Netflix’s new hit series, ‘How to Build a Sex Room,’ changed our life on the road, intimacy and all.
I never envisioned a life that combined reality TV and van life. And yet, here I am. Or rather, here we are, my girlfriend, Sarah Christine, our dogs Masin and Briar Rose Quartz (Rosie, if we drop the pretense), and our home on wheels.
Netflix swooped in, cast us and our illustriously outfitted Sprinter, “Scotto,” and set us on a journey of reimagined van life. And this version puts sex and intimacy at the forefront of our now very public story.
If you’ve seen the show, you may be wondering how we like the van build. And you’re no doubt curious about the insane custom sex swing built by a Colorado saddle-maker. We’ll get to that. But first, some background.
How to Build a Sex Room, Meet Van Life
If you haven’t seen it yet, “How to Build a Sex Room” is an eight-episode series that shares the stories of 16 couples (and other arrangements) who want to address issues in their sex lives.
And at the core of each episode, sex room designer Melanie Rose listens to each individual and sets forth to craft the perfect “sex room.” Most of the people documented in the show live in houses.
Ours was the only segment featuring a van.
Not to spoil anything, but Melanie’s builds blend taste, class, and kink. They form empowerment around sexual spaces. From BDSM to sensual play to a sexual farmhouse shed, polyamory, and plenty of new toys and ways to use them, each space is tailored to the couple’s (or single’s, or group’s) desires.
We were cast in “How to Build a Sex Room” in 2021. We’ll get into the details below, but suffice to say, our shaggin’ wagon is on a whole new level.
On the show, we uncover our shortcomings, wants, and dreams. Then the designers went to work making them real. One year later, we are still together, and still living in the van. And the show has had a profound impact on our lives — especially our relationship today.
It’s Sunday. With nowhere to be until later, I crawled back into our lofted bed for morning kisses, soft caresses, and intimate exploration before setting off for another day of living on the road.
“Where are we?” Sarah questioned, peeling her eyes open and squinting.
A single ray of light streamed from an uncovered corner in the otherwise pitch-dark van.
“A truck stop just down the way from the show,” I reassured her. Sarah is a traveling musician on tour down the PNW coast. She played the night before, and following the show I got us out of Dodge, making headway toward the next venue.
She’d deemed 24-hour truck stops “safe” places to park in a pinch. Far from glamorous, they never failed us since our start of van life in August 2020. And with our upgraded van, anywhere we park feels like home and provides a comfortable place to get busy.
How Did We Get Here?
Moments like this were few and far between with our first van build. We weren’t having sex. Our intimacy had all but burned out.
“The van is where sex goes to die,” Sarah admits on the show. If you’ve seen our episodes (7 & 8), and maybe if you’ve lived the life, you know the story.
Our bed required too much assembly each and every night. And our cache of gear/toys, including Sarah’s piano, guitar, PA systems, cords, ukulele; and my snowboarding, dirt biking, hiking, climbing, and camping gear, all lived on the bed until it was time to make it.
We had minimal storage, so we never even packed our other toys, specifically those for sex.
Van life wasn’t conducive to our lives as a couple. It didn’t allow individual space, and we spent more time setting up the bed and breaking it down than actually being in it.
For a year, we lived like this. Small, confined, stressed, and sexually pent up. We barely made it but managed to squeak by together. Once hot and sexual, our relationship was strained, not for lack of love, but for lack of space — literally.
The First Foray
As cliché as it sounds, I didn’t seek van life but felt it sought me. A fellow van lifer once told me I was “built for life on the road.”
This was before I took to the lifestyle, and now I agree. I like being able to go and be anywhere — as long as you had gas and the gumption to get there.
Sarah sought a life less confined, though stable. Following 13 years of corporate success, Sarah had worked hard and saved. We started looking for our van in early 2019. I couldn’t offer monetary support but provided my companionship and opinion.
A few months in, we found a brand-new 2019 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Cargo High Roof 170-inch 4×4 in Anaheim, Calif. We wouldn’t see it in person until the world as we knew it was plunged deep into the pandemic.
The alternative reality that everyone faced swallowed our original van plans.
Our First (Bad) Van Build
Some 10 months after the first builders got the van, we were told it was ready. We flew from Denver to L.A., bags brimming with perceived needs for our new life in the van.
Upon setting foot in our home, we were, at first, enamored. The woodwork and sleek cabinetry were beautiful. However, as we started to get more into it, we began to have questions about our contract. It appeared some of the things we (Sarah) had paid for were not as they seemed.
