Interview with Róisín O’Donovan, Intimacy Coordinator Under Mentorship With @intimacy_on_set, on Sex on Screen

Róisín is an actor & intimacy coordinator working across tv, film, theatre & education under the mentorship of Normal People’s Ita O’Brien. She holds a BA International in Drama, Theatre Studies & English from UCC, is a graduate of Bow Street’s Programme for Screen Acting where she now teaches Intimacy for screen to students of acting. Irish drama fans might recognise her as Niamh Reid from Red Rock. She believes deeply in the value of this work, loves her job and is a total nerd.

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What is an intimacy co-ordinator? What do they do?

An intimacy coordinator works with stage and screen productions when there are scenes with intimacy, sexual or nude content. We bring a professional structure to these scenes and balance the safety and consent of actors with the vision of the writers and directors.

What are the benefits of hiring an intimacy co-ordinator?

We bring open communication & transparency, allowing directors voice their vision for the scene with clarity, and empowering actors to freely discuss their agreement & consent based on the directors suggestions, boundaries which are then respected when creating a choreography for the scene. This allows actors to feel safe and open in otherwise vulnerable situations, so they can relax into character and perform repeatable, detailed scenes of intimacy that are grounded in story. We also deal with admin like risk assessments, nudity riders and follow up reports.

What are some tips and tricks used to make sex scenes more comfortable for the actors?

Identifying the blocking & emotional life of the scene – lets actors really focus on the story and the character’s emotional journey
Agreement & consent of touch – clarifying and respecting each other’s boundaries
Closed Set – only essential crew to be present and monitors turned off
Safe words – the ability to stop the scene at any moment if it no longer feels appropriate.

What are some examples of sex scenes that you think are done really well?

Obviously Normal People, coordinated by my fantastic mentor Ita O’Brien, and the wonderful Sue Mythen. I also love the scenes in Netflix’s Hollywood, so beautifully crafted and you can really sense the actors are in control of those scenes, they feel safe and open to express the story within the choreography, coordinated by another master – Michael Arnold.

What are some ‘red flags’ when it comes to ‘bad’ sex scenes?

This is an interesting one, the audience can often sense when an intimate scene hasn’t been well enough considered. A lot of movies from the 80s and 90s had intimate scenes that didn’t serve the story, suddenly there would be a random sex scene that had no relevance to the story and the audience would cringe or go make a cup of tea. The beauty of a well done scene will have the audience leaning in.

Please tell us 3 differences between what we see on screen vs. what happens on set?

Actors are rarely fully naked on set, they wear modesty garments & their genitalia never ever touches.

Chemistry! While some actors naturally have a good rapport, for others it can be crafted, the length of the gaze, the quality of the kiss & built on like a dance.

Something that looks effortless on screen can be the most clumsy thing in the world on set. One actor standing on a box, leaning unnaturally to the side with their mouths open just so. But on screen, it looks a dream.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming an intimacy coordinator?

Go for it! I would suggest studying acting, movement and/or directing. A knowledge of/ interest in film, human psychology & sexuality are helpful too. Watch movies, get an eye for what works & what doesn’t & why. There is no professional training in Ireland currently but Intimacy on Set does training in London (outside of Covid). Screen Skills Ireland & the Irish Theatre Institute sometimes do intro sessions. There are a few more training bodies, it takes time to get qualified & this is a very new industry so look for well established companies that offer on-going in-person training (not ideal in this climate, but in time we’ll be back in a room working together).

Any recommended reading/watching/following/listening re. intimacy directing?

Watch: Sex Education, if only we had this show growing up! I May Destroy You for its exploration of consent. Normal People for the emotional journeys. Bridgerton for the detail (great work from Lizzy Talbot on that one!)
Read: This stuff is so new no one has even written the book yet! Actor Movement by Vanessa Ewan is the next best thing. For anyone working in film, check out the Intimacy on Set Guidelines.
Listen: Film podcasts, understand how filmmakers make films A24, WTF, You Must Remember This etc.
Follow: @intimacy_on_set and @bectuintimacy.

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This service is fully limited to Sexuality Education. All advice is given in an honest manner and as guidance only. By using this service, you agree that you make your own decisions, relying solely on your discretion; any use you make of such answers, advice or services is at your own risk and ‘Grace Alice Sexuality Educator’ cannot be held responsible or be liable for any damages or losses resulting from your reliance on such answers or advice.

What is a peer-to-peer support session?

