From Goop to puppets, how Netflix is offering sex ed for a new age

Gwyneth Paltrow's "Sex, Love & goop" and Saweetie's "Sex: Unzipped" disrupt our discomfort talking about sex

Published October 26, 2021 7:03PM (EDT)

Gwyneth Paltrow in "Sex, Love & Goop"  (Netflix)
Gwyneth Paltrow in "Sex, Love & Goop" (Netflix)

Recently, research has confirmed that lockdown took a toll on our collective sex and dating lives. Well, Netflix is here to help with two new wildly sex-positive offerings: Gwyneth Paltrow's appropriately Goop-y series "Sex, Love & goop," and rapper-singer Saweetie's "Sex: Unzipped," featuring puppets and sex therapists galore. 

Rapper-singer Saweetie's "Sex: Unzipped" is a raunchy, hilarious and surprisingly informative hour-long Netflix special that aims to demystify sex and show how to make it enjoyable for everyone. Saweetie hosts the show by posing some of the most pressing questions on sex and sexuality today, and is joined by an all-star and diverse lineup of comedians and sexperts who share their most graphic sexual experiences and insights. But the highlight of the special is easily its chorus of sex-crazed, Muppets-esque puppets at Saweetie's side to talk through the literal ABCs of different sex positions, sex toys, and sexual pleasure broadly.

The special isn't afraid to get into the nitty-gritty, surveying its guest stars on their first sexual experiences, and how they would describe orgasm, while also exploring LGBTQ-inclusive sex toys, sex after transitioning for trans folks, and more.

RELATED: Salon gets Goopy to delve into the wacky, vulva-friendly world of Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle brand

Gwyneth Paltrow's six-part "Sex, Love & goop," which she co-hosts with friend and sexpert Michaela Boehm, is a bit different — although a clitoris puppet does make a cameo. What else do you expect from the vulva-friendly lifestyle brand? The six-part series is an intimate, unapologetic celebration of female and queer sexual pleasure that surveys a handful of couples of different ages, sexualities and even gender identities about what's missing from their sex lives, and how to get there.

At the core of both new Netflix titles is a demystified, unembarrassed and uniquely modern perspective on sex and sexuality. Here's how each series approached today's sex ed, a course that it's clear that nobody had enough of in school:

Defining your sex language, aka erotic blueprint

"Goop" introduces what's called an erotic blueprint, through which couples can understand their sexual compatibilities and bridge their erotic differences. In some ways, it's similar to the widely popular love languages, but is more specific to sexuality and the different ways people experience sexual pleasure. Per the blueprint, there are five erotic types:

Sensual: turned on by all of their senses being ignited and seeks full-body arousal
Energetic: turned on by building up sexual energy and anticipation before the actual act of sex itself
Sexual: turned on by the traditional symbols and conceptions of sex, like nudity, genitals, and penetration
Kinky: attracted to what's tabboo, physically or psychologically
Shapeshifter: turned on by all of this

Sex without traditional sexual intercourse

Even if someone falls into one of these types, just how much pleasure can one get beyond actual "sexual" touching that we identify with sex? One very, very brave couple finds out with hands-on experience in "Sex, Love & goop." 

Erika and Damon have been struggling with their sex life, which extends from Damon's belief that he's just innately more sexual and horny than Erika is and that she's "conservative." What a crock! What they discover is that neither is "more sexual" than the other — they just have different turn-ons. 

It turns out that Erika is actually high on the energetic and kinky scale, and Damon tests more traditionally sexual at first but once he lets go of his preconceptions, he finds that's he's also incredibly high on the energetic turn-ons. In fact . . . he even has an energetic orgasm onscreen that's so powerful, he's high from the experience much longer than from traditional sex.

Hear Damon discuss it in this trailer for "Sex, Love & goop," via YouTube.

The ABCs like you've never heard them before

"Sex: Unzipped" doesn't introduce the erotic blueprint, but the special definitely explores the many ways beyond penetration that people experiment with sexual pleasure. Guest stars detail their varied familiarity sex toys for their various cavities, while puppets sing the ABCs of varying alternate sex behaviors. 

This is far beyond elementary, my dear.

"A is for anal, B is for ball sack, C is for cunniligus, cock, clitoris and climax, D is for dildo, it's a d**k without a guy, E is for ejaculate . . . F is for fisting, have you found your G-spot? H is for a handjob round the back of the chemistry block." By the letter M, the song hits its stride, as the puppets sing, "M is for mutual masturbation, N, nipple stimulation, Oral, Penile, just a Quickie, Rimming or Scrotalingus." 

The truth about losing your virginity

In 2017, Rihanna joked that if she could go back in time to any moment in her life and disappear from it, she would choose the moment she lost her virginity. It's a sentiment shared by the roster of stars and comedians who feature in "Sex: Unzipped," as they detail just how uncomfortable their first times were. 

