Talk about physical education.
Ita O’Brien, an intimacy coordinator who has been involved with TV series such as “Sex Education,” “Normal People” and “I May Destroy You,” is working to create a two-year program being dubbed the “world’s first degree in intimacy practice.”
O’Brien, 56, is the founder of the UK-based Intimacy on Set, a consultancy specializing in helping actors in film, TV and theater move through sexual content and scenes with nudity.
She teamed up with the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London to create the program, which will launch in September.
“To ensure we develop a profession which can proudly grow with excellence we need to be able to train talented individuals who can navigate the both physical and emotional journey that each actor will go on, and can responsibly and safely deliver the intimate content as envisioned by the director, the storytelling, and each character,” O’Brien said in a statement.
O’Brien works with actors on navigating their own personal consent and boundaries for sex scenes on film and TV. Above is a scene she worked on for Hulu’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel “Normal People.”
The two-year course, culminating with a Master of Fine Arts degree, will teach students about the human anatomy, the use of modesty garments, sexual health and consent of touch, nudity and sexual content as it applies to the stage and screen, according to Mountview Academy’s website.
“The lecturers will hold expertise in a variety of areas,” the website reads, “such as awareness of sexual and intimate storytelling; open communication and transparency; power dynamics on set, in educational institutions, and in live performance; movement coaching and masking techniques; understanding of guild and union contracts that affect nudity and simulated sex; and health and safety training in the professional space.”
A scene from British comedy-drama “Sex Education.” O’Brien worked as an intimacy consultant for the show. Netflix
A decade ago, intimacy coordinators — who choreograph simulated sex scenes and ensure actors are comfortable on set — were unheard of, but they’re increasingly the standard.
“Weinstein happened, and the industry said, ‘We have to do better,'” O’Brien told Esquire in 2020, noting that “Sex Education” was the first show that hired her.
“They said, ‘We need you because of the content and the young cast.'”
O’Brien has a clause for kissing consent in her list of intimacy guidelines — no tongue allowed unless actors agree. Here, actors on “Sex Education” get personal.Hulu
Ita O’Brien, founder of Intimacy on Set, is now sharing her skills with film students looking to master the art of intimacy on screen and in theaters. AFP via Getty Images
In 2021, the BBC made the use of Intimacy Coordinators mandatory for TV and movies with sexual scenes.
On her company website, O’Brien lists best practices. Directors are advised to discuss all intimate scenes and nudity with talent before contracts are signed and then throughout the creative process.
When it comes to kissing, the guidelines note, “no use of tongues as standard practice.”
Not everyone is a fan of intimacy coordinators, however.
Toni Collette, 50, told the London Times recently that she feels more comfortable without them. She even once asked one to leave.
“It just felt like those people who were brought in to make me feel more at ease were actually making me feel more anxious,” she said. “They weren’t helping.”
Actress Toni Collette told the London Times recently that working with an intimacy consultant made her anxious. “They weren’t helping, so I asked them to leave,” she said.Kieron McCarron/ITV/Shutterstock
Others, like Paapa Essiedu, 32, who plays a victim of sexual assault in “I May Destroy You,” find them invaluable.
He told Esquire, “I honestly cannot imagine a world where you do scenes that demand this level of intimacy without an intimacy coordinator.”