Pin It
jules in euphoria

Intimacy coordinators on Euphoria, Sense8, and iconic sex scenes in film

‘The sex scene in general is starting to become a lot more nuanced and complex’

Filming a sex scene can be one the most challenging things an actor is asked to do. Feigning intimacy with a stranger in front of the cast and crew is at best awkward and humiliating, and at worst manipulative and abusive.

“I don’t think anyone ever is comfortable doing those kinds of scenes”, Chloë Sevigny once said about playing nymphomaniac inmate Shelley in the second season of American Horror Story, a sentiment echoed by Mila Kunis when describing her time filming Black Swan: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, a male, a female. You’re with 100-something crew members, lighting you, repositioning you, there’s no comfort whatsoever.”

Hollywood is awash with countless tales of predatory and abusive behaviour usually dealt out by powerful old white men at the expense of young women. Hoping to stamp this out for good is Amanda Blumenthal, Hollywood’s premier sex scene coordinator and founder of Intimacy Professionals Association, an agency responsible for training and representing other coordinators in Los Angeles. 

New guidelines were released last month by The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, stating that an intimacy coordinator must be consulted before filming intimate scenes between actors, in an attempt to make the process safer.

With this announcement in mind, we spoke to Blumenthal and two professionally trained sex scene coordinators from the IPA – Katherine O'Keefe and Mia Schachter – about some of film and TV’s most memorable sex scenes, and how important their work is for safeguarding actors in today’s industry.


“I come from a family of filmmakers, and I also have a background in advocacy for sexual assault and sex positive work, so when I heard about about sex scene coordination I thought, ‘this is perfect for me’. I was born in LA, and I grew up in the industry – my dad was an editor for a long time and my mom was a line producer and production executive – some of my earliest memories are from being on set with my mom.

My parents would come home and tell us stories about all the stuff going on at work – I’ve heard lots of stories from my mom especially from the 80s – all the terrible shit people would say and do when it came to nudity and simulated sex. It was so badly handled from casting to actual filming. We’ve come a really long way in the last 30 years.

One of my favourite scenes is actually in Euphoria – this is a spoiler for those who haven’t seen it – but there’s a scene where the characters Cassie and McKay are having sex at a party and McKay goes for her throat to choke her while they’re having sex. She stops, and tells him: ‘No’. She is not cool with what he’s doing, and what I think is really great about how the scene unfolds is she’s basically like: ‘Don’t do that without talking to me about it first. If you wanna do that let’s have a conversation let’s talk about it don’t make assumptions.’

They are able to move on from that in the scene and it’s really special to me because we don’t see a lot of examples in cinema of stuff like that. You know, stuff that can happen in real life where a sexual situation might go sideways, yet you can have conversation with the other person and you can recover. I think that’s really progressive.

The sex scene in general is starting to become a lot more nuanced and complex than it used to be. That’s partly because media is becoming more graphic, we see a lot more nudity nowadays and we see a much wider variety of simulated sex types, it’s not just heterosexual. So we’re seeing a more diverse array of sexuality represented and I think that the media generally is moving in that more authentic direction.”

Amanda Blumenthal

SENSE8 (2015)

“I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area and I love theatre, but it is a really hard thing to make a living in it. I was out there working right when intimacy directors were becoming a thing. Theatre actually adopted it slightly earlier than TV and film did. I think it came from the fact that instead of just filming a scene once, in theatre you have to do it eight times a week for weeks on end. So that can result in some real damage if it’s not done with care. If you’re having to do a simulated sexual assault like eight times a week, that is a really, really rough thing to do. 

I’ve been doing this work on film and TV only since like last year, I’m the only lesbian intimacy coordinator, at least in Los Angeles I think, so I have a bit of a niche, and it’s already blown up so much. I enjoy it most when I get to feel like the things I’m working on are really adding to the story, giving you information about characters, or they’re giving you something about the plot, like it’s a little more than just mandated nudity. 

A scene that really stuck with me in that way was one in Sense8. The premise of the show is it follows a group of people who start to be able to read each other’s minds and pop into each other’s lives through a sort of teleportation. It’s a very unusual show. There’s this orgy scene, and it’s a really interesting thing because a lot of the characters have a sexuality that’s either implied or stated but here they are enjoying each other without it necessarily being a referendum on their sexuality. It blends into something beautiful. Just so you know, it’s episode six. It’s called “Demons”.

A lot of times, sex can be a shorthand to let us know simply something that’s wrong in their life – like a woman and her boyfriend doing doggy style and you cut her face and she’s bored – so it’s always really interesting to me when shows take it as a celebratory thing.”

Katherine O'Keefe

9½ WEEKS (1986)

“I grew up on sets around actors, writers, and directors, going to screenings and whatever, some stuff around LA, and then I moved to New York for college and stayed for 10 years. I had my heart set on theatre writing and directing but I had a really bad experience that would fall under the #MeToo umbrella. It was a playwright who abused his power to prey on young women involved in his productions, and after that I kind of didn’t want to pursue theatre any more, so after a short stint of making ceramics I decided to move back to LA with the intention of writing for TV. I kind of fell into this intimacy coordinator field, it felt like it found me, like a merging of all the interests that I have.

The scene I want to talk about is the one that sort of started me on my path of becoming an intimacy coordinator. A friend of mine asked if I wanted to write a romantic comedy about a sex coordinator working in theatre, and the first film we watched to use as inspiration was 9½ Weeks with Kim Bassinger and Mickey Rouke. 

The scene that stood out the most to me is the one the kitchen floor, where Kim is blindfolded and Mickey is feeding her strawberries and milk and honey. It’s a huge mess. It’s not a sex scene necessarily but it’s erotically charged and falls into dominance. I see it as a dominance play. That movie has a lot of sex scenes in it that we know are not ethically done, there’s a lot of documentation that the director was keeping Kim out of the loop and chatting with Mickey about what he would do to get genuine surprise out of Kim. 

There’s many things wrong with that but it was deeply traumatising for her, that’s widely known. There was a New York Times article about it and it’s a little disturbing to read even now. The writer makes it sound like a directing style to be revered and admired – just trying to shock her in various ways – from an acting standpoint is not giving any credit to her talent and craft. If you don’t think an actor is capable of acting surprised and shocked, then to me that’s a very patriarchal, misogynistic, condescending mentality.

The work is flowing in for me at the moment, I just wrapped HBO’s Perry Mason and Insecure, and I work on Grey’s Anatomy and For All Mankind too. For the most part, actors are relieved to have someone there, but there is resistance from every position, there’s still misunderstandings about what my job is, people think we are therapists or HR but I think that’s changing slowly.”

Mia Schachter

Read our feature here about the most transgressive sex on screen.