I try, as a general rule, to not know what Gwyneth Paltrow is up to, Goop-wise, because one time in 2017 I got a Goop magazine to try to make a silly post out of it and I still haven’t recovered from the knowledge that some people spend thousands of dollars for an exfoliator made out of like gold dust and unicorn dander. Also Gwyneth Paltrow’s definition of “wellness” in the Letter From the Editor was the most bananapants thing I have ever read in my life, like, “Wellness is a proposition, a preposition, a supposition, it’s nutrition, optician, suspicion, volition, an expedition with ambition of redefinition!” Not just gobbledygook nonsense, but expensive gobbledygook nonsense. Through the years, Goop has endorsed a candle that smells like a famous orgasm, vampire repellent, vagina rocks, and some kind of silent dog whistle necklace that’s supposed to make you feel like you’re meditating when you blow into it.
So you can understand why I was skeptical of Paltrow’s new Netflix show, Sex, Love & Goop, in which “courageous couples journey toward more pleasurable sex and deeper intimacy with help from Gwyneth Paltrow and a team of experts.” But it did promise lesbians, and so of course I watched.
Over the course of six episodes, lots of different couples meet with lots of different sex therapists to try lots of different techniques to have more fulfilling sex lives. Their struggles range from classic mismatched sex drives to classic mismatched in-bed desires; and the approaches for helping them range from crawling around sniffing each other’s butts to exploring a handcrafted vulva model to that thing Bette Porter did with Candace the Carpenter in season one of The L Word where she had psychic sex with her using just her brain and her horniness. And then there’s Shandra and Camille, a very sweet and shy baby gay couple who meet with erotic wholeness coach Darshana Avilaust and just want to know more about how lesbians have sex.
Camille used to be a dancer and has a lot of shame around her body, especially when she feels like it isn’t perfect; Shandra used to be an athlete and has a lot of shame around her body, especially because she gained weight when she got older and didn’t look like a teenager with a racehorse metabolism anymore. Darshana wants to teach them some sex positions, and how to use some standard sex toys, and just some basics like that — but first, she’s curious if those body image issues are getting in the way of their shared pleasure. And surprise! They are! So she asks them to participate in some “mirror work,” where they take off as much clothes as they want and stand in front of the mirror and talk about how they feel about their own bodies.
When the butt-sniffing and psychic sex were happening, I’ll admit I was also playing Stardew Valley on my Nintendo Switch, but when the lesbians started talking about their tummies and thighs and breasts and necks and faces, and listening to each other and affirming each other and just holding space for the other person’s insecurities, I put down my game and started crying my homosexual eyeballs out.
A few months ago, before I had surgery on my spine, over a year into a ceaseless battle with Long Covid, my wife slid into beside me one night and tucked her head under my chin and said, “Should we try to have sex before your surgery?” Which was a good question for a lot of reasons. For starters, we didn’t know how long I was going to be in a whole neck brace situation after surgery, or how much PT it’d take for me to be able to hold my head up by myself again, or how much pain I’d be in. All we knew was even our cats were going to be too heavy for me to lift. And then there’s all the billion things Long Covid is doing to me on a daily basis, from migraines to air hunger to excruciating joint pain to fatigue. Sex has been sporadic since I became chronically ill, even for a lesbian couple 11 years into a monogamous relationship. I said “Yes, of course!’ because I love having sex with my wife and she was right that we should be planning ahead.
As we lay in bed afterward, I couldn’t stop laughing. Because I was giddy from the endorphins and serotonin and all that, but also because I had truly forgotten that my body was capable of feeling like anything other than a pain prison — until my wife reminded me with her body that there’s still lots of ways I can feel good too. I didn’t deal with the anguish underneath that laughter, not that night, because I so rarely feel AWESOME and that night I felt AWESOME.
No, the ache underneath my giggles didn’t come crying out of my eyeballs until I was watching Gwyneth Paltrow’s wacky sex show. And, look, sure sure sure, it’s annoying that the other couples on Sex, Love & Goop just get to flat out do sex stuff and the lesbians also have to do emotional stuff — but cliches are cliches for a reason, which I proved by sobbing about my body while Shandra and Camille sobbed about their bodies.
Begrudgingly, I admit Sex, Love & Goop helped me start to process my own hang ups about how I was letting my disabled body steal the joy of having sex with my wife. So: fine. Gwyneth Paltrow wins this one. But I’m still not buying any vagina gravel.