Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop “docu-series” The Goop Lab, a quasi-documentary reality show on Netflix from the actress-influencer’s lifestyle brand, is almost exactly what you’d expect. There’s magic mushrooms and powdered diet food and plasma facials and “energy healing.” The activities shown run from charmingly expensive nonsense (like the medium who argues that the refusal to accept mediums is like the historical refusal to accept that the earth is round) to under-researched and irrational (“The prevailing belief that we cannot control our autonomic nervous system is a fallacy,” says one expert who argues you can keep your body temperature up using just your brain before jumping into a freezing body of water.)
So it’s odd that in the middle of all of this, there is a truly ground-breaking episode about female pleasure.
“The Pleasure Is Ours,” the third episode in the series, clocks in under forty minutes. In that brief window, it manages to interrogate society’s bludgeoning impact on female pleasure, deliver full-frontal shots of a dozen vulvas, debunk myths about basic biology, summarize rigorous studies about female orgasm, teach a clinically tested orgasm technique, share tips for communicating and receiving pleasure, and show an actual woman having an actual orgasm on your actual screen.
It’s educational, anti-shaming, and entertaining. There’s certainly never been anything like it on mainstream TV. The weird truth is that Gwyneth Paltrow and her preternaturally glowy-looking Santa Monica mafia made something that could make the world a better place. This episode of television will actually help people. Viva la vulva.
But it wouldn’t be Goop if it wasn’t also a bit problematic. In between all the empowering talk about female pleasure, Paltrow also revealed that she doesn’t know the difference between the vagina (the birth canal) and the vulva (the outer area of your anatomy including the labia and pubic mound)—two completely different body parts.
Plenty of grown women don’t know that they’re probably saying vagina when they mean vulva—”vagina” has been used as a blanket term for years. But it’s disturbing considering Paltrow’s company has been selling women products for their vaginas or vulvas for years—some that have been actively harmful and others that have promoted the myth that vaginas are dirty and smelly and need to be cleaned. And she’s just learning how to correctly label them?
Goop’s relationship with female biology is well documented. In 2015, the company published an article that (inaccurately) linked wearing underwire bras to breast cancer. The same year, the site was rightly criticized for promoting vaginal steaming, which, as Doctor Ann Robinson wrote, can cause itching and risk vaginal thrush, plus spreads misinformation—the vagina is self-cleaning. In 2018, the company paid a settlement of $145,000 in the state of California over unsubstantiated claims about jade and rose quartz eggs, which the company falsely claimed “balance hormones, regulate menstrual cycles, prevent uterine prolapse, and increase bladder control” if used in the vagina. (The suit also included an essential oil blend that Goop claimed could prevent depression.) They inaccurately claimed that tampons contain toxins, tried to turn people off mainstream lubes, and marketed a $15k dildo.
“The Pleasure Is Ours” docu-series episode, however, is so opposite to all of these claims and myth-mongering that it seems almost like it was made by another company. The women share deep insecurities about their bodies and talk about “genital shame.” They talk about the trouble with “performative receiving” with sex educator and “pleasure anarchist” Isabella Frappier, and it’s strangely emotional to watch them, for the first time, practice telling imaginary sex partners what feels good. “Shame is a killer of pleasure” says famed 90-year-old sexologist and orgasm expert Betty Dodson. (In a 2008 study of 500 women with anorgasmia, the inability to orgasm, she coached 456 straight to the Big O). They look at labias and learn about the makeup of the clitoris (which, the show points out, was only fully mapped in 2005) and practice obtaining consent.
In spite of the weird revelation that the woman peddling vagina candles does not know what a vagina is, the whole thing feels strangely miraculous.
The episode, in all of its unlikely beauty, is only missing one thing: male viewers. “The Pleasure Is Ours,” which should be required viewing for women and anyone who has sex with them, will probably be watched almost exclusively by women. No wonder we reach for absurdly expensive sex products or believe faulty information about our bodies sometimes—we have both been punished by society’s indifference to our pleasure, and fully tasked with rectifying the problem.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour.