How Hollywood’s Sex Scenes Will Change With the New SAG-AFTRA Contract

In recent years, the presence of intimacy coordinators on Hollywood sets during the filming of nudity and sex scenes has become commonplace. However, it wasn't until SAG-AFTRA negotiated a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that explicit language regarding intimacy coordinators was officially acknowledged in the contract by both the union and the studios. This development is considered a significant achievement by members of the negotiating committee and working intimacy coordinators.  

“This is the first contract where intimacy coordinators are mentioned [in the contract]. I just think it’s very common to have either an uncomfortable or possibly traumatic experience when it comes to this,” negotiating committee member Caitlin Dulany tells Rolling Stone. “And it’s not healthy for us or our sets, so it’s a great victory to have this in our contract.”

Dulany is also an L.A. board member in SAG-AFTRA, is on the sexual harassment prevention committee, and has been an outspoken voice for the importance of intimacy coordinators in Hollywood ever since she came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Dulany says she’s been helping to work on a number of efforts to push forward more inclusion for intimacy coordinators over the last five years or so “that led up to being able to really advocate for this in this contract.”

“This was a huge win, it was a huge gain, and we really pushed for it,” Dulany says, pointing out that one of the major components worth celebrating is the fact that performers cannot be retaliated against for asking for an intimacy coordinator on set. 

“I think for my whole career, I was used to advocating for myself in that situation but that can be very intimidating,” she says. “I think that it would have been lovely to have someone there navigating intimate scenes. In the past, you would stand up for yourself, but you worry. It’s almost like being a warrior or something as opposed to just an open, creative, happy person.”

Intimacy coordinator Alicia Rodis hosts a master class moderated by director Crystal Moselle during the 2022 Tribeca Festival at SVA Theater on June 17, 2022, in New York City. ARTURO HOLMES/GETTY IMAGES FOR TRIBECA FESTIVAL

Members of the Screen Actors Guild have until Dec. 5 to vote to ratify the tentative agreement and were sent the full 128-page contract on Friday. “Producer will use best efforts to engage an Intimacy Coordinator for scenes involving nudity or sex acts. The producer will also consider in good faith any request by a performer or a performer’s representative to engage an Intimacy Coordinator for other scenes. Producer shall not retaliate against a performer for requesting an Intimacy Coordinator,” the contract reads. 

It also states there should be transparency regarding non-discrimination and anti-harassment, including clear instructions on how to report. When it comes to background actors, they need to be given notice if their role includes any nudity or simulated sex scenes ahead of their audition or interview. There’s also a stipulation about training that says there needs to be a commitment to update harassment prevention programs to make sure best practices for scenes involving nudity and simulated sex are in place, as well as when it comes to “scenes and situations of a ‘triggering’ nature in a trauma-informed manner.”

Alicia Rodis, an intimacy coordinator who consulted with the SAG negotiating committee on this matter and has been a proponent of increasing the visibility of the role on sets, tells Rolling Stone that including intimacy coordination in the contract helps solidify that “they’re not going away.”

“I think at the beginning people were like, ‘Oh, this is just something that’s happening because of #MeToo. Embedding intimacy coordinators into the contract is saying, ‘This is not a practice that is going away. This is not a blip, this is part of the cultural change of the industry,’” Rodis says.

Rodis was one of a few people who gave a testimonial in front of the AMPTP about her experience as a working actress in Hollywood and shared her personal perspective on why performers can benefit from working with intimacy coordinators during filming. For Rodis, who says she “started working in intimacy coordination at its birth” and is the in-house coordinator at HBO, it’s been a journey to see the role get to this point of recognition and acknowledgment.

That safety and that protection also behooves the AMPTP and any studio or employer to have an intimacy coordinator there, because they’re also making sure that things have an extra layer of safety and making sure everyone is taken care of.

Over the years, SAG-AFTRA has been encouraging the use of intimacy coordinators in the entertainment industry. Back in 2020, the union published a guideline of standards and protocols for the use of intimacy coordinators. In 2022 they also put together a list of qualified coordinators on their website who meet their ideal training requirements so that it’s easier for production companies to find the names and contact information for professionals.

Intimacy coordinators are not currently members of SAG-AFTRA nor are they eligible to be, but in 2022 the union’s national board approved “a path forward” for intimacy coordinators to eventually join. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said at the time, “The National Board is committed to bringing intimacy coordinators into the SAG-AFTRA family and ensuring they have the kind of benefits and protections other members already enjoy.”

Now, with SAG’s proposed contract, intimacy coordinators believe they’re moving beyond just a cultural norm and into a new phase of their involvement in Hollywood.

“That’s part of what I think is such a big win here, is that this is the introduction of intimacy coordinators into the basic agreement,” Rodis says. “At the end of the day, I’m also an artist, and the product and the process end up going smoother and working better. That’s been my experience and the experience of the folks that I’ve worked with. That safety and that protection also behooves the AMPTP and any studio or employer to have an intimacy coordinator there, because they’re also making sure that things have an extra layer of safety and making sure everyone is taken care of.”

Negotiating committee member Jack Mulcahy tells Rolling Stone that SAG-AFTRA was able to secure the portion about sexual harassment and intimacy coordinators in the proposed contract before the actors went on strike in July. While it was still a back-and-forth with the studios, as is every deal point, it was one of the first points that both sides mutually agreed on.

“For too long, the industry has been a little lax and a little tone deaf in terms of people’s comfort on set in terms of how they are directed and how they are asked to perform in these certain situations, sometimes with little or no notice whatsoever. So we had to put some guardrails around that,” Mulcahy explains. “Not just soft guardrails, but really strong and robust protections for actors, both male and female.”

I think finally having the language in there that protects all on set in terms sexual harassment and nudity and consent has been a long time coming. We are changing as a society and people around the world look to us as an industry but also as a part of the cultural zeitgeist.

Mulcahy, who has appeared in shows like Blue Bloods and Sex and the City, says the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee had “lengthy discussions” with the studios regarding the issue of intimacy coordinators and it was “very powerful” to have actors give testimonials during those conversations. The union originally asked for studios and streamers to require productions to use intimacy coordinators on set in certain situations involving nudity and simulated sex scenes, but there was an argument made that there aren’t yet enough intimacy coordinators who exist in the profession to “require” them to be present. This is how the negotiation arrived at using the term “best efforts” surrounding how Hollywood should be approaching the use of intimacy coordinators on set.

“From what I understand legally, ‘best efforts’ means that you must make your best efforts [to use intimacy coordinators] or you can be subject to and open yourself up to litigation,” Mulcahy says. “I think finally having the language in there that protects all on set in terms of sexual harassment and nudity and consent has been a long time coming. We are changing as a society and people around the world look to us as an industry but also as a part of the cultural zeitgeist. And I think having this kind of protection will send a message.”

Chantal Cousineau, an intimacy coordinator and consultant during the SAG negotiations, says that it was important to finally include language protecting actors and performers in the contract because otherwise, it doesn’t always “hold parties responsible that are looking to go above and beyond what is acceptable, including nudity and simulated sex on set.”

“During the pandemic, we had a lot of casting directors asking for simulated sex scenes in their auditions so essentially, they were asking performers to provide what amounted to pornographic materials because it just seemed like people were having simulated sex on camera during auditions,” Cousineau says. “So we put the ‘no nudity’ in concrete terms in this contract.”

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher speaks as SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland looks on at a press conference discussing their strike-ending deal with the Hollywood studios on November 10, 2023, in Los Angeles, California. MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES

Cousineau has been a voice in the #MeToo movement after coming forward with allegations against a prominent director. She’s certified and trained as an intimacy coordinator, having worked on shows like Grey’s AnatomyThis Is Us, and The Terminal List, and has also played a significant role in shepherding intimacy coordinators in the entertainment industry.

“The union has normalized the use of intimacy coordinators on set by highly publicizing their support of the position. Their recommendations are strong recommendations but that was not enough,” she says. “Now in this document, it says ‘best efforts,’ so the studios have to actually look into and attempt to employ an intimacy coordinator for nudity and simulated sex scenes.”

While this has been perceived as a significant victory overall, union members say they want to continue to make strides regarding how intimacy coordinators are implemented across Hollywood. Moving forward, SAG members want intimacy coordinators to become union members themselves. They also say they want to increase the number of trained and registered intimacy coordinators so that in future contracts, the union can eventually require them instead of just highly encouraging them.

Cousineau is hoping the next contract includes more concrete language regarding protections for minor performers and those with disabilities. She says she’s generally hopeful for what the inclusion of intimacy coordinators in this contract can mean for the future, but also thinks it’s important to ask: “What exactly are we going to be doing to hold [studios] accountable or to show transparency as far as what a ‘best effort’ looks like for production?”

“That’s going to be telling as far as what we need to have for the following contract, but maybe in the next contract we might actually be a category,” she says, “so things having to do with us will be very much carved out in stone.”  

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