The contracted compostable toilet and shower were not built. Instead, there was a portable model, still in its plastic. Alarm bells rang as a pit formed in my stomach — I wanted to run, flee, somehow make this right.
I googled the toilet and saw it was a portable Dometic, widely available for 130 bucks. Dizzy from the initial high of finally seeing our van and overcome with shock, we were quickly talked out of our questions, made to feel like idiots for asking anything contrary to the builder.
Extremely unsettled and unsure of what to do, I had Sarah stop payment on the check for the remaining build balance, $28,000. We were sure they didn’t appropriately finish the build. The next day, after sleeping in the parking lot of the van builder’s shop, the first night in our new home, we were accosted for stopping the payment.
Despite verified documents, we were led to believe we were wrong. Our concerns were brushed off as women who just didn’t understand construction. We were placated with a single window cover to make up for our unease and distrust.
The overt hostility made us just want to leave. What could we do? Sarah called the bank and approved the check. Having sunk all the money into the van, we couldn’t afford to stick around and wait for changes to be made, if the builder would have even done them.
So we pulled away and headed out into our first foray as van lifers. We did our best to learn along the way without manuals or directions on how to work the build.
From August 2020 to December 2021, we lived in the van the way it was, unable to pay for or consider an alternative. A separate van company estimated close to $40,000 of the original build was unaccounted for or unfinished.
The original build had serious flaws, and the lack of space led to no sex. Simply being together was wearing on us.
Netflix, Van Life, and Bad Plumbing
Fast-forward to December 2021 in Jackson, Wyo. On the deadline for two magazines, I needed a space to get shit done, and unfortunately, the van didn’t have proper heat.
So we splurged for a week’s rent at a friend’s townhouse. It was bitter cold in Jackson. Even the pipes in the condo froze. A handyman was on his way. Stressed with too much to do, Sarah told me we had a call in 5 minutes.
“Some casting, for some show,” she said.
Apparently, recruiters reached out to Sarah several times, but she declined. So now, on the last round of casting, she opted in to the call on a whim, knowing next to nothing about the show’s premise.
We learned the show was called “Sacred Spaces.” We were asked about our relationship, professions, life in the van and, ultimately, our sex life. Open and willing to talk about our problems in the van, we divulged all.
It was freeing. We felt inspired and were able to verbalize our sexual struggles and qualms with van life.
Now picture a young, attractive, Mormon plumber fixing pipes and hammering as we navigate the ins and outs of our lesbian sex. Following the call, our plumber — John — emerged, tool in hand and grinning. He told us he’d fixed the leak and shyly smiled that he thought we’d get cast, too.
Naive but excited, we went headfirst into the unknown. By January 2021, we had several follow-up calls and fell in love with the producers, concept, and the empowerment of being involved with an otherwise taboo topic.
After 7 nonconsecutive days of filming with the Netflix production team, which ranged from 15 to 20 people a shoot, we surrendered our home on wheels to the crew at a new van builder, the VanSmith in Boulder, Colo.
At this point, we still thought the show’s name was “Sacred Spaces.” Nevertheless, we were grateful for any upgrades to the van and hopeful for our relationship.
The VanSmith crew was — and is — incredible. The folks there listened to what we were looking for and took it upon themselves to recraft our van into something genuinely livable.
Paired with the host of “How to Build a Sex Room,” Melanie Rose, an interior designer and sex room guru, we were in good hands stylistically and sex-positively. We were also backed by the producers, who we trusted with this level of intimacy.
As a result, filming never felt gratuitous but rather empowering.
We advocated for a different bed, workspace, and storage. The producers told us to shoot for the moon, so I asked for a built-in bath. Maybe one that could fold down off the back or side of the van. We had absolutely no idea what they’d actually build, or what they would do to our real-life home.
The Big Reveal
Perched atop Echo Mountain, we pulled in for our final day of filming. Nervous as heck, we honestly didn’t know what to expect. Thanks to the VanSmith’s precise craftsmanship, we were treated to a brand new lofted queen bed, custom cabinetry, and additional storage space under the bed.
They outfitted us with a rooftop deck, awning, and Owl ladder. We now have two pop-out workspaces, one in the front and one near the closet. The VanSmith also retrofitted our existing shower and water heater, so they are usable. Our toilet remains the same.
But the new design focuses on all things sensual. It meets our needs for work and now is conducive to play. From color schemes to silk sheets, leather, fur, our indoor/outdoor sex swing, and our personal bag of pleasure toys, we have lots of ways to explore.
While we can’t just make love all day — we still do actually have to work — our current desk/table setups allow both of us to be plugged in, and “Mac-off'” as needed.
