Gwyneth Paltrow is starring in a new Netflix show — but it’s not what you think.
The actor-turned wellness guru is behind Netflix’s Sex, Love & Goop, a sex “edu-tainment” series that follows six couples with bedroom troubles. Goop is the name of Paltrow’s popular wellness company, which has courted controversy in the past, with medical professionals sounding the alarm over its alleged spread of misinformation in efforts to boost products.
In Sex, Love & Goop, each couple is paired with a sex therapist tasked with helping them overcome their insecurities, create intimacy and communicate their sexual desires — and invited to dip into a treasure chest of sex accessories and toys (A “Wolverine claw” makes a notable appearance in the show’s first episode). The actor sits in on group therapy sessions as her team of experts moderate.
“I’m always on a journey toward self-improvement,” Paltrow told The Associated Press in an interview. “I really like myself. I know my faults. I don’t think I have blind spots anymore, and I’m trying to sort of cultivate that same feeling about my body.”
With the new show, Paltrow is entering a subgenre that has made waves in Canada and around the world for decades, often shaping the way we talk and think about sex. Experts say it’s important to approach sex edu-tainment with an open mind — and a grain of salt.
Shows address topics often overlooked in sex-ed class
Luna Matatas, a sex and pleasure educator based in Toronto, said viewers flock to sex edu-tainment shows because of their conversational style and depiction of everyday people. Often, they tackle under-discussed areas of sex that aren’t given air time in traditional forums, like the high school sex-ed class or in doctor’s offices.
“Our sexual health is not just about sexually transmitted infections, it’s so much broader in engaging our mental [and] emotional health as well,” Matatas said.
She noted that traditional sex education tends to focus on reproductive anatomy, neglecting sexual pleasure. Part of what makes sex shows appealing are that they can address some of the taboos around sex by having individuals discuss issues such an inability to orgasm or a relationship incompatibility.
But there’s still a tendency for sex edu-tainment to fall into old traps, she said.
“There are lots of barriers for people who are underrepresented and marginalized within sex education,” Matatas said. “We don’t see queer inclusivity, we don’t see fat bodies, we don’t see disabled bodies, we don’t see trans bodies, you know, intersex bodies.”
TV shows about sex have historically been “focused primarily on heterosexual people and young people, often coming from white educators or white celebrities,” agreed Jessica Wood a research specialist at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN). But, she said, now media has broadened to include a more diverse range of stories that are more reflective of society.
Content has changed since Sue Johanson’s Sunday Night Sex Show
For a mature generation of Canadians, sex therapist Sue Johanson is the blueprint for popular sex-ed television. In a 2004 profile written at the height of her fame, the New York Times said that Johanson “looks like a 70-something grandmother who knits and makes sourdough biscuits.”
It was a description seemingly at odds with Johanson’s brand as an international icon known for candid, sometimes-shocking sex talk, which she’d been building since the 1980s with her small empire of sexual edu-tainment shows like Sunday Night Sex Show and its U.S. counterpart Talk Sex With Sue Johanson, as well as an earlier radio show.
The content of sexual education on television has changed drastically over the years, as streaming services have broken new ground in what is and isn’t allowed to air, said Wood.
“Something like Sue Johanson was clearly geared towards adults,” she said of the show. “And you had to stay up late to get it.
“But I think the streaming services have a little bit more breadth in terms of how they can provide content and what they can provide.”
Shows make for lucrative viewership
Other sex-ed shows appeared to be a lucrative source of eyeballs for major television networks. The HBO docu-series Real Sex aired 33 episodes between 1990 and 2009, raking in over two million viewers for part of its two-decade run. Its episodes highlighted various sexual subcultures that were popular during the 90s.
In 1996, MTV premiered its series Loveline, in which a few brave souls asked their hardest-pressing sex-ed questions to Dr. Drew Pinsky, Adam Carrolla and a panel of celebrity guests. That show ran for four years.
The ongoing Netflix show Sex Education (a scripted comedy series about a high schooler who runs an illicit sex therapy clinic on-campus) pulled in 55 million viewers for its season premiere, according to Deadline.
Even shows that aren’t necessarily sold as sexual education have found an audience with those looking for refreshing, underrepresented stories with an educational bent.
“Big Mouth does this really good job of storytelling around these different pieces — around body shame, around puberty, around consent, around gender identity, around different types of bodies,” Matatas said.
WATCH | The trailer for Netflix’s Sex, Love & Goop
Paltrow’s company has allegedly pushed misinformation
Paltrow and her wellness company Goop have received backlash in the past for allegedly pushing misinformation about the health benefits of their products, sparking concerns about the company’s credibility. Sex, Love & Goop begins with a disclaimer that the series intends to inform and entertain, but not provide medical advice.
The company already has an online shop inspired by the show, filled with sex toys, dietary supplements and erotic accessories.
Wood said that the best course of action for viewers tuning into a sex edu-tainment show is to ask critical questions about the information they’re receiving, who is offering it, and how it’s presented to them.
“What is the show about? Is it or is it about selling a particular brand of sexual wellness or telling people they should be a certain way?” Wood said.
“Is it selling a celebrity brand? What is the actual purpose of the show and where are they getting that information from?”