let's talk about sex

Can You Goop Your Way to Better Orgasms?

Photo: Adam Rose/Netflix

Remember the jade yoni egg? Goop’s recommendation: Insert a palm-size, oval-shaped sphere of jade into vagina for increased sexual energy and pleasure. It supposedly (vaguely) ignited the power within and offered other medical benefits like balanced hormones if you regularly did 10-15 minutes of Kegel-like exercise. For Gwyneth Paltrow’s insatiable critics (and disciples, if we’re being honest), the advice hit that sweet spot of cultural appropriation and advice for the white and one percent and became the butt of jokes for nearly half a decade. (Not to mention, part of the reason the brand had to pay to settle a false-advertising lawsuit for unsubstantiated claims.)

Goop earned a reputation: advice that was great for entertainment, even better for snarking, but not really to be followed. But the outrage only made Paltrow and Goop stronger. The brand smartly realized that nothing elicited more eye rolls than a GP-approved sex tip or technique. (Not that there wasn’t good reason: There is only so much tantric sex-conscious uncoupling-vaginal steaming talk, and vibrators the price of a down payment on a moderately priced used vehicle, one can stand) And hey, eye rolls are still eyeballs. So they leaned into what sells, and sex, the Paltrow-way, became a cornerstone of the brand and the most enticing target for anyone looking to prove that Goop and Paltrow’s take on sex was like their take on the best facialist or $1,000 gift to give your toddler — out of touch, grounded in pseudoscience, and exclusively for a rarified set of people.

With every recommendation, product, tip, or book published (remember The Sex Issue?) Goop’s take on sex became evermore synonymous with woo woo for the privileged class and they doubled down, with increasingly self-aware and tongue-in-cheek tactics. In the years since the jade-egg insertion heard round the internet, the Goop sexual wellness brand has fully blossomed, and has become Paltrow’s cause célèbre. Goop has doubled down on its specific brand of sexual wellness, all through the lens of Paltrow’s lifestyle. It has launched a vibrator that looks more like an objet d’art you’d find on a minimalist bookshelf in a Shelter Island home than a sex toy. (It sold out.) There’s the “This Smells Like My Vagina,” which also sold out, but also made headlines for its tendency to explode, spontaneously. And they’re about to launch a new “female libido booster” supplement called DTF.

As the empire grew, there has been an almost imperceptible shift in perception, maybe, that happened in 2019, when season one of Goop Labs premiered on Netflix. The promotional material all pictured Paltrow standing against a living backdrop of gradient pink flowers that were shaped like a vulva. How on brand. The season promised a deep dive into all things expectedly Goop-y. But, surprisingly, nestled amid episodes about vampire facials and psychedelic psychotherapy, was an an episode featuring the late, famous sex educator Betty Dodson, who came on and had a frank conversation about anatomy and the orgasm gap. At some point in the episode, Paltrow and her colleagues tried out Dodson’s masturbation technique on camera. It was real, it was informative, I learned something about my vulva and how to get off, but most importantly, critics and fans agreed: This episode did something worthwhile.

Love it? Hate it? Own the vibrator? No matter how you feel about the Goop-ification of sexual wellness, it’s only becoming more inescapable with Netflix’s season two of Goop Labs. Season two, Sex, Love and Goop, follows real-life couples going to great, horny, experiential lengths to address their issues around sexual dissatisfaction. Each couple is paired with a Goop-approved sex educator, erotic practitioner, or therapist (including Michaela Boehm, Paltrow’s own therapist she’s worked with for ten years), to try everything from touch-less orgasms, to kink exploration, to an emotional group role-play session I still can’t explain, all in the name of better sex and intimacy.

While the show attempts to go there, grounding itself in real people who bravely go where few have gone on a TV screen, there’s still a question of well, what can we really learn about sex, pleasure, and vulvas from Goop?  So in an attempt to figure it out, we asked Paltrow herself about the evolution of the brand, how it’s inspired her own sexual awakening, and what advice we can glean by watching.

Six years ago, Goop’s sex advice (i.e., the yoni egg) was pretty regularly mocked — why do you think the perception of Goop’s take on sexual wellness has shifted between now and then? 

Well, I think, even with the yoni egg, which is a fantastic product, which I still wholeheartedly believe in, I don’t think the culture was ready to hear about things like that. So it became the butt of a joke as opposed to people being like, “Oh, what is that? What does it do?”

