Lora Haddock and the Life-Changing Orgasm
Lora Haddock, the CEO of a robotics company pioneering the field of sex-tech on imposter syndrome, closing the orgasm gap, women in tech, and much more.
Lora Haddock is the brilliant Scorpio genius CEO and founder of Lora DiCarlo, a robotics company pioneering the field of sex-tech. We sat down with Lora at SXSW to discuss her work as a female entrepreneur, the intersection of tech, robotics and sex-positivity, the mind blowing orgasm that changed the course of her life.
Lora recently has undergone a change in her company to focus on a more socially and politically charged message after an incident with the CES brought these issues to the forefront. The Ose, (which is Lora DiCarlo’s debut sex-toy focused on giving women a “blended orgasm,” (more on that later…) received a CES Robotics Innovation award, which they then took back on the grounds that sexual pleasure was “obscene, indecent or profane.”
(If this is true, then how have sex dolls for men and VR pornography exhibits both been able to proudly exhibit at CES awards in the past? Anyway…)
On her life story:
I was born in Hermosa Beach in California to some amazing parents who are very open minded. I had two very different families growing up. My mother is awesome; a bra burner in the 60s and 70s. In the 4th grade, I got into an honors choir and she got really mad because all the girls had to wear skirts and she wanted me to wear pants. I was like ‘Mom stop it!’, but she insisted I needed the option to wear pants. I didn’t get why it was such a big deal, and it didn’t make sense at the time. In high school I wanted to go into law, but realized the paperwork sucked.
I just wanted to help people. I thought I would be a nurse and go to Africa but you needed to have your bachelor’s and I thought “How am I going to do that?!” I decided that the best thing to do would be to join the Navy. I scored too high for their nursing program, so they wanted me to become an engineer in their nuclear engineering program. I didn’t want to do that, but I did it anyway and decided to apply for a scholarship. Through the Navy, I got a full ride scholarship to Norwich University, a private military school in Vermont. I was on my path to becoming an officer in the Navy, a midshipman….and then my mom’s health declined very badly.
I left my career in the Navy to come home and take care of her. I continued pursuing a career in healthcare, a field where I spent about ten years working different jobs. When my mom was good and taken care of, I ended up living in Portland pursuing my pre-med degree. I wanted to be a physician/orthopedic surgeon. After talking to multiple other physicians and surgeons I realized I couldn’t have my own business unless I became a boutique surgeon which is not at all what I wanted to do. The industry isn’t what it was ten years ago with insurance going through the ceiling. So, I was at another personal crossroads.
Then, one day...I had this blended orgasm and was like holy shit how do I do this again??
That started an obsession with anatomy and physiology.
On the term blended orgasm:
Blended orgasm means both the clitoris and the vaginal canal are stimulated. The clitoris is about the size of a halved avocado, much larger than what most people think. It goes underneath all the external physiology, the labia majora, and there’s a bundle of nerves that coalesce inside the vaginal wall on the interior side. You stimulate the outside part and the inside spot, the Gräfenberg spot. When you do that, your head pops off your shoulders and you fall off the floor. And that’s what happened to me. So I did a lot of research on how that happened and found there is no product on the market that can do this for people the way it needs to be done.
Because who is making our sex toys? Men.
I started looking at how to engineer this product, I had some background in engineering, enough to be able to get started. I created a long list of specs and engineering requirements. I took that to Oregon State university and said, "This is what I want to do,” and John Parmigiani eyes’ popped out of his head and said "You want to do what?!" I handed him a doc with all of the engineering specs and he said, "Oh! engineering stuff! I can do that!"
So I started working with Oregon State almost a year and a half ago. We partnered with them to get from early prototype to manufacturing. When you're a kid you don't think about how you'll drop out of college and become the CEO of a sex toy company. One of our big pieces of news is we are the first company that has received federal state funding from Oregon. We've received a grant to innovate our lab and create new jobs, which is mind blowing for this kind of company. We've always had a social mission to close the orgasm gap and de-stigmatize the conversation around sexual pleasure for women.
The thing with CES when that happened put the spotlight on the issue. It put spotlight on a bigger issue outside of sexual health. There is a huge dearth of women in tech, business, etc. It was a mistake for them because now is not a good time to be patriarchal. Being a woman is kind of trending. We are in a different era now where, in the 60s and 70s there was angry and white-feminism, and we're seeing a new brand of wholly inclusive feminism. You can have a vagina and be a man, you can have a penis and be a woman and everything in between. I really want to push for that to be accepted and wholly inclusive.
On working in the tech sector:
Tech is a huge cross-section of female representation. It's mind blowing, this is a fabulous time to embrace intersectional feminism. This goes hand in hand with being multicultural. Intersectional feminism includes people of different handicaps, ethnicities, genders, all genders and all people. Some men take this as a threat. It's not. We're going to take back everything that has already belonged to us. Leveling the playing field. I prefer the term equity to equality.
