Erika Lust Calls for Intimacy Coordinator Recognition at the Oscars
More than five years after the #MeToo movement exposed rampant sexual misconduct in Hollywood, intimacy coordinators have now become a fixture on Hollywood sets.
The position is defined by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists as "a liaison between actors and production and a movement coach." An intimacy coordinator directs scenes involving sex acts, nudity and hyperexposure. More than just a choreographer, the professional role encompasses the critical, sometimes tricky job of balancing the filmmaker's vision with the actors' safety and comfort.
"Intimacy coordinators take care of performers' mental, emotional and physical health and safety throughout the filming," said Erika Lust, an award-winning adult filmmaker and a pioneer of the ethical porn movement, which promotes the rights and fair treatment of performers.
Lust, who has long used talent managers to support performers throughout her shoots, recently introduced intimacy coordinators to her sets as well. She was among the first directors in the male-dominated porn industry to do so.
Having an intimacy coordinator on set "makes a huge difference for the actors, their performance and the resulting scene," Lust said.
Now the director is campaigning to honor these professionals by introducing a "Best Intimacy Coach in a Motion Picture" category to the Academy Awards.
"There are Oscars for costume design, interior decoration and hair and makeup, so why not intimacy coordinators, too?" Lust said. "Recognizing the critical role of intimacy coaches with an award category would be a powerful statement."
In an exclusive interview with Giddy, Lust makes a case for recognizing the role in cinematic award ceremonies, explains the role of intimacy coordinators in ethical porn and talks about some of her favorite Hollywood sex scenes.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Intimacy coordinators are more and more commonplace in Hollywood, but they still face resistance. Why do you think that is?
Lust: It all comes down to the lack of education and shame we have around the topic of sex. Intimacy coordination is a growing profession in Hollywood, but it's still a niche almost everywhere else, especially in Europe, and even more if we're talking about adult film sets.
There are many debates about how coordinating intimacy may "kill the vibe" of a scene, and that says a lot about the ignorance we still carry when it comes to sex. Saying that choreographing an intimate scene kills the vibe is the same as saying that communicating, practicing consent or taking a short break to wear a condom during sex "kills the vibe." But things are changing, and we have platforms like HBO, for example, that require intimacy coordination on shows featuring sexually intimate scenes since 2018.
Why should intimacy coordinators be recognized at the Oscars?
When you create a category for a particular role on a film set, you validate their work and give it importance. Given the current rise in the popularity of intimacy coordinators, awards like the Oscars and the BAFTAs [British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards] should recognize them. Such a category would contribute to creating a culture of acceptance toward sex, sending a message of care toward actors and validating the voices of those who might have had negative experiences on set during intimate scenes in the past.
As an ethical porn director, how do you make sure actors convey sex and nudity safely and with consent on your sets? What role do intimacy coordinators play in the process?
The process begins when the intimacy coordinator reads the script and meets the cast. The intimacy coordinator asks cast members what they are comfortable and uncomfortable doing, leaving room for nuances as and when they arise. There are also talks regarding the use of protection and lube.
On the day of the shoot, the intimacy coordinator checks back to see if anything has shifted since the initial conversations. There are talks throughout the day and before the performance.
The intimacy coordinator works alongside the director, managing the sex scenes and conversations around sexual intimacy, and ensures everyone is aware that they have full body autonomy and that they can stop, change it up or adjust at any time. We always encourage this level of communication behind and in front of the cameras.
We know consent is ephemeral as boundaries might change at all times depending on a variety of factors. Intimacy coordinators are ready to take action whenever a performer is not feeling comfortable enough to move forward with the scene or if they don't feel comfortable with it after it was filmed.
Do you have a favorite Hollywood movie sex scene? Or a director who handles sex scenes particularly well?
There are so many. I'm a big fan of John Cameron Mitchell, for example. He is fun and fearless, and one of the few who have dared to portray real sex with real actors in a film for commercial theaters. "Shortbus" portrays sex as a crucial communication tool between human beings, whether there is a conventional relationship behind it or not. The link the film establishes between sex and happiness is so enthusiastic that it might seem naive at a certain point, but every time I watch it, I can't help but surrender to the celebration of sex, life and creativity within it.
I'd also give a shoutout to [writer-actor] Michaela Coel, who was the first in acknowledging the importance of intimacy coordinators on set when dealing with intimate scenes, especially if, like in [her TV series] "I May Destroy You," they are explicitly linked to themes such as sexual violence and violation of consent.
Want an inside look at intimacy coordinators in action? Watch this sex talk on set as the cast prepares for a group sex scene before shooting Lust's newest XConfessions release, "Dirty Martini Sex Party."