It’s a confluence of a lot of things. I think on our side we just keep banging on about it — no pun intended. We have continued to believe and even double down on the idea that a woman’s sexual wellness is a super important part of her overall wellness. We also had [after] the Me Too movement, women are feeling like, “Hey, I’m allowed to reimagine the way that I be fully in my power.” We talk about exercise and meditation and the quality of your work and relationships, but really, a woman’s sexuality, so much can play out in that space. It can be so fraught, and we allow ourselves to be so disconnected from ourselves in that space. And a lot of it has to do with cultural shame, or ideas about what sex should and shouldn’t be, or what we’re allowed to think about or not think about. It does women a huge disservice, because we don’t talk with each other about those things.

This season has some genuinely “huh!” moments: the vibrational orgasm, the one husband who started crying as he considered his own masculinity.  What surprised you the most? 

Really just the incredible bravery of some of the couples. I couldn’t believe how willing they were to lay everything on the line and, quite publicly, try to heal. And so the first time I watched the show, I found it very emotional. It’s hard to expose yourself like that. I just thought it was quite beautiful.

Michaela Boehm’s work in this series seems pretty intense. She’s your sex therapist, too — can you tell me about your own work with her?

I met her ten years ago through a therapist I was working with. My relationship with her does not look like what you saw on the show. She’s never had me doing that kind of stuff. It’s been more of a talking relationship. And she’s been a great resource.

People will watch and wonder, “Oh, is Gwyneth giving sensual lap dances to break down communication barriers.” I know I was. 

Yeah, no, no, that wasn’t my prescription. Thank God.

You mention on the series that you’ve done a lot of your own work around sexuality. I’d love to know a bit about your journey and your own sexual awakening. 

It’s been unhooking myself from old norms and old paradigms, as I talked about before, in terms of what the culture told me as a 20-year-old woman about sex and what was implicitly and explicitly implied about who we were supposed to be. And for me, it’s been a really interesting journey into honesty of self.

I’m also really lucky that I have a husband who is an incredibly nonjudgmental person. And so, all conversations are held with a lot of curiosity, which also helps. When I look at the younger generation, there’s a lot more synergy between who they are and their sexuality. For my generation, there was a lot to dismantle.

What specifically were you working to dismantle? 

Just those cultural ideas about good girls do this and good girls don’t do that. And I think the most indelible one was, this is not an area where you can create a space for yourself, to really ask yourself, “What do you like? What do you want?”

And things are different now? 

There have been a lot of paradigm shifts that have happened culturally in the last few years. And to some extent there’s so much more sex in the culture now than there’s ever been with the internet. But it’s all kind of like considered prurient, or we don’t talk about it.

We don’t talk about the fact that teenage girls are putting pictures of themselves on Instagram and not even realizing that they’re trying to look fuckable. What is a counterbalance to that, right?

How do you teach younger women awareness around the power that they have and the boundaries that they can draw? And it should be a conversation with yourself, like, “How do I want to express my sexuality?” Maybe I do want to post pictures of myself on the internet like that. And that’s fantastic, but it shouldn’t be unconscious. It should be thoughtful, like, “This is who I am and this is how I choose to express it.”

You have a daughter who is a teenager now!

Yeah. She’s 17!

How are you having these conversations with her?

I really follow her lead. She knows herself very well. She’s a pretty self-possessed gal. In her younger teenage years, we had conversations about thoughtfulness around this passage that she was going to go through. But I think teenagers don’t love to talk to their mom about sexuality. But at the same time, I think we’re very close. And I think she knows that I’m there. I’m just impressed with how comfortable she is with herself. I was not like that at her age.

For you, why is leading these discussions about sex — with your audience, with your daughter, with yourself — so important? 

It’s really important in general to be incredibly deeply honest with yourself and to do whatever it is, if you are so inclined, to feel the things that you’re wrestling with. This is my life’s work: I want to be as close to myself as possible, as honest with myself as possible.

The interesting thing about talking about it within the sexual context is you can’t really pretend that you’re okay if you’re not. It’s like in life, we can sort of white-knuckle through something, or we’re conditioned to look the other way. Or we get through a bad date by having a glass of wine or two. There are all these coping mechanisms. And it’s almost like, in a sexual context, your real truth is going to be really, really present.

It’s a fascinating microcosm for, how close are you to yourself? What are you really willing to do in order to heal? super fascinating realm to look at your whole life through this lens of what is your sexuality?

So it’s not just about being rewarded with better orgasm or trying out tantric massage, I guess?

It’s really about how close are you to yourself? Are you super honest with who you are, what you like, what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, what your boundary is?

You have all of the best experts and toy-testers and women’s opinions at your fingertips. And so, I have to know: What is your best sex tip for women who are trying to enhance their sex lives?

I think they just have to get to know themselves really well, as I’ve been saying. It’s pretty simple. It’s the same thing. It’s like, be as brave as you can to ask yourself the hardest questions, really listen to the answers, and then go from that place.

Can You Goop Your Way to Better Orgasms?