How Netflix’s Build A Sex Room Brings Kinky, Sex Positivity Into The Mainstream

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How to build a sex room on Netflix follows interior designer Melanie Rose as she learns about her clients’ sex lives and designs custom sex rooms based on their wants and needs.

The show focuses on everyday people in the suburbs looking to explore their sex life and the clients include singles, gay and straight couples, and a polyamorous family of seven. It combines the popular reality TV genre of home improvement with an exploration of kink culture and a touch of sex education. Think The block meets secretary.

In each episode, host Melanie Rose will meet a couple, learn about their sex life, introduce them to various aspects of kink and sex education based on their needs, and then design a sex room for them. This ranges from couples already experienced in kink culture looking to broaden and deepen their experimentation, to couples who need to revitalize their sex life or reconnect physically, and are looking for a space to do so. Although there is a frank discussion and even a demonstration of tools and techniques, the show remains relatively innocuous in terms of what they portray on screen.

Although the show has been hailed for introducing kink practices to mainstream television, kink has a long history across cultures. Historical interpretations vary, but elements of kink can be identified in goddess worship Inanna all the way back ancient Mesopotamia.

Kink is connected and different from BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and/or sadism/masochism). Many are familiar with the writings of the Marquis de Sade in the 18th century, which inspired the coining of the word sadism. Modern kink and BDSM have their origins in LGBTQ+ communities, including the 1960s-1970s leather crops. Leather cultures were a way for queer people to push social norms and create safe underground communities to explore sexuality.

Generally speaking, kink refers to sexual practices different from current socio-cultural norms. This may involve consensual power negotiations that characterize BDSM and other activities, such as threesomes, orgies, fetish games and Shibari rope game.

in How to Build a Sex Room, couples are introduced to different levels of kink and bondage, so Melanie Rose can design a sex room that meets their needs and desires.
netflix

Kink in pop culture

Kink, BDSM and sex positivity seeped in mainstream pop and social media culture. Movies such as 9½ weeks (1986) and Primary instinct (1992) feature bondage, impact play and the dynamics of dominance and submission, while television series such as sex and the city and Bonding dealt with the complexity of sex, kink and relationships.

Kinksters and BDSM practitioners can connect on social media platforms like Fetlife (the fetish version of Facebook), and there are many gender-specific dating apps such as Feeling among others.

The later book and film series 50 shades of gray featuring sado-masochism were top sellers worldwide. Pop music icons like Rihanna and Justin Timberlake had top-selling hits with lyrics about the kink. BDSM gear like leather harnesses are now high fashionand sex toys such as floggers and paddles have their own section in most online and physical sex shops.

De-stigmatize sex and desire

Incorporating kink and sex positivity into shows like How to Build a Sex Room is important to destigmatize various sexual practices and desires. It reminds us that sex doesn’t have to be about reproduction and heterosexual marriage. It can and does happen in a variety of romantic and sexual relationships, including queer and polyamorous relationships.

The show tells important stories about sex as forms of play, pleasure, exploration, and intimate connection. It’s no surprise that the series has attracted significant social media attention and positive responses of viewers, especially for its diverse cast across age, gender, race, and sexuality.

A couple on How to Build a Sex Room experiment with light whipping.
netflix

Reality TV gets an erotic makeover

However, this diversity does not extend to economic circumstances: all of How to Build a Sex Room’s clients seem to be working professionals and homeowners. One episode features an RV renovation for a same-sex couple, but most episodes involve the renovation of a room in a spacious suburban home, raising questions about who can afford to create a dedicated sex space.

The show eschews issues of class and home ownership. Instead, it implies that all you need to spice up your sex life is a luxurious, custom-built play space with expensive soft furnishings, a range of (often expensive) sex toys, a chair tantric or a sex swing and a St Andrews. to cross.

At play here (pun intended) is a consumerist model of relationship transformation that relies on access to financial resources and social capital. Like a spin on the type renovation-makeoverthe show features a quick intervention designed to improve people’s sex lives and improve their intimate relationships, but these interventions are carefully staged and limited in scope.



Read more: Friday Essay: How the Moral Panic Sparked by ‘Sex Sadists’ Silenced Their Victims


Vanilla kink

While How to Build a Sex Room has been credited with demystify the kink and normalize various sexual desires, the show produces kink through a specific lens that does not reflect the broader range of kink practices, desires, and settings. Mainstreaming kink risks normalizing some kink practices while re-stigmatizing or simply neglecting others.

For example, the show’s emphasis on creating private play spaces overlooks the importance of kink community and public play. Many kink communities host public gaming events to share important skills and educate on safe kink practices. Private play spaces also limit privacy to affluent private homes.

Despite various sexual practices, How to Build a Sex Room depicts a pretty vanilla image of sex as a private act between people in long-term relationships, living in affluent homes with glamorous space decked out exclusively for sex – a far cry from the everyday realities of sex.

Nonetheless, shows like this are great ways to introduce the general public to the world of kink. A world that can be exciting, enjoyable and sexy.

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