The fact that Gwyneth Paltrow’s next onscreen frontier is a TV show about sex shouldn’t come as a surprise. Her lifestyle, wellness, and self-care brand, goop, has famously sold “vagina-scented” candles
and Jade eggs for Kegel-like exercises; a Netflix series on the taboos of intimacy and desire isn’t out of left field.
In fact, the idea sprang from Paltrow and goop’s last project with Netflix, 2020’s The goop lab, which highlights unconventional and boundary-pushing wellness practices, from psychedelics to “vampire facials.” The third episode, focusing on female pleasure, sparked such a conversation that the team thought the topic should be revisited in a deeper format. “I started to think about, wow, why is this one episode such a hot-button issue for people?” Paltrow tells ELLE.com over the phone.
The result is Sex, Love & goop, a six-episode unscripted series now streaming on Netflix, which follows real couples as they’re guided by experts to work on intimacy, communication, body image, and pleasure (for themselves and each other). Methods include taking an intimacy “blueprint” quiz to trying out sex toys (one device resembled wolverine claws) to learning to harness each others’ energies.
Selected by goop’s editorial team, the experts in the show include Jaiya, a somatic sexologist; Amina Peterson, a sacred sex and intimacy coach; Darshana Avila, an erotic wholeness coach; and Katarina “Kato” Wittich, a Family Constellations facilitator. Michaela Boehm, goop’s go-to expert on intimacy, relationships, and sexuality, joins Paltrow as a co-host. “Michaela I had worked with before in more of a talk therapy capacity, and then she became a friend and a confidant and someone that I really adore and I'm close to,” Paltrow says of her onscreen partner.
Paltrow wasn’t present in person during the couples’ sessions with their experts; “obviously it was a very intimate and private thing,” she says. But she was still impressed with the results. “I was completely blown away by how willing the couples were to, I mean really, lay it out on the line. It's pretty extraordinary what they went through in the name of each other.”
Here, we catch up with Paltrow about her latest project.
I'd love to start at the beginning. Why did Sex, Love & goop feel like the right next step for you?
I think we wanted to, first of all, try a little bit of a different format. Instead of an anthology where everything was its own kind of siloed show ... I guess maybe it was quarantine, like wanting to follow stories on an emotional journey made me want to follow couples through a journey. And so the format was really different because I thought we could explore topics more deeply. I think “The Pleasure Is Ours” episode of The goop lab was a super important, impactful episode for us, and it drove a lot of really interesting conversations around female pleasure. Some people were super uncomfortable, it made some people super happy and, you know, we love a good dialogue here at goop. So I started to think about, wow, why is this one episode such a hot-button issue for people?
And I realized it's pretty multi-pronged. You have historical patriarchy here that really discounts female pleasure as part of a paradigm. And then you have women being raised and socialized to not ever orient around their pleasure or ask for what they want, for example. At least in my generation, that was not the thing. I also think that your sexuality and your intimate relationships are such a clear microcosm of your life in a way; it's like the ways you might be lying to yourself, the ways that you're [em]bracing, the ways you are trying to talk yourself into something—that all comes out in your sex life. I just thought it was a really intuitive next step, [to] dive a little bit deeper into the topic.
I saw that you took the blueprint quiz. Were you able to try out some of the methods for yourself and see if they apply to your real life? How hands-on did you get?
I'm saving that all for Christmas vacation, I think. [Laughs] Working. I'm going to bring some Wolverine claws on vacation.
The conversations covered topics beyond the physical aspects of sex, like body image and the pressure on women to look a certain way. What did you take away from those conversations? Did you learn anything about yourself or your own habits?
Yeah, absolutely. I think my biggest takeaway from the whole show is really how important accountability is in your own life. It's like, it's so easy for us all to say, you know, “If only he did this,” “If only she did that,” and the idea that we can be really accountable and be really gentle in our way of creating a space to have a conversation like, “Hey, I'm bringing some vulnerability here to ask for this. I'm not blaming you for anything, but I don't want you to read my mind anymore.” Whether it's about sex or whether it's about ways of communication or anything.
It really reinforced to me how critical it is in a relationship to acknowledge what you like, to be in touch with what you're trying to get out of it, like what is your intention [in a] relationship, and not expecting it to happen or to unfold magically. It's so up to each of us to cultivate the kind of relationship that we want, and for some reason we're uncomfortable with that. I felt like, wow, this is such a good reminder to approach my relationship, for example, to continue to always approach it with communication, curiosity, safety, vulnerability, et cetera.
I felt like as I was watching those conversations, a lot of it came down to communication issues.
Right. And it's interesting, Jaiya's work when she talks about [how] people think they have a sexual mismatch, and that's usually chemical, right? It's usually just a communication issue. First of all, it's communication with yourself. Like, “Okay, this is actually something that I like, or that I don't like, [or] what I need,” and then being able to communicate that freely to a partner.
When the group sat down together, you also touched on marriage and the taboo of it being not so perfect all the time. Why do you feel like it was important to discuss that and include that in the show as well?
Now with social media platforms, people have the opportunity to portray their lives in a very specific way. I've heard from a lot of people that the “Instagram marriage” is actually really hard for some people to watch because people are presenting a marriage like this is the most perfect thing in the world: We have no problems. We're madly in love. We have babies and we have sex all the time. Not that people are in a nefarious way trying to pull wool over people's eyes, but people tend to post the positive aspects and sometimes the ramifications of that are this paradigm that’s created of what a marriage should look like. That's just not realistic. And that can make people feel bad about themselves.
Issues come up in marriages from mild to severe. And I always believe that the reason you're in a long-term relationship is to really heal some part of you. And only that intimate relationship is going to be the thing that kind of surfaces the issue. It's a great opportunity. So, instead of thinking, “Oh my God, this is a real problem.” It's like, “Wow, what would happen if we chose a top level of communication about this in a completely different way?” What might be possible? How could we break a paradigm about what a fight looks like, or an uncomfortable conversation looks like?
“The ‘Instagram marriage’ is actually really hard for some people to watch because people are presenting a marriage like this is the most perfect thing in the world.”
Definitely. On that note, what do you hope viewers take away from this show?
I hope that there are really resonant aspects for people, and I think that there will be for everybody. I think there's some of us in at least one of those characters. If we can honestly help one couple create a template for having a conversation, it's worth it. I was recording a podcast yesterday and the producer, she had watched the whole thing with her husband and she's like, “And then all of a sudden we found ourselves, we kept pausing like, ‘Wait a minute, we have never talked about this.’ Or, ‘I want to ask you this question.’” That was like, okay, this producer could be the only person that watches this show and it would be worth it.
Netflix and goop have explored wellness and sex. What would you want to delve into next on screen?
I don't know. Part of me is like, I want to do another food and travel show. Part of me would love to do, like, a chronic illness documentary. There's a lot of things that I would love to do. But I'm not sure. We gotta put some thought to it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.