What is an Intimacy Coordinator?

intimacy coordinator

Recently, Somatica Institute founder Danielle Harel interviewed one of our Somatica Training alumni, Amanda Blumenthal, who has been pioneering the film and TV industry as an intimacy coordinator.

We talked to her about what her job exactly entails, what challenges and rewards she has encountered, and how the Somatica Training has helped her navigate the choppy waters of the entertainment industry.

What is an Intimacy Coordinator?

Danielle: Please introduce yourself a little bit, Amanda. Tell us what you’re up to, and what you’ve created for yourself.

Amanda:

So I have helped to create what’s called the ‘field of intimacy coordination’ in film and television. Essentially, it’s the job of an intimacy coordinator to create a safer environment on set for performers whenever they’re involved in scenes of nudity, simulated sex, or other types of intimate content.

We’re also here to help the director with telling their creative vision and story. And often, the job involves dealing with legal aspects, such as helping performers navigate paperwork related to consent. We make sure people’s boundaries are being respected, and performers feel like they know everything they need to know before they say yes to doing an intimate scene.

But there’s also a creative aspect to it. Intimacy coordinators ensure that stories related to gender and sexuality are being told in the first place. And that it’s done in a way that is as authentic as possible to the communities we’re portraying on screen.

Intimacy coordinator Amanda Blumenthal at work

How Somatica Helped on the Job

Danielle: I met you a few years ago in LA, in an intro to Somatica. You were facing a fork in the road, trying to decide what you wanted do with your career. Then you took the Somatica Training. I’m curious to hear how it helped shape your career.

Amanda:

I was just off to the races not long after I finished the training. And, actually, I don’t think there is really any day the skill sets I learned in Somatica don’t come into play.

So much of intimacy coordination is centered around attunement and being able to relate to the performers I’m working with. I need to read them – not just in terms of what they’re saying, but also what their body and vocal tones are saying.

I’ve been able to develop a reputation for myself as being really good at working with really difficult people. That’s why I get all the really hard shows. And part of that is because of so many of the skills I learned in Somatica.

Beyond that, the training taught me to work through my own stuff so I can hold space for other people. When I came into Somatica, I had a lot of stuff I still had to work through. The first module was really hard. But it was such an incredible learning and growth experience.  Being able to work through your own issues and holding space for people is just so incredibly key in this job. You need to be able to recognize when your personal issues are affecting interactions – and then put them on pause so you can fully focus on being of service to the other person.

There are a lot of interpersonal skills I’ve learned in my time at Somatica. And I think they are not only applicable to being an intimacy coordinator in the film and TV industry – they would be an asset in any business context, and to anyone.

Danielle:  Can you tell us how the Character Strategies Training helps your work?

Amanda:

It’s been very helpful indeed. Particularly when I’m in difficult situations with producers or directors.

I tend to shift my communication style based on the type of person I’m interacting with. Some communication styles are not going to work with certain character types. And I think that’s part of what has made me really successful in this industry. It’s having all that training running in the background of my mind, informing how I do my job.

 

How to Get a Job as an Intimacy Coordinator

Danielle: Tell us a little bit how you got into this job after you finished the Somatica Training.

Amanda:

It’s a really a very Hollywood story. I come from a film and TV family. My mom was a production executive at HBO, and she and I were talking one night. She was telling me about a show they were doing, and how they were looking for someone to do the job of intimacy coordinator. Only one other person was doing the work at that time. It was incredibly new. My partner – who had also taken the Somatica Training – said to my mom, “Amanda could do this job. She’d be great at it.”

I have a background doing advocacy for survivors of sexual assault and the queer community, and sex positive education work. So I wasn’t convinced at first. But then I decided to submit my resume, and see if I could get the job on my own. I went in for an interview, and they said: “We think your skills, resume and background are great. And we love all the coaching and education work you’ve done. We don’t know what this job is, but let’s give it a shot.”

My first job was ‘Euphoria’ for HBO. The show is notorious for having really intense sex scenes with very young performers. It also has a lot of queer storylines going on. So it was a great first job for me. I learned a lot and I got to put all my Somatica training to practice.

