Released on Netflix last year, The Goop Lab was Gwyneth Paltrow’s first foray into “factual” television. Amid endless talk of energy fields and snowga (yoga, in the snow), there was one must-watch moment: when Gwynnie, the undisputed leader of women’s wellness culture and pelvic steaming advocate, realised she didn’t actually know what a vagina was. sì, the purveyor of jade eggs for your jacksie thought that it was “the whole thing”. It took stalwart second-wave feminist Betty Dodson to explain. Unable to bear Paltrow’s wafty California-style talk about the holy of holies, she leaned forward and said in her unmistakeable New York rasp: “The vagina is the birth canal only. Ya wanna talk about the vulva – that’s the clitoris, the inner lips and all that good shit around it.” Our princess of the steamed pudenda was visibly shocked.
Now comes another Netflix venture, Sex, Love and Goop (not a title I would have gone with, given that the goop is very much the worst part of sex, but we shall not dwell). It does not reference the Dodson moment, but it is nice to imagine that it prompted Paltrow to perform what we probably should not refer to as a “deep dive” into the area. In any case, she is passing on her newfound knowledge to couples with sex and intimacy issues, bringing with her the experts she found along the labial way.
E, my God, has she assembled a team that knows about the good shit. Gone is the wafty talk. It’s clitoral hood this, introitus that, and “Do you mind if I place my hand on your mons while we chat?” I doubt there was a single Bartholin’s gland left unstimulated anywhere in Santa Monica by the time they were done. It’s all rather brilliant, especially because there is remarkably little woo-woo compared to The Goop Lab, and most of that is confined to watching a “family constellations” therapy session in the penultimate episode. If you really want to know what that consists of, volunteer “resonators” intuit and take on the personas of the client’s ancestors so that they can unpick the effects of unprocessed generational traumas. If it looks to the untrained and/or British eye a lot like the cold-reading done by clairvoyants along Blackpool’s Golden Mile but in better weather, well, my goodness, shame on cynical you! Call your mother and ask why she did this to you.
Il riposo, tuttavia, is filled with people who really know their anatomy and can parse a couple’s problems at 50 paces, break down their defences at 20 and get them healthily rebuilt, all without breaking a sweat. This is partly because they are intelligent and emotionally literate human beings, and partly because the problems they are dealing with are – at heart – wonderfully simple.
Take Damon and Erika, the couple whom somatic sexologist Jaiya is given to coach over a three-day period (job titles are an enduring problem in the world of Goop, but we must seek to overcome). They are worried that they are sexually incompatible. Damon wants sex all the time. Erika doesn’t. Hmm. Whatever can be done? What if I tell you that Erika mentions in her interview that they have been together for six years, Damon never undertakes foreplay and she only has an orgasm with her vibrator? It probably wouldn’t take you three days or more than a brief chat with Damon to solve that conundrum, but a somatic sexologist does the job properly. She explains that they have different “sexual blueprints” – Erika’s is “energetic and kinky” and Damon’s is “penis”. No, not really. It’s “erotic”. But really? sì, penis. He unlearns and Erika learns (mostly that she has a lot of clitoral hood and I suppose overall we have added to the sum of human happiness), and their progress and mutual understanding seems genuine.
Equally genuine and even more moving is the help that erotic wholeness coach (lo so) Darshana gives to lesbian couple Shandra and Camille, who are wrestling with a profoundly anti-gay upbringing, a lack of role models and deep-seated body issues. Darshana’s USP – at least for the show – is that she does hands-on “body work” with clients, which she performs on both women. But what she really does over the three days is give them permission to be gay and to love each other, as well as some tips for getting each other off. These six episodes might be the most – not to say the only – truly valuable thing Goop has ever done.