Gwyneth Paltrow (right) with intimacy educator Michaela Boehm in <i>Sex, Love & Goop</i>
Gwyneth Paltrow (right) with intimacy educator Michaela Boehm in Sex, Love & Goop (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)

There comes a point in the second episode of Sex, Love & Goop when the partner (in life and in business) of one of the show’s sex therapists plays her like a theremin. They’re both fully clothed; she’s lying on a massage table while he manipulates her sexual energy without ever touching her. She writhes and moans as the couple they’re meant to be instructing looks on in what I’d describe as credulous, producer-coached amazement. And it is quite the spectacle. It is about as Goop as you can get short of putting rose quartz where the sun don’t shine.

Sex, Love & Goop is Netflix’s second collaboration with Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle and wellness brand. It’s anchored by what are essentially group therapy sessions. Lead by Paltrow and relationship and intimacy expert Michaela Boehm, five couples talk about the ways in which the spark has gone out of their sex lives. Each episode focuses on two of the couples, each of whom are paired with an instructor who specializes in an area of sexual health that will be most beneficial to them. Erika and Damon, an engaged couple who suspect they may be sexually incompatible explore their “erotic blueprints” with somatic sexologist Jaiya Ma. Felicitas and Rama, who are trying to put their marriage back together after a trial separation, work on reigniting their desire for one another with Boehm. Erotic wholeness coach Darshana Avila helps Camille and Shandra, another engaged couple, both of whom are in their first lesbian relationship, expand the possibilities of their sex lives.

From left: Damon, Jaiya and Erika in <i>Sex, Love & Goop</i>
From left: Damon, Jaiya and Erika in Sex, Love & Goop (Photo: courtesy of Netflix)

Anyone familiar with Goop will recognize the type of woo-woo, neo new age advice and practices on display in Sex, Love & Goop: erotic blueprints, energy flow, body maps. Some of it is dubious—I remain skeptical of whatever was going on in that theremin moment. But the six-part series, which plays very much like one long documentary, quickly moves on to less esoteric areas of sexuality. The essential project of Sex, Love & Goop is grounded in unlearning certain unhelpful, and sometimes harmful, lessons around relationships—both to our partners and to ourselves. Many of the women on the show grapple with body shame; people of both genders explore how societal messages—about their body, their gender, their sexuality—have impacted their ability to give and receive pleasure. This leads to some surprisingly moving moments, as when Damon allows himself to be profoundly vulnerable, or when Shandra talks about her mother’s homophobia. (It’s worth noting that the series features no same-sex male couples.)

Perhaps most importantly, the couples on the show deal with the notion that sex should be intuitive, instinctual; that you should just know what to do and that if sex with your partner is unsatisfying, you’re incompatible. Simply by participating in these workshops, they’re acknowledging that intimacy is a skill that can be learned and improved upon. It’s almost a cliché to say that Americans are obsessed with sex, but are afraid to talk about it; that the lack of meaningful, comprehensive and inclusive sex education and the ubiquity of pornography on the Internet leaves many young people with a distorted view of sexuality. Sex, Love & Goop aims to correct for some of that distortion.

Saweetie and her puppet pals in <i>Sex: Unzipped</i>
Saweetie and her puppet pals in Sex: Unzipped (Image: courtesy of Netflix)

Meanwhile, another new Netflix special takes an entirely different approach to the topic. Sex: Unzipped is an hour-long comedy special masquerading as sex ed. Rapper Saweetie hosts alongside a cohort of sex-positive puppets, with input from comedians and sexperts throughout. The special isn’t particularly successful in either its goals of informing or entertaining. There are a couple extended discussions of sexual anatomy, courtesy of sex educator Stella Anna Sonnenbaum—who could potentially have a very lucrative side hustle doing ASMR videos on YouTube. But for the most part, Sex: Unzipped doesn’t reveal much beyond the fact that comics like Joel Kim Booster, Mae Martin and Nikki Glaser have jokes about their sex lives. The special tends to throw around terms like “consent” and “gender-fluid” without exploring the actual concepts, which might have been helpful to the young Gen Z audience that is presumably its target.

As in Sex, Love & Goop, the goal here seems to be to demystify sex, to combat shame. Saweetie and her puppet pals flaunt their comfort with sexuality. Insofar as they have a guiding philosophy, it’s sex positivity. But Sex: Unzipped lacks a deeper engagement with the concept, and what we get from the special isn’t that different from the messages we get from pop culture more broadly: sex is a flashing red neon light that we’re all supposed to embrace and enjoy! Ironically, in this instance at least, we could do with a little less talking about sex and a lot more thinking about it.

thoughts?