Sarah doesn’t tend to play the piano in the van, but does store all of her equipment safely and securely under the bed. In between gigs, she’ll play on the rooftop, or right outside of the van, fully powered by our inventor and batteries. No need for the engine to be on.
Van Life: Internet vs. Reality
#Vanlife on Instagram has over 13 million tagged posts. There are over 9.6 billion views of the same tag on TikTok. I’d estimate that 99% of the featured posts try to sell the idea of freedom. Sure, van life is freeing. But at the end of the day, you’re living in a small space, in your vehicle.
It takes loads of logistics to make it actually work. Everything is a calculated process.
First, you should have some idea of where you want to park each night. In our experience, lots of places loathe van lifers. More and more, we see signs dissuading from parking overnight. So you must be nimble, aware of your surroundings, and respect your environment.
You’re rarely a local while van lifing. You’ve got to take cues from those that actually are.
Do Your Chores
Keeping the van clean is a daily process and of utmost importance to us and our intimacy. We like to ensure that the van is “dialed” before going to bed each night. This creates a sense of cleanliness, calmness, and comfort.
We’re not getting busy if the van is messy — a total mood-killer. It’s nice to wake up slowly, make coffee, cuddle, and enjoy each other before getting into the day. This requires us to pick up throughout the day, and dive into deep cleans weekly.
We also find showering and making sure we have ample water is key to maintaining our relationship in the van. Despite having a shower indoors, we primarily use our outdoor nozzle or utilize any beach/surf or lakeside spigot we can find. Sure, we get gawked at or catcalled, but at least we’re clean!
In our first year into van life, we broke some rules. We stayed in places we shouldn’t have but learned along the way. We sought what we thought were the “glamorous” parts of van life. Now, we still seek those places and feelings, but we are more strategic.
Sex Van Life for Everyone!
The redesign and overall experience of being on the sex-positive show “How to Build a Sex Room” have helped our sex life and our van life. Sure, there are still the everyday tasks that aren’t always the sexiest. But these upgrades have emphasized our love life, and we love it.
We believe other van lifers should consider intimacy in designing their homes on wheels. From little accents or secret storage compartments, fold in things that you find sexy.
Vans are inherently intimate, so go a small step further to include things that turn you and your partner(s) on. Buy the green bananas, make the innuendos, sexplore your way through nature — no matter your sexual preference, no matter where you choose to do it, do it.
From a hotel suite to home, or a truck, an Airstream, tent, hammock, bivvy, or outside under the stars, a dedicated oasis to explore one’s intimate side can provide a deeper understanding of yourself and others.
While the VanSmith crew hasn’t outfitted another rig for sex (yet), we’re confident they will. You should reach out to them and ask them about our hardpoint.
Because, yes, our sex swing is amazing. We’ll let you use your imagination on that one.
2019 Mercedes Sprinter Van 2500 Tall Roof 170 4x4
- Freedom Van Go adjustable roof rack with decking
- Owl ladder and tire carrier – Sprinter VS30
- Fiamma awning F45 S 400 – deep black
- Rebuilt queen bed with updated bed rails and new mattress
- Added a storage box underneath the bed to house the electrical system
- Slideout table (for piano)
- Front desk/table area for swivel chairs
- Updated closet with shelving and dowels
Previous Van Build
- Insulation/Hushmat Level 1 (MB 170)
- Max Air vent fan
- Rixen hydronic heating system
- 170 Lonseal flooring
- Four-door ceiling cabinets section
- Custom cabinetry, walnut and black laminate countertop
- 12V slideout Dometic Isotherm fridge & freezer
- Custom sink with gray water tank
- Powdercoated shower pan with drain to the exterior floor, interior shower soft cell curtain (collapsible)
- VS maple/oak material upgrade: walls, cabinets with oak ceiling upgrade in materials
- Driver bed system (driver fixed) with upholstery & electronics box
- Futon bed system with sliders and storage underneath with custom upholstery
- Wall panels
- Electronics silver package (6 spotlights/underneath globe cabinet lights with switches, 5 110V outlets, 12v fuse box, 110v breaker box, mastery battery shutoff, 200W solar with charger and controller, miscellaneous battery connections, fuses, and relays
- 26 gal. (fresh) with custom underneath brackets, 5 gal. gray water underneath sink, water pump/strainer, water fill, water level sender unit
- 2-battery AGM system with parts
- Xantrx marine 2,000W inverter/charger with shore power installed with misc. parts
- Removable bamboo center table
- Herringbone upholstery
- 3 10×33 slider window with bug screen
- Slider door T vent window
- 2 Sprinter rear windows