Firstly, let us start with what the session is not! I am not a practicing sex therapist, sexologist, medical professional, psychotherapist, psychologist, counsellor, or mental health professional. Therefore, I do not provide medical advice (although I may recommend that you seek guidance from a medical professional if appropriate) or a therapy service.

Sex & Relationships Education is a separate field to these professions, and I employ my own unique approach based on my qualifications, training, and experience. I hold an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy and a Masters degree in Health Promotion. I have over six years experience working as a Sex & Relationships Educator and have undergone continuous professional development and training. I also studied empathy education as a UNESCO scholar, which informs my approach. Details of my qualifications and training are available on my LinkedIn page – please see the ‘About’ page also!

Within a session, I offer a confidential and safe space for discussion of various issues relating to relationships and sexuality. I strive for a relaxed, informal vibe, where you can chat about something that you have been struggling with. I can offer a friendly and non-judgemental listening ear, suggestions on how you can approach your own personal situation, general information on the related topic(s) and details of relevant professionals, support services and organisations (usually in a follow-up email). I can accommodate sessions relating to many topics relating to relationships and sexuality – including but not limited to body image, sexual communication, consent and boundaries, protection, anatomy, vaginismus, porn, STIs and STI stigma, healthy and unhealthy relationships, gender and sexuality, pleasure, arousal, desire, infidelity, break-ups, dating, and more.  I want my clients to feel relaxed, comfortable, and free to talk without fear or shame, like they would with a very close friend!

How does a Booking work?

In a nutshell, you can contact me via the booking page on this site and request a booking. If I decide that a session with me would be a good fit for you, I will contact you and arrange a time and date!

Here is the pricing for sessions;

ServiceDurationCost
Standard Session1 hour€50
Student* Standard Session1 hour€40
   
*A valid student I.D. must be presented.  

Please note that the session must be paid for in full at least 24 hours prior to the session, using the payment method and details I will provide to you in an email. If you do not have PayPal, we can arrange another form of payment (Revolut or bank transfer – please factor in the extra time it will take you to set up an account if needed or the possible delay in bank transfers, this may slightly affect the scheduling of your session).

Due to the nature of this service, I cannot offer any refunds for any reason during or after a session.

However, if you have paid and can no longer attend the scheduled session, I can offer you a full refund if you notify me of the cancellation at least 48 hours beforehand. If you wish to reschedule, please notify me at least 48 hours before the time of the scheduled session, and we can work something out!

Am I guaranteed to have a session?

Imay choose not to do a session with you if I feel that I am unable to offer support or education relating to your situation. I will contact you to let you know if I have decided that my service is not a good fit for you, and I will offer some suggestions regarding more suitable professionals/organisations/services to contact.

Although we may chat about lots of different things during a session, if someone has clearly not been truthful in the booking form about the topic area that want to discuss and appear to have an ulterior motive in booking the session, I may choose to end the session. The same rule applies to a situation where someone is clearly not who they have stated they are in the booking form. 

I cannot offer sessions to anyone under the age of 18 years. I may choose to ask you to present a copy of a valid form of I.D. if I feel that confirmation of age is needed. Requesting to book a session indicates that you are aged 18 years or over, and that you are being truthful in disclosing your age.

If I feel that someone is being disrespectful, offensive, or inappropriate, and I feel uncomfortable, I may choose to end the session. I may also end the session if I believe that it is being recorded.

Is it all confidential?

Y

es! Confidentiality is essential to a service like this and I will do everything in my power on my end to protect it.

Here is what I will do on my end; I will abide by GDPR guidelines and make every effort to keep all personal information relating to sessions safe. Booking requests and emails with a form attached/included will be retained for no more than 1 year. The form may be printed, and I may take notes before, during and after the session either by hand or typed. Forms, notes, and USB key will all be stored in a locked file safe in my home office. All forms and notes (hard and soft copies) will be deleted and/or destroyed after one year.  I will send you a Zoom Meeting ID and password before the session using the email address you have given me. I will use headphones and will be alone in a private space during all sessions. All  records of calls and video calls will be deleted after one year.

Please be mindful of what you choose to share within the session. I have an obligation to break confidentiality and report to Tusla and/or the Gardaí any disclosures of child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and other crimes.

Here is what you must do on your end! You must not screenshot, record and/or distribute any part of your session. It is also your responsibility to protect your privacy as much as you like on your end. This may include keeping your phone password-protected, using a non-identifiable email address that does not include your name, deleting correspondence, making sure you have a private space for your session where you will not be interrupted or overheard, etc.

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