Netflix’s Sex Education Is Perfect, The Goop Lab Is Not
It’s one thing to consider yourself revolutionary. It’s another thing entirely to actually be revolutionary; to create a show or a platform centred on a specific topic (in this case, sex) that starts a dialogue and ultimately moves the needle. I’m not convinced The Goop Lab does that. I am certain Sex Education does.
For what it’s worth, I’m not an anti-Gooper. In fact, a lot of the holistic beliefs peddled on Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle platform line up with my own views on health and wellness. I’ve even implemented some of the tools and techniques she regularly espouses – like Wim Hoff’s breathing method, spotlighted on Paltrow’s new Netflix docu-series, The Goop Lab. My naturopath suggested I use the practice to help reset my nervous system during periods of anxiety.
But The Goop Lab’s blind spots are… concerning. “The Pleasure Is Ours”, the third episode in the series, clocks in at just under 40 minutes and seeks to investigate female sexuality. The first red flag appeared in the opening sequence when Paltrow and her chief content officer Elise Loehnen interviewed famed 90-year-old sexologist and orgasm expert Betty Dodson and it was revealed that Paltrow didn’t know the difference between a vagina and a vulva. Yes that’s right, the lady who has been telling you to steam your bits doesn’t actually know the difference between the birth canal and the outer area of your genitals. Good stuff. I was also taken aback by how shocked Paltrow was to learn the impacts of porn culture on a woman’s relationship with her physical body, including the statistics around female porn stars who have had plastic surgery (namely labiaplasty) to appeal more to the male gaze. To me, this is relatively common knowledge. There was also a lot of…giggling?
Look, is Gwyneth Paltrow positively contributing to the democratisation of health and wellness? Of course she’s not! She sells a $259 meditation pillow. She sells $500 vibrators (which she refuses to call by name and instead refer to as “intimate wellness solutions”), she sells $75 vitamin subscriptions called “Madam Ovary” for women in the throes of menopause. SHE SELLS $15,000 DILDOS. But I do believe she is well-intentioned, and there was a lot about that third episode that did feel revolutionary: Women sharing their deepest insecurities about their bodies and talking about “genital shame” is largely unchartered territory on television. As is learning about one’s own genitals – the show points out that the makeup of the clitoris was only fully mapped in 2005. And Betty the sexologist was worth her weight in gold; a 2008 study of 500 women with anorgasmia, the inability to orgasm, revealed that Dodson coached 456 of them straight to the big O.
Sex Education, on the other hand, is flawless. The second season, which premiered earlier this month, is somehow even better than the first and I binge-watched all eight episodes in less than a week and I don’t want to talk about it *except I do*. The critically acclaimed british comedy-drama offers an awkward depiction of sex and consent for high schoolers. And it’s the awkwardness that makes the show so refreshingly truthful; because the emotional perils of intimacy aren’t strictly limited to high school, they extend far beyond adolescent teenagers and well into adulthood. For those who have yet to see Sex Education, the show follows a dorky but wise-beyond-his-years teenager who dishes out sex advice to his peers, behind the back of this sex therapist mother. The show ambitiously and sensitively tackles subjects usually glossed over on other shows (like the female orgasm, anal sex and masturbation) as well as more nuanced experiences like the mechanics of douching, a-sexuality, pan-sexuality, and consent. In one episode, an image of a girl’s unwaxed vulva is circulated without her permission by a fellow student who wanted revenge. When the headmaster points out in school assembly that it is a crime to share such pictures, a wave of students come to the targeted girl’s defense by all falsely claiming the image is theirs. “It’s my vagina,” one after another yells out, first girls, and then even the most popular boy in school. As each person stands up, the shame of the original image fades into the background.
Thankfully, it looks as though Sex Education might very well save a new generation of high schoolers from a lot of terrible, no good, very bad sex.