Porn is back at CES, but good luck finding it

Naughty America is persona non grata at the world’s biggest tech show.

In the far reaches of the Las Vegas Convention Center's South Hall, beyond booths full of off-brand robots, massage chairs, power strips and hoverboards (presumably not the exploding kind), is a row of conference rooms, marked only by white placards with red numerals signifying you're in the right place. Just beyond the sign reading "S115" is the first porn company to have an official presence at CES since the departure of the Adult Entertainment Expo in 1998.

This is Naughty America, one of the world's most prolific purveyors of virtual reality porn, but the scene inside S115 is not what you'd expect. There are no naked women, not even a single booth babe -- just a row of cocktail tables containing VR headsets, washcloths and disposable headset protectors. A crew of spokespeople mill around in front of a step-and-repeat, tiled with safe-for-work box covers.

It's not until you slip on one of those headsets that you see exactly what Naughty America is selling.

Porn's return doesn't scream "sex!" It sighs "loneliness." When we arrived at this sexual Siberia just over an hour after the CES show floor opened, the room was nearly empty, save for the demo stations and a handful of Naughty America employees. The mood was tense.

After a strong showing at E3 this year and a long campaign for an official presence at CES, Ian Paul, Naughty America's CIO, says the company agreed to a list of stipulations that would allow it to exhibit. But just moments after the doors opened at CES 2017, that list of stipulations was still in flux. Among other things, Paul told us, the company was prohibited from opening its doors or posting a sign. Its spokespeople, dressed in simple black Naughty America T-shirts and blue jeans, were allowed to walk the show floor, but not allowed to stand still.

All they want to do is put some VR boobs in your face.

The Naughty America staff spent the first few minutes of our appointment trying to come to a compromise with the CTA (CES' parent organization) and wondering if an official presence was ultimately the right idea.

This sort of precarious back-and-forth with the CTA should come as no surprise. While the CTA has said that Naughty America is being held to the same standards as mainstream exhibitors, it's had a long history of not fully embracing the intersection of sex and tech.

From the early 1980s until 1998, when AVN founder Paul Fishbein started an independent show for the porn industry, CES had an adult software section where porn stars and adult filmmakers openly displayed their products. But, Fishbein says, after years of being tucked away off the show floor and being treated like "second-class citizens," his clients began to push for their own show. And so AEE was born.

Just as I prepared to leave S115, Naughty America received word from CES that it would be allowed to open one door onto the show floor. The hosts put a nondescript sign out front bearing the company's name, and a slow trickle of conventioneers began to appear. As the room began to fill, the mood shifted from tension to childlike exuberance. If those last moments were any sign, attendees are ready for porn's return. It remains to be seen if the same can be said for the CTA.

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