This starts with hiring people who might disagree with you, who don't look like you or talk like you. When you hire someone that doesn't have the same mindset as you that causes you to think and innovate. This is when you make products for everyone and can be wholly inclusive. When you're trying to make innovation with groups of people that have been excluded for so long, we need to be reminded that we need to make a safer environment. And you need to extend those invitations. You can't just open your doors and say we welcome everyone, you need to actively do that. We have a long way to go. But I see some serious movements toward true equity and true feminism.
Feminism means everyone. The fact is, I love men, but it's also a fact of the matter that men have an immense amount of privilege. There's nothing wrong with the person who has the privilege you just need to be introspective. It's about understanding the place you're coming from and looking at the way you act around other people. Just because you're nice to someone- that doesn't mean shit.
Passively saying ‘I like everyone,’ is great and good but you aren't actually doing anything or making change.
On overcoming obstacles:
When my parents got divorced, my mother had absolutely nothing. From nothing to going to school on a full scholarship, to having that taken away to take care of my mom, I never thought I would be able to get here. I believe in myself but I have a lot of imposter syndrome. You are constantly questioning yourself. For me it's really been that when I was younger I was an absolute perfectionist and was really stubborn. I had no one except my mom to really rely on. The biggest thing I've overcome is my need for perfectionism. I cannot grow my company or my needs as an individual if I am constantly worried about perfectionism or failure.
For me it's been about embracing failure, letting outsiders in, and trusting the people that I've hired to do the job I've hired them for. Trust the experts I've brought into my company and know I can benefit from their knowledge. I think that's the one thing that has grown this company as fast as it has. My CFO has also been an incredible mentor. He started out as one of our investors. The people I've surrounded myself with are incredible individuals. It's been hard to trust these people but it’s been the best decision ever.
On gaslighting and assault:
I haven't told this to anyone yet. We have really pivoted the company's role recently to being product focused to being socially and politically focused. Our next step is becoming actual activists. We attended the Muse conference a few weeks ago and I wanted to really do my homework on the #MeToo movement because the founder was there giving a speech. I landed on a podcast about two women discussing the Me Too movement and one of them was like, “I never realized I had been a victim of sexual assault and harassment. I walked to my car with my groceries and there was a guy with his dick out jerking off in my face and it didn't occur to me that that was harassment.” I was listening to this on a plane and that was the moment when I realized, “Oh shit I have experienced this.”
Women have these powerful feelings of denial, or subconscious denial. I think this is due to a huge scale and a very minute scale of gaslighting. Things like, "she was asking for it," contribute to this. I've become a strong opinionated women over the years and I look at the times I've been through that trauma and it’s still a very deep seated psychological form of PTSD that we don't deal with. It's said that a large percentage of nurses have PTSD from their jobs; I would hedge a bet most females have PTSD dealing with their day to day lives. A lot of it has to deal with gaslighting, friends saying you want attention…that's a societal stigma we have let lie dormant for far too long. Nobody has challenged that. Did you know someone actually tried to do a counter movement to Me Too called ‘me neither’, which a woman actually started? Women do the same thing, we gaslight our own. I know women who have been victim of trauma and they have gaslit their own. It's a lack of empathy but also a lack of the ability to be introspective. Shut your fucking mouth and see what's gone on with your own life. Women are often our own worst enemies.
I never equivocated the harassment I've experienced in my life to being assault but listening to these two women made me realize how much trauma I've experienced myself. I've been the victim of horrible assault, somebody tried to murder me! Someone literally stomped on my neck in a relationship I was in. As a female who's trying to be the pleaser in a relationship I was expected to very much be the weaker female in this relationship. I was too young to realize I could stand up for myself, but I was so young and so afraid. I eventually got out of that relationship but it was just a few weeks ago where I had this harrowing moment where I had realized i had been the victim of horrible assault and harassment more times than I can count.
That was a moment I realized we need to take this company in a direction that has a firm platform in social and political activism. A direction that stands up for feminism and against misogyny, harassment, assault and chauvinism. We stand up for sexual pleasure and removing the stigma around people with vaginas who want to pursue sexual pleasure. I was talking with my partner recently about expectations toward the end of a date, every single date I have ever been on I have felt the expectation and felt the pressure to have sex. I have been stalked, assaulted, run the gamut. And up until a couple weeks ago I had thought, "Huh I don't know if i've been assaulted."
On her passion for sex positivity:
The origin of my passion for sex positivity was my stupid crazy orgasm, and my thought of ‘how do you engineer this?’ You might need some really serious knowledge of physiology or a really talented partner, both of which are really hard to come by.
