How to Build a S&x Room - review by Erica
I was really skeptical about this show. I didn’t really want to watch it (hence the late review). Can you blame me when Netflix typically develops shows about sex that are more “click-baity” than they are actually informative or impactful? Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed “How to Build a Sex Room” and I think that on the scale of harmful to positive, it falls more on the neutral to positive end. As an employee at an adult toy store, I of course have some critiques that are important to reflect on, but overall this show was a good step for Netflix!
A brief synopsis: Melanie Rose, an interior designer whose career has recently shifted to focus on designing sex rooms, meets a number of people in a variety of relationship structures to create a space where they can be intimate - whatever that looks like for them!
I’ll start with my critiques!
One of the first things that Melanie admitted to that bothers me, is that she doesn’t have any background in sexual health. This happens in all sorts of careers. Because there is a taboo around sex and because it isn’t always taken seriously as work, people think they can learn a little bit about it, apply it to their work, and become the sexpert in their field. This annoys me as someone with university education and years of experience in the field of sexual health. This is an important topic that requires a lot of specific background knowledge. It sounds like Melanie has been designing sex rooms for a number of years now, but there are moments in the show where her lack of background shows. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue if she were just designing a sex room, but it becomes a problem because she often acts as a sex educator and a counsellor in the show which really isn’t in her scope of practice.
Don’t “Yuck” Someone’s “Yum”
Another one of the very first things Melanie says is that her sex rooms are different from the dungeons you are imagining. She insists that they are not dirty or deviant. Ugh. While I agree that there is a stigma around sex rooms, this statement tramples on all the people that came before her, who had to make their sex spaces hidden, who have been called deviants in a derogatory manner. It is okay if you have or want a dungeon, lots of people are into that and we do not shame other people’s sexuality.
That statement gives me serious Gwyneth Paltrow vibes. Remember when Goop came out with a line of millennial-pink vibrators and she said “they are more intellectual than something you would find in a sex shop”? My eyes are rolling while typing. Statements like this, although aiming to position their brand as sex-positive, are actually extremelysex-negative because they are putting down other ways of being sexual, ways that have paved the fucking way for them to be standing where they are now.
Although these are often what people think of when they picture cuffs for the bedroom, there are much better and safer options. Any professional in the field would know that. Metal cuffs can cause ligament and tendon damage. They can be painful (not the good kind of sexy pain), They are harder to get out of in case of emergency. They have strong connections to policing that some people may not be comfortable with. For example, the guy from the second couple says he does not want to try them because of connections to his past, but then eventually gets worn down by Melanie and says he will try them for his wife. If they wanted to try restraints, she could have shown him softer cuffs which are so much nicer to use anyways.
Encouraging him to try these cuffs after he clearly says no, goes against his consent. There are a couple other moments in the show where it appears like consent was not given before a certain activity BUT I am choosing to believe there were discussions going on behind the scenes. However, in a show about sex, it is important to model consent in all situations.
I know shows like this are not meant to inform their audience about all things kink or consent. It is not their responsibility and I’m sure the producers think it would make the show longer and less exciting, but in a show ABOUT SEX, I think they could make room for it.
I am sure these rooms cost a lot of money, just by looking at the toys. You do not need to spend $20,000 to create a sex room, please do not feel like you need all these things to prioritize your pleasure. You can make small changes with different lighting, one or two new sex toys, and a more organized laundry system! You do not need to have the budget for a room the cost of a new car.
Okay so the positives!
Although I did not like that Melanie was posing as an expert without the actual background, I do think she modeled what people need to do if they find something they are interested in but desire to learn more: go to a sex shop and ask the staff, take a flogging course, learn more before doing!
Aretha, one of our lovely team members, watched the show when it came out and encouraged me to watch it. They said:
“People who tell us they are coming into the store to shop because they were inspired by the show, are learning in the same way people on the show would have been learning behind the scenes. The show does a good job at modeling that a lot of sexual activities require further education, and a sex toy store is a great place to start.”
I agree with them. The people I have seen in the store who have mentioned they were inspired by the show have been so excited. I love that the show has sparked curiosity in some of its viewers!
I also appreciated the diverse cast featuring people of all types of relationships structures with all types of interests and kinks! Melanie listened openly to everyone and did not judge what they were into. Shows normalizing the diversity of sexual behaviour are so valuable.
At the Tickle Trunk, we are no strangers to people commenting that sex toys are “weird” or “unnecessary”, but I really liked how Melanie demonstrated that how useful they can be in helping you access new aspects of your sexuality.
Even though I have my critiques and they are important to take note of, I truly did appreciate this show for normalizing all sorts of sexual behaviour in an open and fun manner.
Erica’s take aways: Get your sex advice from an expert. Your sexuality is not “dirty” or “deviant” if it does not fall into the mainstream. Please do not use metal handcuffs unless you are experienced and negotiate it prior with your partner. Respect everyone’s boundaries and always ask what your sexual partners are interested in and what they want to avoid. Ask questions and learn if there is something you want to explore further. A sex toy shop like the Traveling Tickle Trunk can be a good place to start!