What if HGTV’s Extreme Home Makeover and an underground sex club had a love child? That is the premise of How to Build a Sex Room, a new Netflix series where contractors and a sex coach help couples transform bedrooms, basements, and bonus rooms into the pleasure dens of their dreams.
The result? Participants are surprised with play palaces fully kitted out with BDSM accoutrement, farmhouse-inspired sex sheds, giant custom beds, couches that foil bodily fluids, and other selections customized to the couples’ fantasies.
How to Build a Sex Room is sex positive, nonjudgmental, inclusive of individuals across the identity spectrum, and a great resource for those who might be new to beyond-vanilla pleasure. But the resulting rooms, executed by host and British interior designer Melanie Rose, are overwhelmingly tacky. Decorative pillows crisscrossed by faux leather harnesses abound. An orange oversize mouth straight from a Kylie Lip Kit crowns a mantle. Almost every room has a white shag carpet. But regardless of one’s personal affinity for the decor, it is ultimately wrapping paper for specialized fuck furniture and pricy accessories that are envy-inducing for anyone who’s ever shopped around for a Tantra Chair.
The season’s eight episodes follow a trajectory familiar to anyone who’s watched a home renovation reality show in the last 20 years. Viewers meet the couple, experts convene to explain the proposed changes to the home, the renovations are filmed over inspiring music, and finally, viewers get the satisfaction of seeing the participants wowed by their new digs. The only kink in the format is that somewhere between the introduction and the start of the renovation, Rose takes the featured couples to flogging lessons, books sexy photo shoots, and otherwise facilitates horny experiences to help pairs explore the fantasies that will be central to their sex room.
Long-distance couple Matthew and Orlando, one of the more adventurous pairs on the show, want a BDSM chamber inspired by Tom of Finland’s brolic homoerotic images. Rose aims to create “a stylish, masculine space where Matthew and Orlando can explore their connection when they’re together and when they’re apart.” They’re already into toys, but with the renovation, Rose wants to help them expand their kinky repertoire even further.
Amid the giant silicone penises on the shelves, there’s a lot of heart in this space. The show’s team flips a bonus room in Matthew’s high-floor apartment into a pitch-black crocodile-wallpapered lair filled with leather furniture. Suspension bars hang from the ceiling. A web cam and studio lighting facilitate HD sexting to connect the pair when they’re apart. Touchingly, sexy snaps from a couples’ photoshoot with Rose are prominently displayed. A neon pink cursive “Yes, Sir” adds Pinterest-meets–Peter-Marino cheekiness. Online sex shop Adam & Eve and L.A. store The Stockroom supplied most of the toys in this and the other seven episodes.
Out of the city and into the countryside, we meet Tricia and Gary, a kink novice couple who’s done scenes in the snow and in a haystack but is looking for more. The “more” comes in the form of a sex shed on their property. From the outside, the blue structure with red-and-white farmhouse doors looks like any old prefab shed from a big box home improvement store. Inside, however, there’s a black leather sex swing suspended over a metal bondage bed festooned with cowhide-striped pillows, an agricultural nod to kink. White clapboard ceilings, creamy shag rugs and a chandelier made of antlers are breezy enclosures for a St. Andrew’s cross, an electro play kit, and a pony chair, which Tricia lies on while Gary lightly flogs her for the camera.
While most of the couples—and one single—are monogamous or monogamish, Episode 5 reveals Lester and Soriya’s luxe dungeon for their six-person polycule. Rose converts a spacious bedroom with a drop ceiling and ratty emerald carpeting into a lair with amenities tailored to each lover’s interests: A jumbo shower, a wall of textured bondage rope for Prince, a nine-foot bed (with harness pillows) for Catherine and her partners, and for Arturo, a sparsely toy-furnished, lockable cell. In one corner, a cobalt blue Sybian saddle perfectly matches the paneled walls. But the cake-topper in this dungeon is a custom movable cage with red bench seating that raises and lowers to accommodate different positions. Lighting designer Regina Andrew, decor depots SmithHonig and Jonathan Adler are credited with the featured non-sex furniture.
We have to commend anyone brave enough to disclose the juicy details of their sex lives to thousands of strangers in exchange for a new bed and a few oversized dildos. Maybe this is a prudish sentiment in 2022, with the Bachelor franchise in its twentieth year, the hot mess that is Love Island, and any number D-list reality shows where participants bare all. But the thought deserves special consideration here because How to Build a Sex Room demands more far vulnerability than its close counterparts in the home renovation and relationship reality TV categories. Unlike typical sex-and-love shows whose stars are plied with alcohol and are edited into caricatures, How to Build a Sex Room earnestly explores issues and opportunities in relationships, exposing couples’ sexual preferences in order to spatialize their most intimate desires.
Rose articulates her approach in the season finale: “The rooms that I design are really meant to transport you away from the daily mundane ritual of life and into [a] world of fantasy, pleasure, and connection of your dreams and desires, and most of all, of being free.”
Though the rooms may not be to everyone’s taste, the show’s cheery sex positivity almost demands that viewers smile at the happy, horny couples and move on without too much snark to the next bingeable show.