A lot of it was also my upbringing. My parents always taught me that my body was beautiful and there's nothing wrong with sexual urges. My mother told me don't go off and party like a rockstar, if you want to do something you go and tell me about it. When I was at Norwich I had an interesting experience. One of the sergeants in our company sat all the females down and we thought we were in trouble.
She said, ‘you have a decision to make about your career with the military and there are only two choices. You will either be a bitch or a slut. If you go on a date with, sleep with, or flirt with somebody you're labeled a slut. If you say no, turn someone down or decide you're not going to date anybody in the military you're a bitch.” But of course if you're a male and bang 20 chicks you're a total bro. She said, ‘it's unfair but that's the fact. Make a choice and if you chose slut I swear to God - get out.’ That was a moment of realization for me and how stigmatized female pleasure is and I thought, "But I really like pleasure! Orgasms are great!"
On female orgasms:
I've done so much research on the physiology of female orgasms. The statistic of females not orgasming because of improper stimulation or mood is staggering. It's because we are afraid to talk about it. It's not an inability to execute its an inability to educate. Any anatomy book has one page with a vulva and an ovary, this is your vagina after a baby, it’s ripped to shit, and that's it. You turn the page and it's like PENIS this is the blood flow, this is how you get an erection, this is the prostate, this is really pleasurable for him, etc. Why do we have such a huge knowledge base about this?
We had a grassroots effort to gather more data on the female orgasm. If we were going to make a product we needed a database and something that fit everybody. I need to know where everybody's things are down there you know? We found this data doesn't exist. I had to talk to people and get firsthand data. I had to get on the phone with people and say, "Take your finger, put it on your clitoris. Where is it in relation to your vaginal opening? Now find your G spot, this is how you find your G spot, and tell me where it is in regard to your vaginal opening. Now tell me all the other little nuances and lets craft something and build something”. So I gathered this data through emails, conversations, Facebook Messenger, I had someone call me from the toilet. I gathered bits and bits and bits and I got close to 200 pieces of data. I then saw a trend and a range of data. I started designing a product that could encompass the entire range of data that could flex and conform to each user.
On the Osé, Lora DiCarlo robotics, and the future of sex-tech:
What we want to do was eliminate the use of vibration in favor of a biomimicry feel. What we are trying to do is actually simulate the sensation you get with a human partner. Biomimicry mimics biological motion. We wanted something that actually felt like a human mouth fluttering over the top of the clitotris. We created something that goes into the vaginal canal, expands, fits to the interior of the vagina so it fits and conforms and flexes to each individual and now it’s completely hands free.
The next step is to integrate with an app to make it even easier and more intuitive. We want to integrate sensors that take in data points like blood pressure, PSI, temperature, we know how you're having an orgasm and how to react. We then integrate this with VR and we create a software development kit that you can use. Put on your headset and see your partner.
Let's say there's someone you want to bang in LA, we want our new real feel line to actually feel like you're with this partner. That's our ideal experience, being able to plug this in with VR and actually feel like you are having a true, customizable and intense experience with somebody else or somebody else you make up. If you're on our newsletter you can get notification about the presale, we have some fun stuff we are designing for that. Very femme friendly and cute.
We have a lot of things on the agenda at Lora DiCarlo, and now we have pivoted to be on a stronger social activist platform. I'm in the middle of writing a manifesto of what our activism looks like. I want to stay in our lane, but I want to have the ability to lift someone up on our platform. We are also creating a space for our employees. We are working this out right now where we may have two days a year of PTO our employees can apply for to do whatever social activism they want. You just have to document these days for social media. We are super excited about that.
On advice for the female entrepreneur:
Do your homework. A lot of inventors think they have a great idea and they ask someone else to build it. The only person who can build it is you. You have the idea and you have the passion. That's how I got this off the ground. As much as you possibly can to the best of your ability write out your whole idea, how it works, how somebody else could build it. Take this into an engineering document, a mission, a social manifesto, whatever. Create the company you want based on your values. That's the kind of company people will want to work for. A company that has culture, an ethos, heart. Companies without culture that don’t have those ethics in line, people are going to turn around and not want to give you their money anymore.
On female entrepreneurship:
As a female entrepreneur the biggest challenge is people not taking you seriously and you taking yourself too seriously. You're going to fail. Embrace failure, failing is fine you just need to learn from it. If somebody doesn't like your idea fuck it and keep going with it, but enjoy yourself. If you burn yourself out you will lose all the joy in what you're doing and then you've lost the whole point in doing it. When you innovate with a bunch of different people at the table, you make products that speak to a whole different bunch of people. That's where you're going to make money. Unless you're a non for profit you need to make money to survive. We see a lot of male run businesses that hire people who look like them, talk like them, make products for people like them, and this leaves out everyone else. And when you miss out on everyone else you miss out on a whole lot of money. and you miss our on building your dream, your voice, your company, your dream and your mission.