Sex, Love and goop is making full names sexy again
Thiamando Pavlidis channels her inner Michaela Boehm.
You’re reading Scene & Heard, a weekly newsletter where I chat to a guest writer about the one scene from a recent Netflix release that left them floored. It’s part of Netflix Pause, a publication that’s all about hitting pause to reflect on the latest film and TV. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox every week diving into screen culture.
Hello! I’m Joseph Lew, the editor of Netflix Pause. Armed with my trusty gua sha and an assortment of overpriced scented candles, this week I’m serving as your spirit guide into the entrancing world of Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Goop Lab may have transformed Paltrow into a cult(ural) icon, but Sex, love and goop takes her signature wellness brand in an entirely different direction. Here, we see her stripping relationships down to their primal core, guiding couples as they work through body dysmorphia, dwindling sex drives, and mismatched erotic blueprints. It’s like if Queer Eye was set in Santa Monica, only in addition to life-changing transformations, they’re also inducing orgasms.
For this week’s Scene & Heard, I reached out to Thiamando Pavlidis, a Melbourne-based writer whose passions include: Eurovision (!), Eurovision (!!), and the goop gift guide. Looking at a scene where relationship expert Michaela Boehm helps an intimacy-starved couple to redefine their sexual dynamic, Thiamando unpacks the power of a title, exploring how something as simple as a name carries greater meaning than you’d expect.
JL: Gwyneth Paltrow might as well name a rollercoaster after Sex, Love and goop because WOW. Erotic exorcisms? Energetic blue-balling? What. A. Ride. There is one scene though, that takes a break from our high priestess of punani’s signature brand of chaos…
TP: Before we dive into the scene, I want to add a little context: all the couples in the series are helped by sex experts and therapists who are hand-selected by Gwyneth herself. Episode 1 and 2 feature couple Rama and Feli, the latter dressed in the earth-toned matching activewear and knit cardigan combo you'd expect on a lifestyle program from goop (not that I’m complaining – I was wearing a near-identical outfit while watching).
Their issues in the bedroom stem from what their assigned expert Michaela Boehm describes as a "little boy/mummy" dynamic between the couple, which she explains in a thick Austrian accent I could listen to all day. I had to rewind multiple times because I got so lost in her voice. She's like the Werner Herzog of sex, and I might start listening to her podcast while I fall asleep.
In this scene, the terrifying but soothing Michaela suggests that Rama and Feli use different iterations of their names for one another when it's sex o'clock. For the couple, the different names symbolise a shift from day-to-day little boy Rama and mama Feli, to adults-only Ramayana and Felicitas, in what Michaela describes, in her hypnotic tone, as "upgrading ze operating system a little bit".
Michaela says the exercise will help the couple access “a different sort of conversation". As someone with a long and difficult-to-pronounce (read: ethnic) name, the idea of changing or altering your name for yourself – rather than for the comfort of others – feels like such a foreign concept to me.
Michaela is correct in insinuating that by elongating or shortening a person's given name, a new dynamic is formed. This explanation will hit home for anyone who is constantly asked if they have an easier-to-pronounce nickname during introductions.
Fortunately for me, the one benefit of my parents trying too hard to assimilate is that I ended up with the most basic name there is.
I had the opposite problem — ol' Jenny and Paul (don't ask) thought they'd do the traditional Greek thing with my brother and I, and name us after our grandparents. Thiamando isn’t even a common name in Greece! It's region-specific, so a lot of Greek people haven't even heard it (despite it literally meaning 'diamond') and they don't even make keychains over there with it.
To make matters worse, in order to differentiate between my Yiayia and I, I got a different spelling from the usual English translation of Diamanto. I grew up in an area I could possibly describe as a ‘cultural void’, so immediately I was forced into using nicknames for everyone afraid of names that surpassed two syllables.
In primary school, I went by Thia, which my mum hated, because "it wasn't my name". Not only does it mean aunt in Greek, it's a complete removal from my original name in terms of pronunciation (the 'th' sound is hard in Thiamando, but soft in Thia).
By high school, I did a complete overhaul and told everyone I wanted to be known as Mando (mahn-do). With the Australian accent, Mando still sounded more like "Mun-dough", but hey, at least no one was calling me auntie anymore! I'm sure if Michaela Boehm was present at this time – I think she'd have been a great new-wave hippie, performing arts teacher – she'd have likened this to her "accessing a different conversation".
While not explicitly relating to sex, the idea that variations of the same name hold different meanings is still relevant: this was the first time I started to embrace my cultural identity rather than bending to the sensibilities of those around me, and it gave me a sense of self-confidence I’d been lacking in those earlier years.
For close friends, I don't mind what they call me. It does bother me, however, when people make it clear they're uncomfortable with my full name and request a nickname, or worse, suggest one for me. To me, it implies the other person is trying to establish some form of power dynamic because they're intimidated by a foreign name.
I now tell people I only have two names I answer to: my full name, or Mando. I always prefer my full name to be used. It's very Rama-trying-to-please-Felicitas of me, but I always feel apologetic when introducing myself. I’ll often immediately offer up Mando after as an alternative to ensure the other person's comfort.
I'm sure Michaela Boehm would go out of her way to pronounce my full name properly.
Speaking of Michaela, in this scene we see the relationship expert ask Feli and Rama to stop using terms of endearment inside of the bedroom. Honestly this surprised me – I would have thought pet names would up the hotness-factor instead?
I've always been weird about pet names, and maybe there's something there about a reluctance to show affection (anyone know a good therapist?), but to me, "babe" and "hun" always sound so inorganic, and even a little bitchy. It gets to a point sometimes where I'm not even comfortable using a name at all between myself and my partner – in the past there’s been a bit of an "oi you" situation between myself and exes. I wonder why it didn't work out?
But it goes the other way too – I'd rather not be referred to as any iteration of my name if it's too difficult, which it usually is anyway. With the added, uh, physical strain I can't imagine it would get any easier to say "Thiamando".
It does really help that Felicitas and Ramayana are very sexy names, but I agree with you, it's a little odd for them to switch it up like that.
The way I see it, if my partner goes out of their way to learn how to pronounce my name correctly, that's a win. (Low bar, I know.) I would even go as far to say that when pronounced correctly with the Greek accent, "Thiamando" can sound super sexy.
I don't know if it's because it's what my parents and friends call me, but there's just something so inherently unsexy about Mando as a nickname. I wouldn't mind if a partner chose to use it to refer to me in everyday life, like with Rama and Feli. However, the thought of someone using "Mando" in a sexual context gives me literal chills. Absolutely not. If you can't say "Thiamando" in the bedroom literally just don't say anything at all, babe.
The bar is literally ON THE FLOOR!!! If iterations of names aren’t your thing, maybe you could channel a sexy alter-ego instead?
How about: relationship and embodiment expert, bestselling author, and creator of the Non-Linear Movement Method, Michaela Boehm?
Thiamando is a freelance writer with a deep passion for all things trashy, sparkly and silly. She's also interested in serious topics, like Eurovision.