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Sex, Love & Goop review: Against my better judgement I enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow’s new Netflix show

Viewers can expect vulva puppets, wolverine claws and plenty of tears while watching Paltrow’s latest offering but, says Sophie Gallagher, look past some of the woo-woo elements and the honest conversations it facilitates are genuinely fascinating

Thursday 21 October 2021 16:32
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“You have total permission to have an erection”. We are less than 60 seconds into Sex, Love & Goop, and we’re watching couple Damon and Erika attempting to uncover their individual ‘sexual blueprints’ to Netflix’s audience of 200 million. Gwyneth Paltrow’s voiceover describes them as “extraordinarily brave volunteers”, which at this point feels like a gross understatement.

After 18 months of a pandemic, we’re being catapulted at full speed back into Gwyneth’s disclaimer-ridden Goop world. But the purveyor of vagina candles to the Hollywood elite isn’t content with getting her hands on your wellness, now she wants to be in your bedroom too.

The Goop empire, the frequently-criticised but highly lucrative business – valued at £190 million according to The New York Times – founded by Gwyneth-conscious-uncoupling-Paltrow as a newsletter for her friends 13 years ago, is back for its second TV series. Following The Goop Lab in January 2020, Sex, Love & Goop, runs over six episodes at between 30-40 minutes apiece.

A disclaimer of my own: I’m 100 per cent ready to hate this show. I’m cynical about the Goop empire, a brand that has been reported to both the National Trading Standards and Advertising Standards Authority in the UK; had to pay a settlement of £110k over vaginal Jade Eggs and Rose Quartz Eggs in the USA; and has forced multiple interventions from NHS leaders.

In 2020, Sir Simon Stevens, chief exec of NHS England, said: “Gwyneth Paltrow’s brand peddles ‘psychic vampire repellent’; says ‘chemical sunscreen is a bad idea’; and promotes colonic irrigation and DIY coffee enema machines, despite them carrying considerable risks to health.” At this point it really doesn’t feel like this woman should be unleashed on our orgasms.

Unlike Goop’s previous show, which saw members of Paltrow’s own team try out everything from cold therapy to mushroom healing, this time – presumably after some awkward All-Hands meetings where staff said enough was enough – we meet five couples across a range of ages and sexualities, unified primarily by their willingness to get candid about their sex life.

The concept is straightforward; the couples are paired with a range of sex therapists, some with slightly more convincing job titles than others (somatic sexologist anyone?), who will tackle the hurdles they are facing between the sheets. Before everyone comes together in a round table meeting with Paltrow to dispense a little of her own sage relationship wisdom. I’m fully expecting something like Channel 4’s Sex Box with the crushed velvet aesthetic of The Wing.

But, despite being in the land of green juice and new-age wellness, the issues on the table are reassuringly suburban. Damon and Erika are struggling with sexual compatibility believing that she is more sexually conservative. Rama and Felicitas are parents who have developed a roommate complex. Mike and Joie are dealing with ageing and mismatched libido. And Camille and Shandra both struggle with body image and the shadow of homophobia.

Not only are the issues relatable but the couples make themselves incredibly vulnerable and you can’t help but feel compassionate. In the most toxic parts of Goop culture, sitting at the crossroads of luxury goods and personal health, it can feel exclusionary and elitist. Using capitalism for extreme self-care. But Sex, Love & Goop feels more like a free therapy session.

Sure the product placement is there - we’ve got the braided whip (£269 on Goop), the lace blindfold (£227), and a wolverine claw sex toy, making semi-regular appearances – but there is also a lot of information and education that is there for the viewers to take. Intimacy coach Amina Peterson explains that women emulating pornography-style heavy breathing can make our bodies feel in distress and tense up and Jaiya gets hands on with a vulva felt puppet.

Much of what is explored comes down to an ability to honestly communicate our innermost feelings with those we love. Watching Felicitas express to her husband Rama that he has become a third child for her to look after, thereby diminishing all sexual appetite and bringing them near to divorce, is something many viewers will surely nod along in agreement with.

There are plenty of other moments that will have you reaching for the tissues. Like when Damon cries on the massage table, a penny-drop moment of realisation that his sexuality, that he was so certain of at the start of the show, might not have been his but an adoption of a hetero-cis-male societal construct instead. When Shandra divulges that her mother, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, has refused to attend her upcoming wedding to her fiancé Camille. Or when Erika realises she often finds herself bracing for sex – as if for a smear test.

The programme also veers into the closely related camp of body image and self-love. Giving couples – and by proxy the viewers – some techniques for feeling more at home in the bodies they often can’t help but feel disappointed by when they look in the mirror. Drawing back the curtain herself, Paltrow admits: “I drive myself really hard to not age and to not be disappointed in the way I look and I’m still disappointed in the way I look.”

Of course, there are some parts that get far too Goopy for me. Episode five sees couple Dash and Sera get matched with family constellations facilitator Katarina Wittich for what can only be described as improv class meets generational trauma. And Paltrow’s seeming insistence on having her shoes up on the cream sofa throughout was, quite frankly, distressing.

But overall Sex, Love & Goop, feels somewhat of a departure from what has come before. In a culture of sexual shame that still thrives on misinformation, or just lack of information, supplemented by porn and self-teaching, the honest conversations it facilitates are genuinely fascinating. Or perhaps it is simply testament to how inadequate our sex education is when Goop fills the vacuum.

Sex, Love & Goop is on Netflix now

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