Episode 8 – Lora Haddock

In this episode of our Emerging Tech Talks podcast we spoke with Lora Haddock, founder and CEO of Lora DiCarlo – creators of the Osé handsfree, micro-robotics personal massager. Haddock came to the idea of creating the Osé after her first blended orgasm which ‘literally threw her off the bed’. The Osé is a serious bit of tech which won the CES 2019 Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone product category. An award which was then rescinded for reasons covered in this interview.

The Osé “uses advanced micro-robotics to mimic all of the sensations of a human mouth, tongue & fingers, for an experience that feels just like a real partner, no need for vibration. It even adapts to your body for a personal fit that hits all the right spots.”

Being a product that is unapologetically focused on the pleasure of people with vaginas and members of  LGBTQ communities, it’s been a complicated road for Lora DiCarlo. We chat with Lora about stigma, inequality, blended orgasms, the urgent need for diversity at the top levels of business, her time in the navy and her aim to create products that help everyone feel comfortable in the skin they’re in right now…Enjoy!

Full episode script:

M4: Welcome to another Emerging Tech Talks with me, Donavan Whyte. Today we enter the world of sex tech and I have the pleasure of sharing the mike with Lora Haddock who is the founder and designer of the Osé sextech toy. Good morning, Lora.

LH: Good morning Donavan how are you?

M4: I’m very, well thank you. Not only is this our first sex tech podcast – it’s also our first international podcast as you’re in the US aren’t you Lora.

LH: Yes, actually I am. We’re in Oregon, out in Central Oregon in Bend.

M4: And what time is it there?

LH: It is 1 in the afternoon…

M4: It’s sunny I assume.

LH: It’s actually cloudy now. It was sunny a little earlier but it’s starting to warm up.

M4: Lovely, well listen let’s get down to business. You and the OC sex products have become famous, very, very famous and infamous for the association with the Consumer Electronic Awards. I wonder if you could just share the story of what happened with that whole debacle with our listeners for us?

LH: Well, yeah, to make it short and sweet we had applied for an award in robotics and drones as an honoree of the Consumer Electronics Show for 2019 and we got it because the product that we created is micro robotic and, yes, it is a sextech product. So about a month later when they discovered that yo actually put it in a vagina, they freaked out a little bit and they tried to rescind our award. And they called it a number of things: immoral, indecent, obscene, even profane. And we fought back. We pointed out the gender bias around rescinding this award, how capricious and arbitrary the decision was and they stood their ground. They said there was a misunderstanding; you should’ve never got the award in the first place. So we continued to fight back. We said, you know, you’ve got products that are geared towards male sexuality, there’s actually a VR company that does porn on the floor, and there was actually a robot there last year that did an interview that also does sexual favours for men… so we found that a little bit curious. And at the end of the day they told us that they were gonna still take our award away and that we were being banned from the show and Oregon State University that we have a partnership with even sent them a letter imploring them to not rescind the award and to not make that decision because we made the product in partnership with Oregon State who is also one of the top 4 robotics graduate programmes in the country. So, they never responded after that.

M4: How has that affected your thinking around the position of the business or the strategy of the business – what’s that made you feel like?

LH: Well a lot of people seem to think that we were very lucky that this turned out the way that it did and I will be very frank with you it has nothing to do with luck it had everything to do with strategy and planning. We planned every moment of that and we did expect to get quite a bit of exposure in the press around this but we didn’t really realise how much we would get. It turned out to be a lot and it made us really realise that there’s a lot of support for, not just a product that speaks to physiologically appropriate sexual toys for putting in vaginas but there’s a lot of support for and advocacy for gender parody and for equality within tech and business and across multiple industries and we realised that there is a he systemic issue around gender equality in the tech industry among other industries – like I said it’s systemic we’ve been dealing with, you know, women just not being taken seriously. So it’s actually helped us to create a very stringent social mission rooted in creating gender equity, really taking a good look at sexual education and women’s health and wellness and advocacy for the LGBTQ communities and we wrapped that up into our big social mission and we’re putting that on equal footing with profitability. And we’re very gung-ho about that, we’re aiming to make some serious change and we’re not just going to talk about it we actually want to see change within policy across the industry.

M4: I think you’re absolutely right when you said you’re not just going to talk about it I think there is a lot of noise at the moment around not just gender equality but all equality especially in tech, I mean some of those institutions where the demographic has been limited for so, so long – you know, it’s been controlled by a few so kudos to you for saying yeah we’re going to make this part of our social mission and give it parity with some of those more obvious commercial objectives that people like to think about so well done. Tell us a little bit about the actual product itself, how it came into being and why it’s so amazing.

