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By Emerson Karsh
“How To Build a Sex Room” is the Netflix summer phenomenon that combines sex, BDSM, and interior design. How? Think “Bonding” meets HGTV. Host and designer, Melanie Rose, puts BDSM front and center with her goody bag full of kink toys and her deviously delicious designs. Melanie pulls out all the stops transforming musty basements and spare bedrooms into custom-designed adult playgrounds that cater to each client’s pleasure preferences and curiosities. (Spoiler alert!) A rock-and-roll dungeon, glamorous Las Vegas-style bedroom, and sensual spa hideaway are just a few of the themed rooms she surprises guests with on the show.
As a kink educator and lifestyle kinkster, I had lots of thoughts while binge-watching the series with the rest of the world. Some things I absolutely loved while others I thought could have been done better. Let’s start with How To Build a Sex Room’s undeniable strong points.
The true beauty of this show, and what kept me coming back for more, is the emphasis on prioritizing pleasure. Melanie Rose continually stresses the importance of creating a space where sexuality, sensuality, and intimacy are the focus and are free to be explored. Most of the couples on the show revealed that intimacy and sex had become less important or nonexistent in their relationships.
The couples ask Melanie to help them build a sex room because they want to work on their sex lives and make it a priority again. Melanie not only encourages them to focus on intimacy but also creates beautiful spaces where that can happen. One couple even tearfully thanked her at the end for saving their marriage. This stresses just how vital sex and intimacy can be in relationships and the value of nourishing them.
Seeing a show telling its audience of millions, “Hey! Prioritize your pleasure!” is truly refreshing. That’s a big plus for How To Build a Sex Room in my book.
This show gave us lots of representation and visibility which was amazing to see! Among the design client guests were a polyamorous family, a queer couple, a gay couple, a Black couple, an interracial couple, a lesbian couple, and a single woman in her fifties. Seeing such a variety of relationship types, curiosities, and humans helps viewers feel more connected to the show and to the guest’s experiences. This highlights the vital message that pleasure, intimacy, and sexuality are for everyone and anyone.
How To Build a Sex Room focused on often stigmatized kinks including watersports, voyeurism, power exchange, impact, electric play, sadomasochism, and shibari.
Featuring individuals with a true love for BDSM helps normalize desires many people secretly have but feel are too taboo to talk about. It put a huge smile on my face seeing a woman on the show speak openly about her love for golden showers and getting messy. Her sex room even had a drain in the floor so she could continue exploring this kink! For those curious about taboo kinks, the open-mindedness in this series may be the gentle push they need to overcome sexual shame and start exploring.
As an educator, it warmed my heart to see this kinky representation knowing it will reach those scared to try new things due to stigma. There’s nothing better than living your authentic kinky life and encouraging others to do so!
In one of the episodes, Melanie Rose says, “Sex rooms are for everyone!” I couldn’t agree more!
This show features couples wishing for a space dedicated to intimate connection as well as those wanting a full-fledged dungeon, and everywhere in between. Viewers got to experience a variety of rooms and spaces for many different types of couples and their interests. I really loved that they found such a diverse range of people, sexual interests, preferences, and fantasies. Everyone’s story was uniquely their own. Sexuality truly is a big spectrum; it’s unique from person to person and relationship to relationship. Seeing that portrayed on the big screen was great!
Melanie showed us that no matter your sexual interests, preferences, or fantasies – from vanilla to kinky, you deserve a sex room.
"For those curious about taboo kinks, the open-mindedness in this series may be the gentle push they need to overcome sexual shame and start exploring."
While I liked a lot about How To Build a Sex Room, I definitely had a few critiques. I talked about some of the show’s misses in this recent Instagram post that sparked a great discussion in the comments. Here are some of the things I would have like to see How To Build a Sex Room do better:
One of my largest critiques of the show was the lack of consent conversations on screen. We didn’t see enough with the couples themselves, between Melanie and the couples, or between Melanie and her contractor, Mike. Consent is one of the largest pillars in the kink community and disregarding it while continually pushing kink was very disheartening to see.
