Decoding sexuality and pleasure through sextech - Lora DiCarlo talks business

In a fireside chat at HerStory’s Women on a Mission Summit, Lora DiCarlo spoke about being a woman in the sextech business, raising funding, and the future.

Decoding sexuality and pleasure through sextech - Lora DiCarlo talks business

Monday March 21, 2022,

6 min Read

‘Sex’ still remains a taboo subject and is kept away from most conversations even today. Companies focusing on sexual wellness are on a mission to change the discourse and bridge the gap between society and sexual wellness. Among them is Lora DiCarlo, and her eponymous company.

Founded by Lora Haddock DiCarlo in 2017, the B2B sexual wellness company made headlines when it won the robotics innovation award at CES 2019, only for it to be rescinded. The experience led her to start a conversation about gender equity and “un-taboo” the concept of pleasure. 

In a conversation with Rekha Balakrishnan, HerStory’s Lead Editor, at Women on a Mission Summit, Lora shared her journey.

Raised in a closed, Catholic family, sex was never openly talked about at the dinner table. But after Lora’s parents separated, her mother became open about having regular conversations about sex and sexual health in the household. 

It was her experience in military school that made Lora realise how age-old patriarchal notions were biased against women’s pleasure.

“I was in a private military school where I was told that I can be either be a sl*t or a b**ch. I had a choice to make - I could either go on dates, sleep with people and be considered a sl*t for your entire military career. And if I refused them, I would be called a ‘b**ch’. But if my male counterparts slept with 20 women in a month, then they were deemed ‘bros’. That did not make any sense,” recalled  Lora.

She continued to face bias and gender disparity when she was studying to become an orthopaedic surgeon. 

“There were very few women who knew about their own anatomy. I dived into the textbooks on anatomy, morphology and physiology. But I discovered that there was no mention of erogenous zones from even a medical standpoint. So, I started asking people about how they like to be pleasured,” Lora said.

She discovered there were neither devices for women’s sexual pleasure nor any scientific research or data on the topic. This led to her company, Lora DiCarlo.

Everyone has the right to pleasure

Lora’s research on sexual pleasure among women led her to some common observations.

“There were over 200 people I talked to and the number one common thing I found among them was that they were very embarrassed to talk about their private parts. Secondly, I realised that none of them was educated about their own physiology. Lastly, everyone questioned why I was collecting such data,” she said .

Lora recognised the huge gap in the market that catered to sexual health and wellness. This was an opportunity for her to establish a product that addressed the gap and began a conversation about sexual pleasure. 

“Sexuality and pleasure are directly linked to how we identify and our individuality, which are linked to how we show ourselves, be it in the boardroom or the bedroom. I wanted to make people understand that everyone had the right to pleasure.”

Not just about the award

Lora and her team took three years to develop the products and learn from their mistakes. In CES 2019, they bagged the innovation award in robotics for their massager Ose. However, the award was rescinded and was called ‘obscene’. Lora recalls the experience as heartbreaking but this led her to advocate for gender equity.

“The award meant a turning of the tides - it meant that they were finally taking female innovation and sexuality seriously for the first time. Now, they were not. I could not complain about it because then they would say I was whining that I lost an award. But it was not just about an award. It was the statements that they made about the team which had dedicated themselves to the vision and mission of the company,” Lora recalls.

The team put together a rebuttal and went back to CES and pointed out the shortcomings in their terms and policies starting from fixing age criteria for ‘booth babes’, to the promotion of products that catered to men’s sexual pleasure. She also highlighted that for two consecutive seasons in 2018 and 2019, CES did not host a single female or trans speaker. 

Lora also launched an awareness campaign about gender bias in technology and the response towards it was overwhelming. She received more than 10,000 email signups and about 5000 points of media coverage from the likes of Forbes, TechCrunch and more for the campaign.

This led to CES collaborating with Lora’s team to recognise and fix their drawbacks and include sextech in their shows. 

The future of sextech

For Lora, the next big thing in sextech is not just innovation but education. She feels that the general population needs to be educated about sexual health and sexuality.

Lora said, “Lack of education is a gatekeeper for sexuality, identity and individuality. I get questions from people as young as 14 years old who talk about how they don’t want to explore their sexuality through sex but they don’t know any other means. There are also people as old as 70 who don’t know or haven’t experienced an orgasm ever.”

Female-led startups raising funding

‘Vice clauses’ are a big problem for companies dealing with pleasure devices in getting funds. Lora explains that big venture capitalists restrict themselves from investing in companies included under the clauses such as those companies selling products related to cannabis, gambling, sex and others. For Lora, companies who want to invest in her venture need to share her vision and mission and are not placed on a pedestal.

“When I began the funding round, I made it clear that I would not spend any money that does not go to the cause. When you have investors across the table, you are not just selling your product. It is a two-way interview. You are to ask questions to them as well such as what do they bring to the table to help your business to scale,” she added.

A shout out to the sponsors of Women on Mission Summit 2022, an Initiative by HerStory, by YourStory - BYJU'S, the presenting partner, and other sponsors - Kyndryl, Sequoia Spark, Zilingo, Atlassian, Akamai, Freshworks for Startups, and Netapp Excellerator.

Sponsor shoutout

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan