The popular and critical success of contemporary UK drama series including Sex Education (Netflix, 2019 -), Normal People (BBC Three/RTE One/Hulu, 2020) and I May Destroy You (BBC/HBO, 2020), all of which have been praised for their complex depictions of sexual intimacy and consent, has drawn increasing attention towards the relatively new role of the intimacy coordinator in television production. This role extends beyond television to theatre and film and, as Inge Ejbye Sorensen (2021:6) explains in a recent Feminist Media Studies article, is designed to:

“choreograph and supervise scenes involving sex, intimacy and nudity. Intimacy Coordinators discuss and plan the practical, physical and psychological preparations for and performance of these scenes with the actors, crew, the Director and the Producer, as well as negotiate and supervise their filming. The presence of an Intimacy Coordinator is intended to create a professional working environment where processes, practices and actions are transparent and rehearsed in advance, foregrounding the safety, dignity and wellbeing of cast and crew” (Sorensen, 2021: 6).

While this role was developed prior to campaigns including #MeToo and #TimesUp, it has taken on greater significance in the context of heightened awareness of gendered abuses of power in the screen sector, concerned as it is with ensuring that on-set production practices are safe for all involved and that sexual representations are handled with care.

In this blog, we want to introduce a new British Academy/Leverhulme funded project that we’re beginning to work on, which will explore the role of the intimacy coordinator in more depth. The project seeks to consider the relationship between off-screen production processes and on-screen depictions of sex and consent in contemporary UK television drama. In doing so, it aims to contribute to, and bring together, two important areas of study: the growing body of feminist creative labour scholarship on the relationship between gender inequalities and the sector’s working conditions (see Cobb and Horeck, 2018; Boyle, 2019; O’Brien, 2019; Berridge, 2020; Aust, 2021) and feminist television scholarship on contemporary representations of sexual intimacy, consent and sexual violence (see Wheatley, 2016; Mayer, 2020; Benson-Allott, 2020; Horeck, 2020, 2021).

Fig. 1: I May Destroy You (BBC/HBO, 2020)

As intimacy coordination is relatively new in the screen sector, there is little academic research exploring the role in depth. A rare exception is Sorensen’s (2021) recent article, which focuses on the rise of intimacy coordination from the perspective of policy and production studies, relating it to broader initiatives designed to mitigate against risk in the screen sector. Sorensen (2021) argues that, in part, the rise of intimacy coordination should be understood in relation to wider initiatives and policies designed to counter gender inequalities and sexism in the film and television industries. Gender disparities in the sector have been subject to much attention in recent years, with feminist scholars, industry bodies and community interest organisations calling for radical restructuring of the industries’ normative masculine working cultures. Alternative labour models have been proposed, including those that prioritise collaboration, transparency, accountability, and care for workers (O’Brien, 2019). The role of the intimacy coordinator speaks to these calls, as it centrally involves forms of labour that have traditionally been seen as ‘feminine’, including emotional labour, communication, cooperation and rigorous organisation in order to ensure that actors are treated with respect when preparing for and filming intimate scenes. It is a role that involves frequent collaboration with others, including (but not limited to) actors, directors, producers, agents, prop departments, and costume designers. Significantly, this is also a role primarily – though not exclusively – occupied by women, and thus this project hopes to contribute to a small, but growing body of work that seeks to highlight women’s contributions to the television industry, which have historically been rendered invisible and overlooked (Ball and Bell, 2013; Moseley, Wheatley and Wood, 2017).

Fig. 2: Sex Education (Netflix, 2019-)

Where discussions of the role have been more prominent is in popular commentary surrounding the aforementioned series, all of which have been discussed in relation to their complex depictions of sexual intimacy, and – in some cases – sexual violence. As Helen Wheatley (2016) observes, in the 21st century, there has been heightened attention to the marked proliferation of ‘intentional erotic spectacle’ in British (and US) contemporary television drama. Sorensen (2021: 10) connects this rise in scenes involving nudity and sexual intimacy to the ‘distribution context and model of VOD portals’, which are no longer bound by the same watershed restrictions as traditional broadcast television. Recent television scholarship has not only identified an increase in sexual representations, but also some important differences in the way in which certain programmes –commonly, though not exclusively, those that involve intimacy coordinators – are depicting scenes involving sexual intimacy, and sexual violence. For example, emerging scholarship on Sex Education has argued that the series is ‘underpinned by new narrative forms shaped by consent and respect’ (Mayer, 2020: 30) and that it offers the potential for challenging the dominance of heteronormative sex (see Horeck, 2021). Similarly, recent scholarship on I May Destroy You has foregrounded its capacity to raise awareness around specific forms of abuse (see a previous blog by Nektaria McWilliams on ‘stealthing’), and highlighted its ‘structural critiques of rape television as a genre’ (Benson-Allott, 2020: 100).

Discussions of the pedagogic role of televisual representations of sexuality and sexual intimacy have a longer history, with television often identified as a particularly conducive medium for representing sex and desire – especially female desire – when compared to other media (Wheatley, 2016). The small body of audience research that exists on this subject has found that televisual sexual representations play a significant role in the formation of viewers’ sexual identities, in informing viewers about sex and consent, and in opening up conversations on more challenging topics, such as sexual abuse (Arthurs, 2004; Wheatley, 2016: 192; Collie, 2017). In turn, there is growing feminist research on issues of consent in relation to wider rape culture, which has highlighted the media’s role in shaping broader sexual expectations (Mendes, Ringrose and Keller, 2019).

While recognising that it is not possible to draw a straightforward connection between production practices and representations of sexual intimacy and consent (a subject discussed in a previous CSTonline blog), one of the key areas that we want to explore through our project is the relationship between cultures of consent on- and off-screen. To what extent does/can the role of the intimacy coordinator off-screen engender new depictions of sex and consent on-screen? We aim to do this through a series of interviews with intimacy coordinators and those they collaborate with, and through detailed textual analysis of selected UK programmes that employ intimacy coordinators in their production. It’s early days, but we hope to be back with future blogs sharing our findings. If anyone is working in similar areas, we’d love to hear from you!


Dr Susan Berridge is a Lecturer in Film and Media at the University of Stirling. Current research, led by Dr Tanya Horeck of Anglia Ruskin University, explores the role of the intimacy coordinator in terms of facilitating new depictions of sex and consent on UK television drama. Previous research has focused on televisual representations of gender, sexuality and sexual violence as well as gender inequalities relating to caring responsibilities within the wider screen sector. She has published on these themes in various edited collections, and in journals including Feminist Media Studies, European Journal of Cultural Studies, Journal of British Cinema and Television and New Review of Film and Television Studies. She’s also always up for chatting about Neighbours.

Dr Tanya Horeck is an Associate Professor in Film, Media & Culture at Anglia Ruskin University.  She writes on binge-watching, celebrity culture, crime and violence, internet memes, social justice, and social media platforms, and is the author of Public Rape: Representing Violation in Fiction and Film and Justice on Demand: True Crime in the Digital Streaming Era. She is the co-director of the Anglia Research Centre in Media & Culture (ARCMedia). Her current research projects include an AHRC funded study on online sexual risks for young people during COVID-19 (with Jessica Ringrose and Kaitlynn Mendes), and a study on the rise of consent culture and intimacy coordination (with Susan Berridge).




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