Whether you've heard the term Intimacy Coordinator before or this is completely new to you, after reading this you're going to want one for all areas of your own intimate life. What started out as a peripheral position in Hollywood sets, has now become a requirement at streaming platforms like HBO and a key piece of ethical porn production companies. There's just one tiny difference between the two – porn performers are having sex IRL – Hollywood is often contrived – making the work of Intimacy Coordinators all the more crucial.
This week, flossy co-founder Caroline Reis sat down with Clinical Sexologist, Intimacy Coordinator at Erika Lust Films, and Manager of Erika Lust non-profit project The Porn Conversation, Avril Louise Clark (she/her/hers), to chat all things Intimacy Coordination.
Avril Louise Clark (she/her)Intimacy Coordinator
Caroline: Tell me a little bit about yourself! What does a day in your life look like?
Avril: I am a clinical sexologist by trade, meaning that I wear many different hats. Typically, my day is be anything from creating educational materials, hosting workshops, participating in educational panels regarding sex and sex education, doing interviews, writing articles and speeches and so much more. I'm also doing sex therapy on the side which looks like meeting with partners or individuals throughout the evenings during the weeks. I also have a regular collaboration with Soho House in Barcelona which is a sex talk event called Pleasure In Bloom. I spend most of my time managing The Porn Conversation, which is the Erika Lust sex education nonprofit project that provides free and easily accessible sex education tools for families and educators to talk to kids and teens about porn and porn literacy. No matter what I’m doing, I like to keep things fun and exciting!
Caroline: Is there a song right now that you're really loving? Or that evokes pleasure for you?
Avril: I am crazy about making playlists on Spotify. Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Frank Ocean. There's a song by Frank Ocean with Andre 3000 called Pink Matter. And they have a line in there that I love that says “if models were made for modeling, big girls were made for cuddling." That has always resonated with me.
Caroline: Can you tell me a little bit about your work as an intimacy coordinator? Are there certain credentials required and what does the work actually entail?
Avril: Typically an intimacy coordinator is a role that first primarily existed in Hollywood productions. It was a person who would help work as a liaison between the actors and the production team. This could mean anything from providing and choosing the correct modesty garments for actors to wear when they're simulating sex. In Hollywood, they're not really having sex on screen.
Most of the training that exists now for intimacy coordination, is based on Hollywood productions. For example, HBO now requires an intimacy coordinator on set for their productions 100% of the time so it's a growing role on many sets while working as an intimacy coordinator on a porn set is quite different because performers are actually having sex.
The training that exists right now is extremely focused on Hollywood productions and not pornography productions, so my role does feel a bit different than what a typical intimacy coordinator would do. In my role, I act as the liaison between the performers, the sex workers, and the production team, doing things like ensuring that they have all their consent and boundaries forms signed, going through the STI test forms together, gathering all the toys, lubricants and contraceptives to be used on set, having the pre-sex scene consent talks, making sure that everyone is feeling comfortable, and that they are all their needs are met while they're on set. The production team is there to create the film, keep the schedule on track and ensure things are done on time, but on Erika Lust sets, the production team is so kind and so aware of the work that Intimacy Coordinators are doing which is highly intimate, so makes it a very seamless and supportive environment. I am the person that a performer could typically go to if they are feeling nervous, have some questions, or maybe just wanted to take a step away from the whole frenzy of production to just be present, and be human – that person that they can just chat with. I also watch the sex scenes to make sure that everyone is feeling comfortable and good – checking in with them regularly, and ensuring that everyone's boundaries are being respected and that there's good communication pre, post, and during sex scenes.
Caroline: So it sounds like there might be a bit of a gap in the traditional Hollywood intimacy coordinator training vs. being an intimacy coordinator for porn. Do you notice that at all?
Avril: Definitely. As a clinical sexologist, I am trained in trauma-informed care which is really essential for porn intimacy coordination. There are only a handful of institutions out there that actually provide intimacy coordination training and only one that I'm aware of for the adult film industry, RedCheeks Academy, but I know it's growing. Clinical sexology training allows me to be more knowledgeable in my role.
