A glitzy Las Vegas tech conference like the Consumer Electronics Showcase might seem an unlikely source of controversy about sex toys, but everything changed in January last year when Lora DiCarlo’s Osé vibrator arrived. This wondrous machine promised women a “blended orgasm” — achieved through a combination of internal and clitoral stimulation — and was slated to receive an innovation award for its unique combination of a stroker (for G-spot stimulation) and a sucking mechanism (for clit stimulation).
But as impressive as it was, it was also doomed. Not only was its award rescinded, the product was pulled from the conference entirely and blasted as “profane” and “immoral” in CES’ follow-up press statements. This sparked accusations of misogyny from people like Lora DiCarlo CEO Lora Haddock, who wrote on her website that the exclusion of her toy made the statement that women’s sexuality and pleasure weren’t worthy of innovation.
An almighty shitshow ensued, and now sextech exhibitors are allowed at CES, but only as long as they follow certain rules, one of which is that products can’t be “anatomically correct.” That means no vulvas, no clits, no buttholes and no dicks — basically, if a toy is shaped like a body part, it’s out. It’s a rule that royally pissed off Brian Sloan, whose AutoBlow AI (essentially a stroker that features a realistic female mouth) came under fire when CES organizers asked him to replace it with a more nondescript “fuck hole.” He declined, and then wrote an open letter claiming the policy “discriminates against men” and “shames all people who enjoy genitalia of other humans.”
There’s a lot to unpack here, but a few key questions come to mind: Are men really that bothered about fucking a sex toy that isn’t “anatomically correct”? If so, why? Most importantly, is banning sex toys with realistic fuck holes from a tech conference genuinely tantamount to “discrimination” against the entire dick-having population of Planet Earth?
For answers, I traveled south of London’s River Thames to the national headquarters of Clonezone, one of the U.K.’s leading male sex-toy chains, where brand manager and genuine sexpert Topher Taylor believes the discrimination claim is “a stretch.” In his eyes, fuck-hole preference is all about social conditioning. “If you look at anything marketed toward men, it’s usually a mold of a female porn star,” he explains. “So men are just trained to seek out products that look like a beautiful vagina.” A quick search corroborates his claim — from Sasha Grey to Jenna Jameson, there’s a “porn star masturbator” for every taste.
However, Taylor tells me his personal favorite toys aren’t made to be realistic at all. “It’s fine to fuck something that’s just a basic hole,” he explains. “It’s a hole designed to satisfy you; it’s going to press on your frenulum, replicate suction, push on your dick head and make you ejaculate. At the end of the day, it’s a hole to fuck.”
There’s little data to corroborate whether or not men overwhelmingly seek out realistic toys, so I follow-up with Sloan, who reasons that “one of the key value propositions of using adult products for men involves the fantasy that the object is, in fact, another person. Human orifices help bring most men’s fantasies to life. The masturbation experience for men is as much psychological as it is physical and visual; life-like products are important for this visual fantasy.”
I decide to exam this theory with the ultimate millennial litmus test: Twitter. My callout for more insight into what men look for in a sex toy was met with a handful of DMs, predominantly from straight men who said they actually gravitate more toward anal toys like butt plugs and prostate stimulators than male masturbators. But the ones who did like to stick their dick in a hole seemed to have mixed feelings about just how realistic that hole needed to be.
“I prefer strokers to toys that are static and made to be penetrated, like a fake vagina,” says a Twitter user named Matthew, although there are plenty of vagina-like strokers made to be penetrated, too. “I’m in a healthy sexual relationship, so toys that say they feel like a realistic vagina don’t really interest me. I wouldn’t go for something that feels more realistic, but I certainly would go for one that looks realistic on the outside with an artificial texture.” (This, of course, is purely personal preference; it’s also well-established that not everyone picks their sex toy based on their relationship status, and that it’s completely fine to fuck a plasticky hole shaped like Jenna Jameson’s colon while you’re in a long-term relationship, short-term relationship or any relationship at all.)
Another anonymous user says that “toys that look like real human genitalia are a mindfuck,” especially if they’re for anal penetration. “As a straight man, I don’t want to think that I have a man penetrating me,” he says. “It’s a mental barrier.” Again, personal preference here. The ongoing stigma around anal play obviously doesn’t help, despite the fact that plenty of men of all sexual orientations have spoken up about loving it.
One of those men is Twitter user @grigsby97, who says he not only enjoys anal play, but specifically looks for toys with a “unique aspect.” He gives the example of b-Vibe’s Snug Plug: “What drew me was the unique shape, that it was weighted and could be worn for an extended period of time.” Generally speaking, though, realism isn’t a factor for him when it comes to choosing what to play with next. “A realistic toy doesn’t necessarily turn me on or off; I can’t say I’d seek out a toy that perfectly mimicked the human body, but I wouldn’t reject a toy based on that either. I simply want a toy that brings me pleasure.”
Shawn, a 35-year-old sex-shop employee in L.A. corroborates, explaining that his penis-having clients are much more interested in the tightness, grip, suction and longevity of stroker toys. “Every now and then, someone comes in specifically looking for a toy shaped like pussy or an ass, but nine times out of 10, they’ll just get whatever myself or another employee tells them feels good,” he says. “Our best-selling stroker is actually a non-anatomical one that’s supposed to help train them to stop prematurely ejaculating. So in general, it’s really function, not form, that people seem to want out of a fuck hole.”
It’s obvious, then, that there’s no universal rule when it comes to making sex toys for men — beyond ingenuity and pleasure, which casts doubt on Sloan’s claim that men instinctively prefer “anatomically correct” holes. As such, it seems like a stretch to claim that CES is discriminating against “all men” with its rules. After all, sextech has long been blasted for failing to understand female pleasure, for failing to fund female entrepreneurs, and most recently, for creating a male “sex robot” designed to jackhammer away without actually stimulating the clit. In other words, it’s not really just men’s pleasure they’re negating here; it’s everyone’s.
With that in mind, I ask Sloan to extend his thesis to women, to which he simply says that most female-focused sex toys don’t look like giant, veiny cocks because, “For reasons that are complex and possibly unknowable, most women prefer that their sexual devices are dehumanized. They only care about function, and reject most products that have a human-like appearance.”
This is obviously another huge generalization, and one that appears to be uncorroborated by any kind of research. Preferences vary based on the toy — vibrators and butt plugs generally don’t look “anatomically correct,” whereas dildos often do — and Sloan’s description of female sexual preferences as “complex and possibly unknowable” exemplifies the ways in which society often treats female pleasure as an enigma. Of course, there’s a wealth of research out there to show what actually gets women off and that the famed “orgasm gap” primarily exists because penetrative sex rarely stimulates the clit, but as Shawn explains, neither of those things have much to do with how realistic a fuck toy looks.
So controversy aside, it’s time for sextech innovators to get more creative across the board. “Sure it’s a fantasy,” concludes Taylor, “but it’s a bit boring to just have anatomically correct toys. Some of the best products out there aren’t realistic, they’re just beautifully-designed, like Pulse by Hot Octopuss, or the Cobra Libre by Fun Factory. You really just need to remove yourself from it all, and remember why these products exist in the first place: To give you pleasure!”