LH: Well, it actually started with my own orgasm. I had a blended orgasm when I was about 28 – it was so intense it actually knocked me off the bed and I just laid there on the floor and kept thinking – how do I do that again? And I have a background in healthcare so I was actually really interested in the physiology of erogenous zones and I wanted to figure out exactly how to do this. So, when you create a blended orgasm you’re actually stimulating the clitoris – that little bit that you do see on the outside of the vulva and the G-spot or the Grafenburg spot which is actually a part of the clitoris it is made up of the same erogenous tissue and the clitoris is actually much better than that little tiny piece that you see – the glans clitoris – so when you stimulate the glans clitoris and you stimulate the g-spot that is also associated with the clitoris – you create this really intense blended orgasm. And what I wanted to do was create a product that could actually do that because when I looked at the market I realised that there’s no product that does this, for one, and the only way you can do this now is if you have two really specific toys and some really serious know-how about your own physiology and exactly how to do it. Or to have a really talented partner and those are really hard to come by. So I wanted to create something that could not just fit me – but fit multiple people and to do that I actually had to go and collect data and ask people about their vaginas and ask them where is this on you, where is your g-spot. Because that data did not exist and that’s part of the reason it’s also on our social mission because there’s so little education within the sexual space especially where females are concerned and we don’t talk about it and we need to talk about it. So I started collecting that data and I created a design that could actually flex, conform and be customisable by the user so that it actually fits everyone and becomes hands-free and we’ve eliminated the use of vibration on favour of bio-mimicry of human motions and the sensations you get with a human partner. So the whole experience feels like you’re with a human partner.

M4: Absolutely… sounds great! So ok, you’ve got this fantastic product there now and there are so many moral. Legal and gender biases, as we’ve discussed in the sex industry. Apart from the issues with the CES what other issues did you face when trying to develop and get funding for products?

LH: Well we found that it was a little hard for some people to swallow. No pun intended! I mean, it’s sexual in nature – part of our mission is to also destigmatise the conversation around sex toys and masturbation, and sexuality and gender. To us gender is fluid and we fully embrace our own sexuality and our own personal pleasure. I think that the way that I talk about it makes it a little bit easier for people to grasp and kind of removes that stigma a little bit because I’m so frank about it, but for some people it’s just never gonna be that easy and that’s why it’s part of our mission but we ended up going in a direction that’s a little bit different from other companies we actually created a separate vehicle for angel investors to invest through a limited partnership we created that allows them to invest capital gains and in the US we created a law a year ago called the Opportunity Zone law – so those investors can actually invest into that vehicle and if they use cap gains they can pull that out in 10 years with no taxation whatsoever. So that was a good incentive for angel investors, but we haven’t gone the VC route yet because we have been able to find the right people for the right amount of money and the right deal that are ok with investing in an unapologetically feminist sextech brand.

M4: What you mentioned earlier on around the positioning if this and you found it very easy to talk about it and are quite frank about it… are you comfortable with it being positioned as sextech or do you there is room to broaden the appeal and the category by using health and wellness…

LH: Oh, yeah we are absolutely gunning to broaden this. We want this to go mainstream. We have been to a couple of the sextech or sex toy shows but I definitely want this to be in a mainstream space because like I said earlier that’s part of destigmatising the view and the conversation around sexuality – the fact is everybody does it and everybody enjoys it but everybody is shameful about it and we want to eliminate that shame, there’s nothing wrong with it. So, look in Germany you can find products like this in drug stores and grocery stores so, yeah, I want this to go mainstream. It is sextech but we have created technology that is and can be used outside of this space and we will continue to do so and we are looking at creating more tech that is geared more in the health and wellness but to be quite frank: orgasms are good for you. They are part of health and wellness, they do everything from literally relieving headaches and combatting stress to feeling of elation and releasing hormones that are good for your body.

M4: Yeah and what I do like about your website – I spent some time looking at it today – which I think is very good is that you have educational, authoritative people on there you know which I think adds credibility and says this is mainstream, this is wellness, this is about health. I think that’s a very important part of it. Now, I’d really just like to ask you a little bit about how did your career in the navy affect your views on gender did that play any part in it and what sort of experiences did you have there?

