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Sex, Love & Goop Seems Legitimately Helpful, Which Is Weird

Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness brand takes a left turn in its latest Netflix collab.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow role is that of interested observer in Sex, Love & Goop. (Photo: Netflix)
    Gwyneth Paltrow role is that of interested observer in Sex, Love & Goop. (Photo: Netflix)

    Here's the thing about Sex, Love & Goop, the new Netflix sexual-health series from producer Gwyneth Paltrow and her (now 13-year-old!) wellness brand Goop: it seems like it could be very helpful and beneficial to people, especially the couples who are featured on the show. This may come as a surprise to anyone who's followed Paltrow and Goop over the last decade plus or watched the 2020 series Goop Lab, which saw Gwyneth and her in-house Goop team trying out everything from energy healing to cold therapy to mediums, most of which felt dubious to one degree or another. The most helpful and responsible Goop Lab episode focused on a frank exploration of female sexuality, and that's the path that Sex, Love & Goop follows as well, making this by far the most responsible of Goop projects. But is responsible what we're actually looking for from Goop?

    To be clear: I don't want Paltrow's wellness brand to actively harm anyone, and I'd certainly never begrudge the couples who seem to be helped by the counseling and education they receive on this show. But the appeal of Goop to most pop culture observers has always been its window into the world of the things rich people can do and buy and immerse themselves in, whether it's ayahuasca retreats or personal chefs, all seen by an at-home audience who knows it's all kind of a scam. Watching a Goop program that's actually responsible and helpful for people is nice, but is that truly what we want from Gwyneth Paltrow?

    Still, Sex, Love & Goop deserves its due: anything that opens up the conversation on sexual health and compatibility beyond the narrow parameters that even this relatively sexually permissive culture we exist in offers is a good thing. The new six-episode series features Paltrow as an interested observer as she's gathered a handful of experts in the field to guide these couples past some of the familiar bugaboos like shame, body image, sexual compatibility, and why sex is much more than just penetration. The series features five couples who recur throughout the series, each being helped by a dedicated therapist in one of several similar-seeming fields that all sound both terribly interesting while also vaguely made up, like "somatic sexologist" Jaiya and "erotic wholeness coach" Darshana. The work they do to help their various couples is pretty interesting. Damon and Erika are sexually mismatched, which is to say they're turned on in different ways, and Jaiya helps them to identify their "erotic blueprints" — Erika is drawn to energy and kink, whereas Damon is more straightforwardly sexual — and then bridge that gap. (Part of this work is done by one partner wielding Wolverine claws, it's a whole thing.)

    Rama and Felieitas are one of five likable couples counciled in Sex, Love & Goop. (Photo: Netflix)

    The other couples are also trying to enhance their sexual connection in one way or another. Rama and Felieitas are married parents dealing with the familiar strains of the spark having gone out in their marriage. Engaged Shandra and Camille are trying to overcome issues of shame in their relationship, especially having to do with Shandra's conservative religious upbringing (her mother says she won't attend their lesbian wedding). Joie and Mike are an older couple who are struggling with initiating sex (he's always ready to go; she's not). Sera and Dash are more looking for relationship counseling than sex therapy. They're mostly quite likeable people, and it's comforting to watch them get paired with coaches who are kind and seem genuinely helpful. And yet all the while you're definitely left wondering when Paltrow is going to recommend that they all submerge themselves into an icy lake in order to attain peak sexual congress (this does not happen).

    The Goop-iest moments come from Sera and Dash's episode — although I don't want to gloss over the scene where somatic sexologist Jaiya is given an energy orgasm by a fellow practitioner who hovers his hands around her body but never touches her, a moment that looks not unlike someone playing a theremin. But Sera and Dash's relationship counseling leads them to undergo what's called "family constellation" therapy to get to the root of their respective family trauma, an exercise in deep role playing with gathered strangers acting as vessels for the women's family members and which resembles nothing so much as an intensive long-form improv assignment. The whole thing seems extremely suspect and very … California, for lack of a better term, both of which ultimately feel very Goop.

    Sex, Love & Goop sometimes feels a bit like HBO's dearly departed Real Sex, while at others it seems like Paltrow and Netflix are going for their piece of the Couples Therapy pie. Whether Goop as an enterprise can ever truly have its cake and eat it too — help others while also live up to their brand of wealthy dabbling — remains an open question, even as the participants in these workshops seem to be doing good self-improvement work. Ultimately, the appeal of Goop remains a kind of wellness-porn fantasy. What kinds of self-improvement gambits could I get up to if I had the money, free time, and access to specialized coaching that Gwyneth Paltrow has? In this particular case, the results end up being: I could have better orgasms and feel closer to my partner. These are good things. I'm not sure if Goop should be the first place you look to achieve such things, but in the case of Sex, Love & Goop, I'm glad things worked out. Mostly.

    All six episodes of Sex, Love & Goop drop on Netflix Thursday, October 21.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Sex, Love & Goop, Netflix, Gwyneth Paltrow