I did a training recently with Pineapple Support which is a nonprofit organization that supports free mental health support for adult industry performers and they're available 24/7. They also provide really great trainings and resources for people like myself within the porn industry. It’s so essential to be aware of how we can best support sex workers, who are oftentimes the people who are least supported politically.
Caroline: Do you ever run into instances where performers are uncomfortable or feel like a boundary has been crossed?
Avril: It really depends on the performer and the situation but I will say that is not something that I have experienced yet.
I wish that regular everyday sexual situations – like someone going on a Tinder/Grindr date – went through what performers experience on set; very thorough consent and boundary talks, lots of conversations, sharing safe words – all things that the performers, intimacy coordinators and production are well aware of. We have one form to fill out called “How to help a performer in crisis,” which helps us know how to best support a person if that moment if a crisis or uncomfortable moment were to arise. They always have the ability to talk with me beforehand so I understand how best I can support them in those moments. If someone were to have a dissociative moment and/or a trauma response, it’s my responsibility to be aware of that and ensure that the person signals or communicates to me what is going on and create that safe space for them both physically and emotionally. I always make sure that their needs are met 100%. My experience on Erika Lust film sets is that this is a huge priority of production as well – it's a very caring and supportive environment.
Caroline: Wow. It really sounds like every single person on Erika Lust sets is focused on creating a safe environment that supports performers.
Avril: Exactly. I am the liaison – the middle person between the performers and production team. There's also a talent manager on production, who assists more with the physical needs of the performers like getting the sex box together – condoms and the right lubricants and whatever the performers may need on set. Talent managers are also very well aware of the emotional and mental health needs of performers. I work very closely with talent managers, but for me, the number one priority is always taking care of the mental and emotional needs of the humans on set.
Caroline: Erika Lust mentions that what goes on behind the camera is really what defines porn as "feminist" or "ethical"? What is your take on this?
Avril: As far as defining feminist or ethical porn, it's all about what happens during production by incorporating ethical production practices. Having an intimacy coordinator on set ties in with incorporating more ethical production practices. Ethical production practices look like making sure to honor the boundaries of performers and giving them the time to mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare before, during, and after filming. It means hiring people behind the camera that are intentional instead of someone who is just trying to get the best shot – often in a chauvinistic way. It's about equal pleasure. It’s about making sure you have fair pay for everyone who's on set – in front of and behind cameras and even in the back of the office like the editing team. Sexuality is so nuanced and in the ethical porn industry, you can find absolutely everything under the sun as far as performers, body types, gender identities, and sexual orientations. Equal pleasure is the number one most important thing.
Caroline: Are there any misconceptions about intimacy coordination that you've bumped up against?
Avril: I haven't heard anything so much yet about intimacy coordination, but I wouldn't be surprised if they think a very similar or the same thing to the misconceptions about being a sexologist that I often hear. People think that I physically touch other people and that it's more physical than talk therapy. Anything to do with the word sex, suddenly, it's like, “gosh, you must be touching people!” Which is so far from the truth.
Caroline: At flossy, we are focused on pleasure being something that's uniquely defined by each member of our community so I'm curious to know what pleasure looks like for you?
Avril: Lately, as we're deep into summer pleasure to me feels like sunshine on my face. It feels like having a tall glass of cold water with lemon first thing in the morning. It feels like laying down on the couch after a long day with the windows open. It feels like watching a sunrise or a beautiful sunset. Moving my body feels pleasurable. Laughing with friends.
Caroline: Are there any last words or hopes and dreams you'd like to leave us with?
Avril: I always advocate for people to check out the Erika Lust non-profit project I manage called The Porn Conversation. Porn literacy is not just for kids; it is for adults, too. It's something we can always take a step back and think about what we consume, and how it affects us. It’s all about being mindful of your consumption – anything from a social media post to the porn you might be consuming.
Also if they're interested in seeing and experiencing ethical porn to check out Erika lust.com and visit our different streaming platforms, XConfessions, Lust Cinema, and Else Cinema. Each has a different style and flavor that is very very pleasing.
To learn more about Avril’s work, connect with her via her website or Instagram.