LH: Well, I was only in for a very short time. I was a mid-shipman, I went in to the navy on a Fullbright scholarship as a nurse officer and came out on honourable discharge shortly thereafter but it was definitely one hell of an experience, it was quite a bit of culture shock because I grew up in a very open-minded family – we talked about sex, we talked about religion and my parents always gave me the opportunity – they put everything on the table and said. Go study it yourself, here’s all the material, here’s everything you need to know – make your decisions for yourself you’re your own person. They were always a wonderful resource. So there was never any shame about sexuality. But when I was a mid-shipman and I was at school – one of the cis sergeants pulled all the females together. Put us all in a room together – we thought we were in trouble – but she gets us all to sit down and says, you know, you have a decision to make about your career in the military and you have two choices and you have to choose one or the other, there’s no way around it… and we were like, what is this about? And she says: you’re either going to be a bitch or you’re going to be a slut. Pick one. And we said, why? Why do we have to pick bitch or slut? That doesn’t make any sense. And she said, basically if you say no to a man, if you turn somebody down, if you don’t have sex with someone, if you stand up for  yourself – you’re a bitch. But if you go out with one person, sleep with one person, kiss one person – then you’re automatically labelled a slut. So pick one. And that just blew my mind. Because if you’re a male in that place you can go out and bank twenty women and you’re a stud! But apparently it was this way for females and it’s not just the navy, it’s the military in general, I found, especially if you’re in the enlisted space. It’s society in general. I mean we have this crazy madonna/ whore complex – we are shaming companies for using women’s sexuality to sell their products that have nothing to do with sexuality but we’re demonising female sexuality at the same time. So we have this madonna / whore complex where it’s okay for us to be sexual when it suits men but we absolutely have to be chaste and proper when they demand to not be distracted. So we’re tied up in the sexual appeal to men no matter how you slice it. But we’re not actually invited to the table to talk about it and we’re not invited to the table on boards, at the top end of companies, at the director level, at the board level at the C-suite level to make decisions about the products that we use. And that’s definitely something that we’re aiming to change. I want to see a hell of a lot more equity in this because when you have one type of person, when you have a straight, white SIS male making decisions about those products… I mean we have.. humans have the tendency to homophily, it’s the tendency to seek out people that are similar and who look like us. So when you have those kinds of people at the top, they are going to hire people who look like them, that think like them and that talk like them. And when you have a boardroom full of people who all look the same and all talk the same…and it doesn’t matter if you’re a white, straight, Sis male – it’s: all one kind of person should not be making decisions for everyone else. We need so much more diversity. And we need to be creating safe spaces for those people to all sit down at the table together and feel comfortable, feel safe and to be able to make products that are truly diverse and that actually speak to a much wider demographic of human beings. That’s when you’re going to start seeing a lot more money rolling in you’re going to see a much happier customer.

M4: No, I absolutely agree and you’ve made some very important points there and clearly it goes beyond just sexuality – you know inclusion goes across a number of different forums and I think all of them should be considered and I’d like to think though, Lora, that we’re going in the right direction albeit slowly. We’re moving in the right direction I think. So just moving on from that, the tech industry is exploding with AR, VR and your own contribution with micro-robotics. Apart from that, what areyour most exciting sextech insights, products and services or anything that you think is happening what do you think is going on?

LH: Well the one thing that I’m really excited about is  – well, we do have 3 more products that we are getting ready to fire right after we release OSAY.

M4: Great news!

LH: It’s in the same genre. We’re talking about products that are just clitoral stimulation, products that can be used for clitoral stimulation and g-spot stimulation during intercourse and products for additional stimulation all over the body. We are also really looking to dig into creating a developers toolkit for VR. SO there is no product out there that can be used as a haptic platform for people with vaginas having a sexual VR experience. So we are aiming to be one of the first companies that can develop that toolkit and can use it with VR and that I’m really excited about because I think that that’s definitely a great space for VR to be. To have that kind of interactive experience – I mean if you have a long distance relationship or if you wan to explore your sexuality in a very safe space, this is a good way to approach that. We are also looking at developing a product in the LGBTQ and particularly in the trans space – looking at creating products that help, for those people that haven’t had a top or a bottom surgery… they’ll actually be able to have – we’re looking at creating soft-robotics – so they can have those sexual parts. So if somebody is a trans male, they’d want to have a penis. We’re looking at developing something they could actually wear comfortably all day long. I love that idea.

M4: Exciting, that’s really exciting stuff. I just really think this is something that should definitely been mainstream and, as you said, should be open and discussed and it’s amazing that technology is helping and supporting this. Thank you so much for sharing some time with me today, I really appreciate it. One of our team asked: could you please ask Lora if it’s possible for us to get a discount?

LH: We should be doing a pre-launch sale. Because we’re going to be doing the launch in Fall. BUt if you go to the lora website and sign-up for the newsletter then you will be one of the first people to be notified about the pre-launch sale. That should be shooting off probably in summer time. I’ve actually got a team in China right now they’re working with our manufacturers. If you get on that list we’re working on a gift that comes along with that pre-sale.

M4: Super, I’ll spread the word! This has been another mad4digital podcast with myself, Donavan Whyte. Thank you very much Lora Haddock for your time today – really appreciate it. Hopefully we’ll have you back in about 12 months and see how things are going and talk about some of your new products.

LH: Thank you so much Donavan this has been a pleasure!