Euphoria intimacy coordinator

 

Recently, I have started a company – Intimacy Professionals Association – where I train other people to become intimacy coordinators. We’re working with SAG-AFTRA on trying to join their union because they also represent stunt coordinators. The job of intimacy coordinator is actually very similar to stunt coordinator. And so it’s just really taken off in the last couple of years.

Overall, I feel really honored to have been a part of bringing this job to the film industry, and raising awareness about sexuality and gender. And how we now have conversations around that, and around consent and boundaries in the workplace.

Danielle: You’ve been working behind the scenes on many different shows. Can you share a few of them?

Amanda:

A lot of the shows haven’t come out yet, because there’s such a lag between when we shoot the shows and when they air.

But in terms of things that I’ve been on that have already premiered, like I mentioned – ‘Euphoria’. I worked on the last season of ‘The Affair’ for Showtime, and did the ‘L Word – Reboot’ for Showtime as well. I worked on ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ which is on ABC, and ‘Carnival Row’ for Amazon.

I’ve worked on other shows too, but at this point, it’s hard to keep track. I’ve done a lot.

Sex Behind the Scenes

Danielle: What’s your take on sex and relationships behind the scenes? How should sex look like on TV?

Amanda:

I often have conversations with directors and performers around the importance of not trying to choreograph sex scenes. When you choreograph them down to minute details, you often end up with a scene that’s just playing towards certain tropes. And it looks a lot like other scenes, which can be problematic.

Also, when a performer is doing a simulated orgasm, I don’t like it when someone’s trying to correct them, and make them sound as if they were doing a performative orgasm in porn. There’s a lot more nuance we can bring to the way sexuality is portrayed on screen.

Instead, I always like to hear – what are the actor’s instincts? What do they want to bring to the scene? And then letting that shine through.

I personally like doing scenes where we’re showing things that aren’t often seen on the screen. A lot of projects I’ve worked on had to do with queer sexuality, and showing different combinations of people and bodies. To me, those are the most exciting jobs to work on. I just think there’s so many different types of human sexual expression to show.

One of the misconceptions people have around on-screen intimacy is assuming the performers are actually having sex. But that’s not the case. It’s all simulated. Performers are always wearing what are called ‘modesty garments’. For people with penises and testicles, they’re basically wearing like a pouch that ties at the base. And for people with a vulva, we give them an adhesive strapless panty that goes over the vulva and tapes between the butt cheeks. And so all the genitals are covered.

For one – we can’t make pornography because of obscenity laws related to broadcasting. But two – it’s for health and safety reasons for the performers. Plus, there are union rules involved.

In truth, it’s NOT very sexy to shoot a sex scene. Often, the performers are exhausted by the end. It’s so physically and mentally draining. If you don’t like your scene partner, it’s even worse. Those are the trickiest scenes to navigate.

Intimacy coordination on set

The Rewards of Intimacy Coordination

Danielle: Lastly – can you share an experience when you felt your work was super impactful and you changed someone’s experience on set?

Amanda:

I love working with younger performers who don’t have a lot of sexual or intimacy work experience. I think it’s a really great opportunity to get them started on the right foot. It gives them a good baseline of what it means to do intimacy work that is ethical and safe. They learn what the experience is supposed to be like, and what their rights are.

One of the things intimacy coordinators do too is educate performers on their union rights. We teach them how the process works, what they should expect, and what’s available to them for modesty wear and barriers.

I’ve worked with a lot of younger performers who were incredibly grateful that the job of intimacy coordinator exists. They have someone they can turn to and ask questions like “What do I do if I get an erection?” Or “Do I have to shave my pubic hair?” And “Am I actually going to be asked to have sex with someone?” No acting school tells you what to expect. No one teaches you.

I think it’s a bit of a mirror for sex in society too. You’re not really taught any practical information about what to expect with your first sexual experience. Unless you’re very lucky to be part of a sex positive community, or have parents who are open to talking about those things.

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Watch the full interview here, or learn more about intimacy coordinators via Amanda’s social channels (Instagram: @intimacycoordination  /  Twitter: @IPALosAngeles   / Facebook: @IntimacyProfessionalsAssociation).

 

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