I’m a little bit late to the Netflix Party when it comes to How to Build a Sex Room (it got released in July last year) but after watching the whole series in basically one go, I couldn’t help but share my thoughts on it, because it’s, pardon my French, bloody brilliant.
At first glance, How to Build a Sex Room looks like the ultimate throwaway home makeover show. The series is filled with footage of American suburbs, including the obligatory white picket fences, kids riding bicycles, and people walking their dogs. And to make it even more picture perfect, all those images are accompanied by innocent classical music and the sound of birds chirping. We find out very quickly though, that what goes on behind closed doors in middle class America is a completely different story altogether.
Enter Melanie Rose, the host of the show. Melanie is an English interior designer who has been designing ‘pleasure rooms’ for over a decade, from sumptuous bedrooms to dungeons under the stairs. She looks like a real-life Jessica Fletcher about to be caught up in another murder mystery or like your local librarian about to have a sensible lunch. But, as we already found out, looks are deceiving on this show. Melanie is kinky AF, plus she has a knack for finding out what people’s deepest, darkest desires are. Her dry sense of humor, her straightforward line of questioning, and her overall Britishness, make this show a delight to watch, especially when confronted with slightly reserved, but nonetheless lusty Americans.
In Episode 1, Melanie meets Taylor and Ayjay, a hot, thirty-something, heterosexual hipster couple. Taylor has pink hair, Ayjay is rocking a pair of ripped jeans (I’m 100% sure they’re store-bought) and they both look really, really up for it. They exchange three seconds of chitchat (we learn their house was built in 1885) and then it’s back to business as usual for Melanie: “So, I understand you want a sex room?” We find out our couple looooves to have a lot of sex and that they’re more than ready to have a space where they can spice things up even more. We are treated to the first groundbreaking TV moment of the series when Melanie asks the couple what their kinks are. Turns out, Ayjay is into butt stuff. A cis, straight, white dude on international TV, telling the whole wide world he loves anal play is a beautiful thing to behold. He’s not giggling, there’s no shame, he’s just being honest. He has even played with buttplugs, he tells us with a smile. Hooray for Ayjay!
The series starts out pretty ‘straight’ but from Episode 3 on it gradually gets more queer in the best of ways. We meet Orlando and Matthew, a gay power couple in a long-distance relationship in need of a BDSM playroom that can double as a porn set, to accommodate and upgrade their personal cam sex sessions. There’s Brody, a non-binary drag king, and their burlesque dancer girlfriend Bettie, who get turned on when they get into character together. Melanie builds them a playroom that incorporates a make-up and dressing room with lots of mirrors, a bathtub, and restraints, because that’s what Bettie craves the most. And we visit the house of Lester who welcomes Melanie with his ex-wife (and current girlfriend) Soriya. Both are members of a polyamorous family of seven. Soriya explains to the viewer that polyamory is the freedom to love more than one person at the same time. And yes, they’re super sexual and kinky, but they’re also really into intimacy, so Melanie provides the family with a cuddle puddle: a huge bed with plenty of space for all of them. I need to mention here that I got turned on massively by Prince (yes, that’s his real name), one of the family members. Prince has a braided ponytail and a thick pointy beard like a Viking but he’s actually half Amish, half Mennonite. He grew up extremely sheltered because of this, but it’s clear that he has come a long way since then. These days, Prince likes to play with ropes, and he loves to tie people up. He bites his lower lip in excitement when he sees the playroom that Melanie has designed for them – which flooded my basement. I could have drowned (also by looking into his bright blue eyes, I might add).
However, it’s not just couples that are in need of a sex room. In Episode 8, the last of the series, we are introduced to Lisa, a single lady in her early fifties, ready to mingle. Lisa is a standup comedian who recently got divorced after 22 years of marriage. She confesses her sex life wasn’t that great. Currently, she has been exploring her sexuality. She tells us she has been collecting data like a scientist, so she can bang as many guys as possible. There’s an incredibly funny moment when Lisa’s nosy neighbor Donna appears, yelling at her and Melanie from behind an iron gate that separates their back gardens. Donna wants to know what’s going on. Lisa tells her that Melanie is there to make some ‘major home improvements’. Lisa and Melanie burst into subdued laughter and immediately think of a way to stop Donna from ever looking into Lisa’s garden again, since it’s going to be an essential part of her extended sex room.
Sex rooms don’t build themselves. That’s why Melanie employs Mike, a general contractor that she has worked with dozens of times (at least, that’s what they want us to think, don’t believe everything you see on TV kids). Mike serves as comic relief to Melanie. He has a wife, kids, and a heavy New York accent. He turns into a naughty little schoolboy whenever Melanie shares her ideas for the next playroom he has to build. Their jokes are plain stupid and that’s what makes them hilarious. I can give you an example. Mike (while walking down the stairs into a cellar): “Are you coming?”, to which Melanie replies: “I’m coming… well (laughs)… No, I’m just breathing heavy.”
Melanie never judges or makes fun of her clients’ kinks or fetishes. Quite the opposite, she actively helps them to explore their desires and introduces them to brand-new possibilities. She carries a little bag of tricks with her that contains a range of sex toys, from crops, cuffs and floggers, to feathers and vibrators that (literally) suck. Each episode, she presents a few of these to her clients and their reaction is mostly one of pure joy. It’s like she unlocks all the fantasies that they have been hiding from their partner(s) and maybe even from themselves. Melanie sends her clients to a variety of kink classes as well, from ‘how to talk dirty’ to pole dancing. My favorite ones are the BDSM classes by Mistress Devi. She teaches us about consent while casually whipping her slave 46 (that’s its name) when she first appears.
How to Build a Sex Room normalizes kink in a way that I have never seen on mainstream TV. It informally introduces its audience to things like impact play and Shibari, and there are cute little cartoons that explain the history behind certain kink devices (like the tantric chaise and its inventor ‘Dirty Bertie’). The show is cheeky, flirty, loving, sex positive and it portrays ordinary people that just happen to like their sex a little less vanilla-flavored. I recommend you watch it on a rainy Sunday, like I did, it will put you in a good mood all (coming) week!