In recent years, Goop has found innumerable (scientifically dubious and occasionally dangerous) methods to improve upon the vaginal condition. The lifestyle brand has told us to put jade eggs in our birth canals and was later sued for false claims; Gwyneth Paltrow has suggested we steam our vulvas over bowls of boiling water, which caused one woman to get second-degree burns. Most recently, Goop sold a candle that is supposed to smell “like a vagina.” Of course, it does not. In fact, Goop has been so infamously erroneous when it comes to vaginal health advice that one gynecologist has built a career debunking it. Naturally, the ads for Netflix’s new docuseries, The Goop Lab, are magenta-colored and labia-shaped. Wink, wink.
The show features Paltrow and her sensible-looking second-in-command, chief content officer Elise Loehnen, who sit down with experts to discuss the topic of the day: therapeutic use of hallucinogenic drugs, bathing in ice-cold water, or contacting dead relatives via psychics.
These experts vary in legitimacy. Some are scientists, doctors, and researchers; others, like psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson, have built a following in their specialty despite a lack of scientific evidence. During their conversation, a team of pretty Goop acolytes are sent off as hamsters for the experiment of the day. The rest of each episode is peppered with inspirational testimonies from Real People and slides with some facts, and some “facts.”
On the whole, the series suffers from the same problems as the Goop brand — a tendency to eschew contrary scientific evidence on disputed topics in favor of elevating evidence that supports its theories (and products). As Doreen St. Félix noted in The New Yorker, the show is essentially “propaganda for the Goop company and for its ideas of magical thinking.”
The exception is “The Pleasure Is Ours,” the third episode of the series, which is focused on sex. It features Betty Dodson, a 90-year-old sex educator who shows up to Goop HQ with spiky white hair, a jean jacket, and absolutely no time for bullshit. She’s an old-school feminist who’s been teaching masturbation workshops to women for half a century. Her work is focused on helping women understand more about their own sex organs and achieving orgasm.
Under Dodson’s no-nonsense direction, the episode is informative and interesting and, in a sense, groundbreaking television. Assisted by the CEO of her foundation, Carlin Ross, Dodson uses the next 30 minutes giving viewers a master class in vulvae, sexual pleasure, and intimacy.
Dodson opens the episode by clearing up a series of common misconceptions about female anatomy. She explains that the term “vagina” refers to the birth canal only — “Ya wanna talk about the vulva. That’s the clitoris, the inner lips and all that good shit around it,” she says. She encourages women to study their own vulvae in a mirror, and her workshops involve stripping down and studying other women’s anatomy in a group setting. She calls it “genital show-and-tell.”
The advice offered in the episode is simple and practical; it’s designed to reduce shame and maximize pleasure. Dodson and Ross describe how to use your breath and pelvic muscles to have a better orgasm, and talk about how to ask for what you want during sex. They encourage women to get familiar with their own anatomy, describe different kinds of orgasms and how to attain them, and discuss the myth that they can be achieved without effort.
And there are parts of the episode that feel remarkable. There’s a montage of high-definition images of vulvae in a wealth of shapes, colors, and sizes, and a scene of Ross studying her own vulva in a mirror, under Dodson’s supervision. On camera, Ross points to its various parts: the clitoral hood, the clitoris, the glands. “That’s where it’s all taking place, kid,” Dodson drawls.
I wouldn’t recommend watching it on the train, but at no point does the episode feel porny, nor does it suffer from the embarrassment of traditional sex ed. Instead, it’s grounded and completely devoid of fetishization, including the scene where Dodson assists Ross as she demonstrates her “rock and roll” masturbation technique until she comes to orgasm onscreen.
The show does right by vaginas, for perhaps the first time since Goop’s inception. And unlike the usual Goop fare, after watching, I came away feeling better informed than when I first sat down, particularly when it comes to — as Dodson puts it — “running the fuck.”