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Behind The Scenes Of Between The Sheets: The Making Of A Sex Scene

Consent is an essential part of sex. Whether it’s with a one-night stand, a years-long partner...or between actors filming a sex scene for the latest blockbuster. Attention to consent and safety in Hollywood has gained traction in the past few years with the rise of movements like #MeToo. And it’s put new emphasis on the importance of intimacy coordinators — people who act as advocates for the actors’ well-being in intimate scenes and ensure that the scene happens in a safe, consent-driven way.

Host Anita Rao talks with Mia Schachter, a consent educator and intimacy coordinator, and Teniece Divya Johnson, a stunt performer and intimacy coordinator, about the work they do on set. And filmmaker Natalie Bullock Brown joins the conversation to share her favorite moments of intimacy on screen.

Interview Highlights

Mia Schachter on how intimacy coordinators create safe spaces for creativity:

Our job is to eliminate surprises to the best of our ability, because that shock is where there's a lot of potential for trauma and harm. … Historically, sex scenes and nudity have been scenes that have been like — the can gets kicked down the road, like: We'll figure it out on the day. Or like: This person will figure it out, or we'll let the actors figure it out. And we're really trying to avoid that so that we can build trust and then build a structure in which actors can play. I think it's really something that has really changed my life from this work is the idea that within a structure, I feel a lot more room to explore and be creative.

Favorite Intimate Scene: Listener Edition - Disobedience, 2017

At the time, I didn’t know that that was something that was … allowed and liked. But here I am, a couple years later, and I know that that is something that is actually really kinky and really wonderful.
Jo in Richmond, VA

Teniece Divya Johnson on working with directors and producers without prior experience of intimacy coordination:

I find the best approach is to meet people where they are. No one came to work for a Ph.D. in consent. They're all moving like a freight train towards the destination. So we meet them where they are, introduce gently some new tools that may be helpful. And this can be a sensitive area, we're talking about veteran directors, we're talking about veteran performers, we're talking about producers that have been doing this forever. So when we're introducing new tools, it's really important that we're engaging people in a sense of curiosity and wonder. And far, far away from feelings of shame or guilt.

Favorite Intimate Scene: Listener Edition - Fleabag, 2016-2019

It’s just so great because now that she has this intimacy with someone in her world, she wants to hold that … before, it was just us, the audience, getting these bits of vulnerability from her, and now it’s him!
Kera in Carrboro, NC

Natalie Bullock Brown on why Hollywood should show the diversity and messiness of relationships and sex on screen:

Can we show what it's really like? And not clean it up so much that, you know, then we're all kind of left judging ourselves against some completely unattainable standard that we're not even fully realizing we're judging ourselves against. I just think it's a real disservice to the relationships that, in many ways, our culture speaks to and says we're supposed to foster. We have so much repression going on in our culture on top of all of that, but if we could just be real, I think it would do so, so much good for how we relate to each other, especially when we're trying to foster intimate relationships.

Please note: This conversation originally aired May 7, 2021.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Kaia Findlay is a producer for The State of Things, WUNC's daily, live talk show. Kaia grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in a household filled with teachers and storytellers. In elementary school, she usually fell asleep listening to recordings of 1950s radio comedy programs. After a semester of writing for her high school newspaper, she decided she hated journalism. While pursuing her bachelor’s in environmental studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, she got talked back into it. Kaia received a master’s degree from the UNC Hussman School of Journalism, where she focused on reporting and science communication. She has published stories with Our State Magazine, Indy Week, and HuffPost. She most recently worked as the manager for a podcast on environmental sustainability and higher education. Her reporting passions include climate and the environment, health and science, food and women’s issues. When not working at WUNC, Kaia goes pebble-wrestling, takes long bike rides, and reads while hammocking.
Anita Rao is the host and creator of "Embodied," a live, weekly radio show and seasonal podcast about sex, relationships & health. She's also the managing editor of WUNC's on-demand content. She has traveled the country recording interviews for the Peabody Award-winning StoryCorps production department, founded and launched a podcast about millennial feminism in the South, and served as the managing editor and regular host of "The State of Things," North Carolina Public Radio's flagship daily, live talk show. Anita was born in a small coal-mining town in Northeast England but spent most of her life growing up in Iowa and has a fond affection for the Midwest.