valley startup focused on "sexual wellness and intimate care products," used one of CES' many sideshows, ShowStoppers, to debut Fiera, a sort of electronic female Viagra. The wearable device uses suction and vibration to increase blood flow to the clitoris, thus increasing sexual desire. The company's Chief Scientific Officer, ob-gyn Leah Millheiser, points out that the device is focused on serving the 53 million women in the US who have a "sexual concern."
"We started with a need and then developed the right technology to meet that need," Nuelle founder Karen Long said. "This isn't a technology looking for a home."
That's more than can be said for many of the products we've seen at CES so far.