August 23, 2019

Intimacy Co-ordinators are Changing Sex Scenes for Good

By Melody Emmett

In the wake of #MeToo the way in which sex scenes are handled on film and TV sets has been under the spotlight. Increasingly the role of intimacy co-ordinators is seen as imperative.
In South Africa, Sisters Working in Film and TV (SWIFT) has produced a series of Public Service Announcements in response to reports of pervasive sexual abuse in the industry.

“If you have to do a sex scene with a director who has never done a sex scene and is in a state about it, and a crew that does not respect a closed set, it is traumatic. And for many, many, many actresses, it’s so traumatic, they stop acting,” SWIFT Chairperson, Sara Blecher, says. Blecher was instrumental in inviting Kate Lush from Intimacy on Set to introduce the concept of intimacy co-ordination at Durban International Film Festival.

A director’s attitude to a fight scene would not be: ‘You guys grab your weapons and do your own thing and we’ll have a look.’ A sex scene should be treated in the same way, Lush says. Intimacy co-ordination is as important as stunt co-ordination. If actors are left to work out a scene on their own, the personal takes over and the actors are no longer honouring the characters and the emotional content of the scene.

Founder of Intimacy on Set and pioneer of intimacy co-ordination, Ita O’Brien, has developed best practice guidelines for scenes involving intimacy, simulated sex or nudity.

The process of choreographing a sex scene begins with a discussion with the director about the scene, taking into consideration the purpose of the scene, the character’s storyline, and the beats of the scene. When you know basically what the scene is about, O’Brien says.

“You need to agree on touch. Are you alright for me to put my hand on the side of your face? Are you alright for me to put my hand on your breast? Are you alright for me to put my hand on your buttocks? And then the actor has the opportunity to say yes or no. A ‘maybe’ is a no. This allows for clear agreement and consent about what body parts can be used and then that is what you choreograph with.”

The next step is for the actors to perform the choreographed actions, describing every action verbally. For example, I put my hand on your shoulders. I lean towards you. We kiss.
“It is just like a dance,” O’Brien says. “You are being really clear about what the movements are and anchoring them by also speaking them out.”

Finally, the actors reconnect to the emotional journey of the characters.

Once the different elements are brought together, the result is a scene that serves the development of the characters and the director’s vision – and is safe for the actors.
Blecher has recently trained as an intimacy co-ordinator at Ita O’Brien’s school. Together with Kate Lush, who is relocating to South Africa, she will be offering intimacy co-ordination in the SA industry. Blecher can be contacted at