In an effort to protect actors from exploitation during sex scenes, television and movie sets have started hiring “intimacy coordinators” to ensure intimate scenes are appropriately choreographed.
Reuters reports that the TV and film industry has seen a spike in calls for intimacy coordinators in light of the MeToo movement, now that there’s been an increase in actors calling attention to uncomfortable movements and outright sexual harassment during nude and sex scenes. Jessica Steinrock, managing director of Intimacy Directors International (IDI), which trains intimacy coordinators, told Reuters, ““We have stunt coordinators. We really take care of people in those kind of scenes. But scenes of intimacy have kind of been left a little too alone.”
Steinrock used to work as an actor, and said she’d had some deeply uncomfortable onset experiences herself:
Steinrock, who has also worked as an actor, recalled feeling vulnerable one time, when the hand of a fellow actor slipped lower than usual during a scene.
“I found myself thinking, ‘is it because he likes me? Is it because he is more in the moment today?’ Even though my character might be ok with that, me - the actor - was not. But I found it really difficult to have that conversation,” she said.
It’s not necessarily that intimacy coordinators exist to stop outright sexual assault, although there have been accusations about that happening on set—they also help show actors how to move with each other respectfully, without killing the scene. “When I first began in the business, I remember being told, You can’t touch that person here when you are kissing,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris told Vanity Fair in August. “Now it’s like, How hot can you make it? How sexy can it be?”
Intimacy coordinators talk actors through intimate scenes, check in to assess their comfort levels, and ensure that any “nos” (or “maybes”) are respected. Trainers want them to have movement experience, so they understand how to coordinate and choreograph sex and nudity scenes respectfully. According to Reuters, former actors who have experience with shooting their own sex scenes and former dancers are often interested in getting trained.
Some studios are making intimacy coordinators standard. HBO and Netflix now require them onset, and SAG-AFTRA is reportedly trying to come up with standard procedures for intimacy coordinators to use across platforms.