Ti Chang is the co-founder and VP of Design of Crave, a company that aims to bring luxury and inclusive design to the sex toy industry.
This week, we were disappointed—but not surprised—to learn that the noted Consumer Electronics Show (CES) revoked an Innovation Award they'd given to a sex toy startup. We got the same rejection in 2017 when Crave applied to exhibit at the show. Their official stance is that we are considered "adult entertainment—a category they do not showcase at CES." Unofficially, however, we know this is not true: at CES 2018, a literal sex doll was shown on the floor of CES and AR porn for men was allowed this year, but when an innovative vibrator is banned, this presents a clear double standard.
As an industrial designer who works on products that improve everyday lives, I believe strongly that sexual pleasure is a core part of the human experience, and that the products people use to enhance their pleasure and connect with others are as important, relevant, and meaningful as any other consumer product.
So it's simply absurd that the leading industry showcases can't keep up with the rest of the country—and increasingly the world at large—that are eager to acknowledge pleasure as part of the human experience. When mainstream retailers from Bergdorf Goodman to Urban Outfitters showcase our products next to other beautiful accessories, why is CES so far behind?
"We see sex used to sell everything from hard drives to hamburgers—everything except the sort of products that actually empower people to explore and express their sexual wellbeing."
To be clear, it's not just CES. The tech community at large, from Facebook to Pinterest and beyond has a set of policies that show a consistent bias against sexual pleasure—well, a consistent bias against female pleasure, that is. On social media, our promoted posts and advertisements are constantly rejected from these platforms, but we see ads for Viagra, lingerie, and other products aimed at male desire all the time. And of course we see sex used to sell everything from hard drives to hamburgers—everything except the sort of products that actually empower people to explore and express their sexual wellbeing.
It's ironic that these tech companies, who generally tout themselves as progressive and forward thinking, are so far behind the times when it comes to acknowledging pleasure as a vital part of the human experience. Whether they know it or not, these major gatekeepers are perpetuating the shame around female pleasure. To remove this taboo, we think these conversations must take place on larger public stages, which we have worked to bring to mainstream media, world class museums, and events like SXSW. It is in part why we are perplexed that CES, who plays such a crucial role in showcasing innovations that are changing the world, would selectively prohibit brands like Crave that focus on innovation so fundamental to the human experience.
As a prominent voice in sex toy design, I am often asked what the future of sex toys look like. I think it's less about what sex toys look like, per se, but how we redefine our relationships with our bodies to give ourselves permission to touch, love, and play with ourselves. I think the future of sex is a world with more information where we better understand our bodies. Sure, perhaps it would be interesting if you could have sex with a mermaid robot hologram (and maybe you will be able to), but the most transformative future would be in removing the stigma so we can actually better know ourselves and connect with each other. Because all the sex robots or widgets are not going to change much if we believe pleasure is shameful and taboo.
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It is a lot less strange to look at a vibrator than a robot cadaver for dudes to nut in. lol
You are not wrong.
It sounds more like they have a standard and are not enforcing it uniformly. Whether this is because of gender, who knows, I kind of doubt it.
First off, I would like to give you kudos on your design and would be interested to try it. Personally, I've attended CES for about 15 years and yes, I've seen a lot of products in this category over the years on the show floor (and even saw one company exhibit this year) but they all marketed themselves as "personal massagers" and not sex toys. I obviously didn't see your application so I don't know how it was positioned and branded but I do know that the similar products that exhibited in the past, didn't have a mention of their product being a vibrator or sex toy - it was obvious for consumers looking for a toy but any naive person bought the positioning that it was a massage device. The Hitachi wand is marketed as a massager but we all know that the majority of their sales are all for personal pleasure. I wish that we could all be just straight forward and comfortable to talk about personal pleasure but until the high and mighty suppressive majority of the country is more relaxed, mainstream sex toys for women are more accepted being marketed as personal massagers. I would be interested to know if the CEA gave you any recommendations about positioning it differently so that you could fall within that gray area. Good luck with everything!
The standard is very simple. If you are designing something related to sex, it needs to be animatronic, IOT, and in the uncanny valley. Somebody didn't read the CES handbook. I did a quick rendering to help Lora win next year.
When devices that create joy for women can't be honored, when the supreme court blesses discrimination against people born with a gender identity different from their body's gender, when 22 women come forward and he is elected anyway, the gap between real life and The Handmaid's Tale is too damned small.
Change happens slowly, especially in industries that can make some people feel uncomfortable. Great awareness article - nice work on the designs as well. they look very high end and high quality.
Eye opening article. Thanks for posting it. And now I will share it.
"the most transformative future would be in removing the stigma so we can actually better know ourselves and connect with each other. Because all the sex robots or widgets are not going to change much if we believe pleasure is shameful and taboo."
Ti, I couldn't agree more. The way that we, as a society, tend to shame sex toys in the public view will continue to have a damaging effect on their design evolution and continued improvement. And the way that gender bias is affecting the publicity (and thus, marketing, sales, continued development, etc. etc.) of many of these devices is infuriating.
Thank you for writing this piece, and for doing everything that you do. Hopefully one day soon society will "grow up" and embrace the fact that sex products are an ideal combination of health and leisure design and should be celebrated and promoted rather than blushingly brushed away from public view.
thank you for the kind words :-)
Well said Ti Chang and really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing anyway.
This stems from the men who had a say in this feeling intimidated & inferior to sex toys. I’m not being obtuse, either. The idea that sex toys might [definitely can] provide more pleasure to women than that group of men could provide was too much for their egos.