What 'How to Build a Sex Room' Gets Right

What 'How to Build a Sex Room' Gets Right

Sex–or the mere suggestion of it–is everywhere in the media. People engage in it on-screen, nearly-nude bodies sell products, and Youtube channels and books teach you how to pick up partners. Yet, talking openly about sex, even with our partners, is discouraged or limited to certain contexts, prohibiting certain images or language. No wonder people find sex hard to discuss, even shameful.

These rules aren’t universal, however. As a streaming service, Netflix has more leeway when it comes to sensitive content such as sex, and the company readily uses this opportunity. Netflix brought us entertaining shows such as Bonding, about a young pro-dominatrix, and Sex Education, which focuses on a teenager who imitates his sex therapist mom when he provides services to his peers. In fact, viewers have access to so many options that it’s understandable if some have completely missed the newest Netflix series about sex, How to Build a Sex Room.

This sex-positive reality show stars Melanie Rose, a silver-haired “sex room designer” with a fun personality and motherly English accent. Melanie enters her clients’ homes, learns about their sexual experiences and fantasies, and enlists the help of a contractor, Mike, to turn an unused space into the sex room of the clients’ dreams. Make no mistake, Netflix knows that sex sells, and the never-ending makeover and renovation shows prove that audiences love a big reveal. How to Build a Sex Room combines two winning formulas to appeal to viewers, even if some of them click “Play” only because they find the subject controversial.

However, I think this unique show is also precisely what the world needs to shine a positive light on sexuality. The rooms Melanie designs are all unique to her clients, showcasing different aspects of sexuality and personality. There isn’t a seedy space among them, and one couple even requests that she stays away from the stereotypical sex dungeon. This doesn’t mean that the spaces aren’t sexual and even superbly kinky; Melanie simply pairs light, natural, fun, and/or chic with those perversions to create spaces that needn’t be hidden behind closed doors–and neither do conversations on the topic.

Melanie starts discussions with her clients while also encouraging couples to speak more amongst themselves and learn from experienced kinksters. Viewers further see the designer discuss her designs with contractors and even surprise one tack store owner when she enters with the intent to create a custom sex swing for Heather and Sara. I cannot imagine that the show’s producers didn’t enlist participants who were unwilling to be recorded for such a show, but people are still taken aback by Melanie’s candid approach to sexuality. Fortunately, everyone is game to be open-minded even if they’re surprised or confused, a reaction we see from contractor Mike when Melanie requests a bathroom with a drain in the floor for golden showers for a polyamorous “family.”

How to Build a Sex Room isn’t Netflix’s first foray into sexual reality content. Hot Girls Wanted is one of several documentaries about sex work. Host Saweetie busts sex myths with help from comedians and Muppet-like puppets in Sex: Unzipped. The streaming service also paired with Vox to create Sex, Explained, a series that invited sexperts such as researcher Justin Lehmiller to dive into sexual topics that they’ve studied and taught. Yet something about this show feels bigger and bolder than most of those offerings. It’s not just that Melanie validates dedicating space and money to creating a space for exploring intimacy, although she certainly does. How to Build a Sex Room shifts the focus from education and behind-the-scenes glimpses to the personal desires and needs of the lucky people who were featured in the show.

This show and its charming host prioritize pleasure. While Melanie learns about her clients, viewers can imagine themselves in their shoes and the finished rooms to try them on for size. Of course, education occurs along the way. The clients and their relationships are diverse and enthusiastically welcomed by Melanie. Furthermore, Melanie acts almost like a sex coach with Raj and Ryan when she encourages them to talk dirty. It doesn’t replace sex therapy, but dedicating even a few minutes to this topic departs from the norm–and filming it even more–in a world that doesn’t encourage frank discussion about sex or creating space to experiment or improve upon our sex lives.

I’m positive that this show is a success because Melanie has a friendly demeanor and, as an older woman, isn't intimidating to viewers or participants. Taylor doesn’t call her the “Mary Poppins” of sex for nothing. Here’s hoping that Netflix continues to create content about sex–and other companies follow suit. The more opportunities to learn and talk about sex, the better.