RELATED: Honest approach to virginity in "Love, Victor" dismantles trope of the horny teenage boy

Unlike some of the others, Nikki Glaser, comedian and host of "FBoy Island," had an OK time — but with a twist. "I luckily met a guy who knew I was a virgin, and took a lot of care and pride in taking my virginity . . . and then he eventually moved to New York to be with his girlfriend, and never really called me again," she said.

Dominique Jackson, a trans actress best known for her role in FX's "Pose," recounted the discomfort of her first time, before she eventually transitioned. "My parts didn't feel like they were supposed to be mine, so it was a bit confusing," she said. "I tried to find the pleasure, but it was more a mental thing, 'Oh my gosh, I'm having sex,' rather than a whole spiritual and body engagement that I feel now."

All said, there's a wide range of experiences when it comes to virginity, many of which lack the glamour, romance and sexual savvy of the teens of "Riverdale." And virginity, or first-time sexual experiences, will always mean something different — or nothing at all — to different people. As one puppet on "Sex: Unzipped" puts it, "I don't believe in virginity. I don't think your first sexual experience is defined by penetration. It's not like some magic d**k comes along and changes you forever."

Unpacking queer and trans sexual experiences

On "Sex, Love & goop," lesbian couple Camille and Shandra open up about their struggles to feel confident in their sex life. Sex and intimacy coach Darshana Avila introduces them to unique vibrators for lesbian sexual encounters, and other sex toys to allow them to shed their inhibitions and just have fun. Camille ultimately realizes what's holding her back is insecurity and an overarching feeling of shame and discomfort about her sexual expression, which is instilled in all of us from a young age, and can especially affect people who aren't cis and straight.

RELATED: From Britney to Lorde: Young women shift from embracing body positivity to body neutrality as teens

On the other hand, another couple, Sera and Dash, who's nonbinary, have a thriving sex life. What they seek is unlocking a deeper level of emotional intimacy, and healing from past wounds, like the conflicts and inner struggles that led to both of their prior divorces before meeting each other.

To that end, Sera and Dash have a session with Family Constellations facilitator Katarina Wittich, who performs that particular therapy, "a group practice that helps investigate what it is that's stuck in an individual's life." The session is facilitated "not by talking or thinking," but using other members of a group to represent one's family of origin and allow you to see "the patterns that led to you being who you are."

This may be a bit woo-woo or trippy for some. There are literally strangers speaking and acting as if they are you, your parents or other loved ones from a first-person perspective. And what they reveal supposedly gives insight into their hang-ups and how they might have affected you.

Family constellations, which were adopted by a German psychologist named Bert Hellinger from people the Zulu people in South Africa, may not be for everyone, and it was certainly eyebrow-raising to see a mostly white group practice a South African tradition. But the therapy session certainly shed light on the different yet universal challenges we all face to experience true intimacy, regardless of gender identity or sexuality.

There's a (dating) app for that

Speaking of the diversity of queer and trans sexual experiences, on "Sex: Unzipped," the special's dating app segment further highlights all the different ways people of all genders and sexualities are connecting nowadays. As Joel Kim Booster ("Sunnyside"), a gay Asian comedian puts it, "You gotta cast a wide net if you want to catch a lot of fish."

"RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars" winner Trixie Mattel walks us through how "Tinder [is] for the straight people, Grindr [is] for the people who grind," and another app, Growler, is hyper-specific to find bears, the larger and usually hairier gay men who often have a rugged, masculine charm to them. Alexander Cheves, a gay sex writer and author, says he uses Scruff, a dating app for gay men that allows users to "woof" at each other if they're interested.

RELATED: Bow down to "the Tinder Queen": Dating apps aren't just for hooking up

We've known dating apps have rapidly expanded beyond Tinder and Bumble. Now, "Sex: Unzipped" walks us through the wide range of online dating platforms that have become a safe, sexy haven for people of all genders and sexualities. 

More asexuality representation and understanding needed

Still, as progressive as these shows may be, it's also important to recognize that at different points, both projects contribute to the erasure of asexuality and the ace spectrum. "Sex: Unzipped," in particular, opens with Saweetie telling audiences, "Making love, hooking up, smashing, knocking the boots, getting pipe — sex, whatever you want to call it, is a huge part of life," when this isn't necessarily true for everyone.

Acknowledgement of the ace spectrum can perfectly coexist with raunchy sex specials like "Sex: Unzipped," or intimate sex therapy shows like "Sex, Love & goop." But it's crucial that shows and specials like this put in the effort to educate about sexual desire without universalizing it.

That said, we can all learn from them about the diversity of what intimacy and sexual pleasure look like for all the different people and erotic types out there. Both projects are keenly aware that society remains uncomfortable and in many ways conservative when it comes to talking openly about sex, let alone non-cis-straight people sex. But "Sex, Love & goop" and "Sex: Unzipped" ultimately treat this discomfort as a fun challenge. They take audiences to entirely new places, offering upbeat commentary on the increasingly joyful and open state of our modern conversations on sex, today.

"Sex, Love & goop" and "Sex: Unzipped" are now streaming on Netflix. 

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By Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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