'Sex Love & Goop': WTH Did I Just Watch?
In the first episode of “Sex Love & Goop“, Gwyneth Paltrow claims she founded her famously quirky-to-the-point-of-problematic, class-blind, lifestyle company Goop “to unearth cutting edge ideas that could really help optimize our lives.” This has, in the past, included vagina rocks, psychic vampire repellent, and coffee enemas. This time, she’s bringing us what she openly calls “a show about sex!”
When Gwyneth became a sexpert, and why we should listen to her, remains vastly unclear, but let’s roll with it. She’s on-boarded Michaela Boehm, a “go-to expert for people who have lost their spark.” Most of Boehm’s cred seems to be that she’s Austrian: Dr. Ruth has conditioned us to believe that sex is best discussed by a middle-aged German woman with a comfortingly earthy accent, her reassuringly Teutonic cadences rendering words like “clitoris” and “erection” inoffensive, almost soothing.
Not that Gwyneth and Boehm are doing the sexing. They roundtable with couples who have somehow been convinced into starring in a sex show with a woman who once talked about negativity changing the structure of water. Then those couples are marched off to sex therapy with a variety of teachers who range from sympathetic and vaguely absurd to confusing and patently absurd. They’ve made Efforts Toward Diversity™: there’s a Black couple, a German/Jamaican couple, lesbians, a lesbian and nonbinary person. The only straight white people happen to be in their sixties and count as diverse because old people sex is totally taboo, which everyone points out. Multiple times.
There is, of course, lots of energy work. People talk about “yonis”; there seems to be a total ban on primary colors, as if Gwyneth herself would remove someone wearing red with ‘Zoolander’ designer Mugato-like shouting. People whip out blindfolds and sex toys and positions which seem to require a level of flexibility, income, and credulity that most Americans simply do not have. There’s also a sense that the houseplant in the corner has seen some shit. You could practically bingo card this show, or make a drinking game: take a shot when someone explains a stuffie vulva.
In the pilot of “Sex Love & Goop,” ‘A Show About Sex,’ we’re introduced to Damon and Erika, a Black couple with classically mismatched sex drives (this seems a recurring problem on the show): he wants it now; she wants it slow. Luckily for them, they’re paired with earnestly sweet therapist Jaiya, a somatic sexologist, which is apparently a thing. “If one person viewing this, if it changes their erotic lives, it’s worth it,” she says, and it’s hard not to like her. When she starts having Force-sex with her “business and life partner Ian” anyone unfamiliar with energy work will probably be reminded of The Exorcist, and her homemade vulva model is a little too floral, but she means well.
German/Jamaican couple Felicitas and Rama are paired with Boehm. Her methods seem fairly absurd and involve a little too much hand movement. And this couple seems to loathe each other.
I can’t help but laugh through those two. I also laugh through Joie and Mike — whose aging penis has been waiting for us like Chekov’s rifle through episodes one, two, and part of episode three. They’re paired with Amina, the founder and Director of the Atlanta Institute for Tantra and Divine Sexuality, who introduces herself and immediately says, “So people come to me sometimes just because they want to learn how to squirt.” If comedy lies in escalation, that’s textbook.
She orders the sixty-somethings to crawl around the floor acting like animals: purring, growling, and sniffing each other. “The animal crawl is my favorite thing to do because it’s so weird,” she says. “Everybody smells each other’s butt. It’s like my favorite thing.”
Just before the butt-sniffing, we’ve been introduced to Shandra and Camille, a super-sweet lesbian couple who have come to simply learn more about lesbian sex.
But after all that butt-sniffing, “Sex Love & Goop” introduces body positivity issues. Camille, Shandra, and Joie, who’s working with a different therapist, are encouraged to stand in front of mirrors and confront their own bodies in all their so-called imperfections and flaws. All of these women are beautiful in their own ways; all of these women should feel comfortable in their own skin. Their insecurities are heartbreaking. Viewers who may have been laughing before, are likely suddenly crying. This wild vacillation leaves the show spinning.
As does the second problem with “Sex Love & Goop” — it constantly breaks the fourth wall. Producers hand over blindfolds; someone passes over a basket of sex toys; we see a guy in a Metallica T-shirt (probably a gaffer) start one couple’s session. This reminds the audience, that behind these scenes of clitoral models and Family Constellations therapy lurk possibly Gwyneth Paltrow, her terrier, her assistant and her assistant’s terrier, some dude wondering about with lunch, another guy fiddling with lenses, and someone yelling, “Can you repeat that? We just had a jet go over and we can’t remove it.”
The central quandary of “Sex Love & Goop” is a bit more nuanced. Is it an exploitative sex show we’re meant to giggle over, or a genuine attempt to foster better sexual relationships and educate a public severely lacking in intimacy skills? Unfortunately, it seems to swing wildly between both, leaving the viewer first laughing at couples, then crying with them. We’re rooting for the cute lesbian couple. We’re laughing at the randy old guy. Mostly, we’re confused, and unaroused, and wondering if Gwyneth Paltrow’s a dupe or an evil genius.
Or perhaps both.
Sex Love & Goop, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, is available on Netflix.
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