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  • Haley McGee

Season 1: Episode 5 - The Cost of Love and Sex Scenes with Ita O'Brien

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

Intimacy coordinator, Ita O'Brien, is responsible for the sex scenes in our favourite shows: Normal People, I May Destroy You, It's a Sin, Sex Education.

The #metoo movement ushered in the role of the intimacy coordinator on film and TV sets because the emotional cost filming of sex scenes was harming actors. But what does an intimacy coordinator do? And why does their work make the sex scenes more realistic and affective for audiences?

Episode Summary

Welcome to the fifth episode of The Cost of Love with Haley McGee. Here's what it's all about...

Haley McGee is a love idiot. She’s also an actor and the author of the forthcoming book, ‘The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale’. On The Cost of Love Podcast she’s talking to a wide range of experts to try to figure out if the cost of love is worth it.

Each episode features a conversation between Haley and someone in the know, and they dig into that strange juicy place where love and money collide.

This fascinating and juicy episode is all about the cost of love and sex scenes with prolific Intimacy Coordinator and Movement Director for theatre and film, Ita O'Brien. Ita pioneered the role of the Intimacy Coordinator, which has now been widely adopted on HBO, Netflix, and BBC sets. She's worked giving us the titillating and the tragic on the smash-hit shows, Normal People, I May Destroy You, Sex Education, It's a Sin, and many more.

In part one, ‘Everyone’s a Love Idiot’, Haley asks Ita a series of questions that attempt to quantify her romantic history -- how she met her partner while looking for housing, the ratio of fun to misery in their relationship, and what's different about falling in love in your 30s.

In part two, ‘Brains Over Braun’, we apply Ita's expertise to the concept of the cost of love.

We cover:

  • Haley's experiences on set and on stage without Intimacy Coordinators, and the damaging effects of an industry that relies on -- "just jump in"

  • Ita explains what an Intimacy Coordinator is and does and why we need them

  • Why it’s NEVER "just a kiss"

  • The parallels with fight direction, why we need risk assessments and mitigations, and precise choreography

  • The importance of agreement and consent when filming or staging a sex scene

  • The line between steamy sex in narrative film and pornography

  • Why intimacy coordination does not censor creativity but rather its clear structure supports more nuanced and unselfconscious performances

  • How Ita approached some of our favourite scenes in Normal People, I May Destroy You and It's a Sin

  • What animal studies are, and how they help us speak an intimate language

  • How and why intimate scenes, when not done supportively, can cost actors

  • The role of 'Me Too' in deciding that the cost to actors in intimate scenes has historically been too high, and where the industry is now

In part three, ‘Free Hugs’, Haley and Assistant Producer Eliza, answer listener questions on love and money, this week focussing on how long it "should" take to get over a heartbreak, and whether the month for every year calculation is accurate and/or useful.

Before signing off, Haley reflects on the importance of clear communication in both intimacy in real life and on set, the danger in remaining prudish, and the freedom and safety that comes from honesty.

We end with Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, the song Ita listened to with her partner on repeat when falling in love. Click the link to listen to the whole song.

About Ita O'Brien

Ita O'Brien is an Intimacy Coordinator and Movement Director for film, television, and theatre.

For the last six years Ita O'Brien has been developing best practice when working with intimacy, scenes with sexual content, and nudity in film, TV, and theatre - the 'Intimacy on Set' guidelines. Ita pioneered the role of Intimacy Coordinator, which is gaining adoption in leading production houses, including HBO, Netflix, and the BBC.

Ita's work has been featured widely in the media, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Telegraph, The Irish Times, Cosmopolitan, The Evening Standard, The Stage, The Sunday Times, BBC, NBC, Radio New Zealand, ABC, and RTE.

​Ita founded Intimacy on Set to provide trained professional Intimacy Coordinators to the industry

Visit Ita's website

Follow Ita on Twitter @ItaOB or on Instagram @itaobrien_

Books, TV & Some of the Other Things Mentioned

Normal People (the book) by Sally Rooney

Laban's Efforts in Action by Vanessa Ewan and Kate Sagovsky

Normal People (the TV series) by Sally Rooney and Alice Birch

I May Destroy You by Michaela Coel

It's a Sin by Russel T Davies

Sex Education by Laurie Nunn

The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale by Haley McGee (available for pre-order in the UK)

Support the Podcast

Stay in Touch

Follow The Cost of Love on Instagram @thecostof_love, Twitter @thecostof_love and Facebook

Follow Haley McGee on Instagram @yeshaleymcgee, Twitter @yeshaleymcgee and Facebook

Submit a Question about Love & Money

Email and give us some context while you're at it! We'll try to answer it on a future episode.


Writer and Host - Haley McGee.

Producer and Editor - Maddie Haynes

Assistant Producer - Eliza Cass

Music and Audio Production - Robert Moutrey

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