Sex Scenes Were a Convenient Excuse for Misconduct—Unions Are Changing That

In a huge step toward diminishing workplace harassment, new guidelines around intimacy coordinators—essentially, coaches for adult scenes—are making sets safer for actors.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, US
January 29, 2020, 9:53pm

Wednesday morning, SAG-AFTRA, the Hollywood union that represents more than 160,000 actors and performers, released a guide for using intimacy coordinators on sets to help prevent abuse and harassment. Intimacy coordinators—or people whose job it is to keep simulated sex and exposed scenes comfortable and safe for performers—are a relatively new but welcome addition to sets, and have been used (so far) to help direct sex scenes on shows including Sex Education and The Deuce.


Unions—especially big, powerful ones like SAG—make it much harder for inordinately powerful people and companies to abuse the comparatively less-powerful people who work for them. Performers outside of SAG have been pushing their respective unions for protections against workplace harassment and abuse for years. Unions have actually been an incredibly useful tool in fighting harassment across industries, with increased fervor following #MeToo. Even in industries without unions, like political campaigning, for instance, employees have informally and successfully bargained for better harassment training and previously nonexistent HR infrastructure by publicly acknowledging the lack of these things as structural issues.

So this new, four-page set of guidelines from SAG is a big deal in that it not only solidifies intimacy coordinators as a necessary component of filming delicate scenes, but also because it is a response to an industry-wide problem that made it needlessly difficult for certain people to do their jobs. Intimacy coordinators, per SAG’s definition, are to serve as experts and liaisons who can help producers get the scene they want, without compromising a performer’s safety or comfort. The guidelines, which are fairly straightforward, will help ensure that simulated sex and exposed scenes aren’t done carelessly or without explicit acknowledgement of consent and boundaries.

None of these concepts are revolutionary, but they’re certainly valuable and much-needed, like so much of what unions accomplish is. Ideally, this stuff wouldn’t need to be spelled out in ink, and people would simply treat one another well, without a contractual obligation to do so. But in lieu of “human decency,” guidelines like these make it safer and easier for workers to do their jobs.

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