Although it has been confirmed by couples from the show (in my comments section on my Instagram post!) that there were full sessions on consent and communication that didn’t make the final cut, I still wish we saw some of it. I know that “consent conversations” aren’t the sexy content Netflix wants to put on screen. As a kink educator, however, I feel it’s an indiscretion for there to be absolutely no examples of in-depth consent negotiations when putting BDSM on mainstream television.
We even see an overall lack of consent when Melanie interacts with the couples and the contractor. For “shock value”, Melanie pulls out toys from her goody bag, usually starting with a crop and usually smacking it on her hand or on the couple’s hand – without the couple’s consent most of the time. Melanie also “plays” around with the contractor and the toys they bought for the couples without consent from him.
We got some education on How To Build a Sex Room but most of it focused on the history of furniture. Sure, it was interesting – but if they could include that, they could have included more!
There were a few educational tidbits like explaining the difference between a top vs. a dominant and defining shibari, I just wish there was a bit more. The audience could have benefitted greatly from an additional 30 seconds to a minute of education in each episode. A simple “what is bondage?” or “let’s talk safewords!” would have made a difference in my book.
Alternatively, the show could have directed audiences to resources at the end of each episode without sacrificing significant airtime. Perhaps their own website containing articles and videos by BDSM educators they hired to create companion educational content specific to each episode. A simple page with links to existing kink community trusted resources could have worked too. This would have driven home how much they care about viewers’ well-being and helping those seeking further education. Finding and accessing BDSM educational resources can be a huge barrier for beginners. It would have been amazing to see Netflix help eliminate that obstacle!
Being intentional about things they showed and more mindful about safety and risk would have made a world of difference to those wanting to try what they learned about on the show.
Almost every episode showed Melanie giving inexperienced explorers a pair of metal handcuffs. As a kink educator, I advise against using metal handcuffs, especially for new kinksters. They can cause pain, injury, and nerve damage. There were also a few times that the show designed the room for suspension bondage using hard points. The practice was encouraged by Melanie with no mention of the serious dangers of suspension bondage and the skill required to do this kind of edge play safely.
I am a believer that due to the lack of accessible BDSM education, people will take crumbs of kink they see in the media and go from there. If they see metal handcuffs endorsed, they will buy metal handcuffs. If they see suspension on a hard point, they will try it. Being more intentional about what was encouraged and how it was portrayed would have made a big difference in the eyes of this educator!
It is no big surprise that sex (and kink) sells. Netflix knew what they were doing when they put kink front and center, for better or for worse. Kink is not for everyone and that’s okay, but the show and designs still encouraged kink play for every couple. Oftentimes there is the idea that “spicing” up your relationship has to involve kink and How To Build a Sex Room fell right into that narrative.
Before designing the rooms, Melanie would often ask the couples what they were or weren’t interested in and then would pull out her goody bag of kinks to gauge the couple’s interest. On paper, this is a great idea – but more often than not kink was heavily pushed on to the couples, even if they had no interest at all. In one episode, a couple clearly stated they were not kinky and did not want a kinky room. Their room was still equipped with floggers, paddles, gag, blindfolds, and handcuffs in the final reveal. In another episode, the man clearly stated he had no interest in handcuffs and in the reveal. His room had handcuffs in them. Disregarding the couples’ very clear lack of interest in kink but still giving them kink toys was not only a miss, it also calls consent into question.
How To Build a Sex Room wasn’t meant to be a kink education show but even so, I am hoping for better in this area if and when season two drops. I hope we continue to see even more of the positives plus a few improvements – better coverage of key educational topics, consent conversations, and more intentionality overall. I also hope that the conversations this series has sparked reiterate the importance of media literacy when consuming sex and kink-focused entertainment. Just because a show is doing really positive, impactful things in the world of sex and BDSM doesn’t mean we can’t critique it and ask for better!
"Finding and accessing BDSM educational resources can be a huge barrier for beginners. It would have been amazing to see Netflix help eliminate that obstacle!"
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Emerson is a sex and kink educator, content creator, and writer. She is the brains and beauty behind the Instagram account @TheKinkEducator! Emerson has a degree in Human Sexuality and a dream to make kink and sex education accessible to everyone. She has also been featured in HuffPost, Get Me Giddy, Style Caster, Men’s Health, and more!