Barriers, yoga mats and body doubles: what’s really going on during sex scenes

What happens behind the scenes?
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Have you ever been watching a sex scene in a movie and wondered, isn’t that awkward? How do they film these?

Well this morning intimacy coordinator Dr Jessica Steinrock gave us a peek behind the curtain when she chatted to Ali Clark on Mix 102.3.

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Jessica is the CEO of Intimacy Directors and Coordinators Incorporated, and has plenty of experience in the industry working on big names such as Little Fires Everywhere, Never Have I Ever and most recently Fear the Walking Dead

For the uninitiated, an intimacy coordinator is someone that plans sex scenes for film and TV. Jessica likens it to a stunt coordinator.

“We’re kind of similar in the sense that no one’s actually hitting each other on set [during a fight scene]. No one’s also actually doing anything intimate on set [during a sex scene],” she explained.

Dr Jessica Steinrock
Dr Jessica Steinrock (Credit: Instagram)

When a director comes to Jessica and explains what they envision for a sex scene, it’s Jessica’s job to make it a relaity, whith in the boundaries of the actors who have to perform it.

“We take that vision, we talk to the actors, we get their boundaries, we understand what they need to do their best work and then we act as a facilitator and support to help set choreography and make sure actors are working consensually.”

Of course talking and planning doesn’t remove the possibility of awkward moments. The human body has a way of instinctively reacting to stimulation even if we’d rather it didn’t. Always the professional, Jessica refers to these as “vascular reactions”.

“If someone does have any kind of vascular reaction, they can call for a break at any time, and they never need to justify why they need a break,” she said.

“And so we don’t need to know why that break is being called for, which gives actors a little bit of a sigh of relief to know that if their body has a need they won’t be embarrassed or their scene partner won’t notice and that they will be protected the whole time.”

Jessica working
Jessica has worked on TV and film (Credit: Instagram)

To assist in avoiding these “vascular reaction” intimacy coordinators employ ‘barriers’ between the actors. This might be underwear or could be a more solid barrier in the form of a yoga mat.

“What that does is it limits sensitivity so you’re not feeling anyone’s genitals at work, which is a good rule for me,” Jessica explained.

“We use all sorts of body tape, modesty garments and barriers. What we can’t cover [editors] can paint out, you know, after we filmed.”

If an actor is uncomfortable with a scene the studio might use a body double in their place, if the actor is happy to have their likeness used in that way. 

“That’s absolutely something that happens on occasion where folks you know, say yeah, I don’t actually want to do that but maybe they’re okay with their likeness doing it. So we’ll cut around it but that might be someone’s body that’s completely different than the actor.”

Jessica on TikTok
Barriers are used to protect actors (Credit: TikTok)

Intimacy coordinators are a relatively new role, born partly out of the #MeeToo movement and a desire to centre consent during simulated sex scenes. 

Jessica said that intimacy coordinators kicked off around 2017 which means some popular programs like Game of Thrones didn’t utilise them. 

However, Jessica is quick to point out that HBO has since been on forefront of incorporating intimacy coordinators and that her colleague, Miriam Lucia, is doing a great job on House of The Dragon. 

Jessica said she still comes up against resistance to having intimacy coordinators but that it’s all about finding a middle ground.

“I’m really there to make sure that that person who might be experiencing resistance is also able to do their best work. So I’m going to find whatever middle ground we can possibly find that still gives them what they need so that they can have a great performance that day.”

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