For decades, sex on screen has thrilled, fascinated and caused outrage. Before Fatal Attraction's raunchy elevator scene with Michael Douglas, Glenn Close has said she needed to drink half a pitcher of margarita.

And Maria Schneider revealed several years after Last Tango in Paris that a scene in which her character is raped by Marlon Brando's character wasn't in the original script. It left the unprepared French actress humiliated and feeling "a little raped".

Now, in the wake of MeToo, there are fears that such scenes might be causing actors emotional and psychological harm. Cue the rise of "intimacy co-ordinators" - professionals whose job it is to monitor sex scenes and ensure that they are filmed with respect for the feelings of those in front of the camera.

In October, HBO, the US network responsible for sex-riddled shows Game of Thrones and Westworld, announced it was hiring intimacy co-ordinators to monitor the filming of sex scenes across all of its shows.


And in New Zealand, Kura Productions used one for the second season of Ahikāroa, a bilingual series which screens on Māori TV.

Popular Kiwi dramas Westside and Shortland Street could next be using the services, with the Accident Compensation Corporation helping an industry group on a new proposal.

Antonia Prebble as Rita; David de Lautour as Ted in Westside. Photo / Supplied by South Pacific Pictures
Antonia Prebble as Rita; David de Lautour as Ted in Westside. Photo / Supplied by South Pacific Pictures

The role can require working with everyone on set - from the costume designers to the cast - and the advice they give can range from the small and practical, such as supplying actors with covering underwear or pads to kneel on, to the more profound like making actors feel they had power over their own bodies.

The Screen Women's Action Group (SWAG) has made recommendations to ACC that the role become an industry norm and workshops and training be held.

It is in negotiations with the government entity about implementing these.

The group, which was formed last March with support from former Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty, is now attempting to change a screen industry culture it said enabled sexual harassment, discrimination and other abuses of power over women.

The cast of Ahikaroa, a bilingual TV show on Maori TV which uses an intimacy coordinator. Photo / South Pacific Pictures
The cast of Ahikaroa, a bilingual TV show on Maori TV which uses an intimacy coordinator. Photo / South Pacific Pictures

In its first year it has held two film industry forums, one in Auckland and the other in Wellington, in which hundreds of women attended.

"The feedback we received from actors was that they would very much like to have intimacy co-ordinators brought on set as a specialist in the same way productions employ stunt co-ordinators," said director Gaysorn Thavat, who is part of SWAG.

"This benefits not only the cast but is also assurance for the director that the material they are shooting is being handled sensitively and appropriately.

"The last thing a director wants is for their cast to feel exploited in any way. Having an intimacy co-ordinator helps keeps the checks and balances around consent in place on a film set, and it also helps the actors and directors mutually find the best creative result because people are working in an environment of trust and consent."

The role would be filled by an external specialist as part of a pool that directors, casting directors, acting coaches and other industry leaders can call on. Training would be offered for people who want to qualify for the role, Thavat said.

An ACC spokesman said it is supporting SWAG in designing a plan to implement the recommendations, and it is consulting with sexual violence and screen sector partners. The project would also involve ScreenSafe - which promotes health and safety in the sector - industry guilds, funders and other government agencies which are leading the work on sexual violence.

Ita O'Brien, a British intimacy co-ordinator responsible for provocative scenes in the new Netflix comedy drama Sex Education, was brought to New Zealand last month - with help from the NZ Film Commission - by the Equity Foundation, a professional development arm affiliated with Equity New Zealand, the actor's union. She held workshops for Kiwi directors, actors, producers and others in the industry.

Actress Jennifer Ward-Lealand, president of Equity NZ, said the workshops were a game-changer.

"The question has to be why would directors want to risk their reputation, the wellbeing of the actor and a really great intimate scene when you don't have to? I will definitely be using Ita's work in my directing and performing work from now on."

In a joint effort with the Directors and Editors Guild, the foundation is in the process of updating its guidelines to encourage the use of intimacy co-ordinators.

Chris Bailey, managing director for South Pacific Pictures, which makes Westside and Shortland Street, said it has "closed sets" when any nude filming takes place, meaning they allow on set only the minimum number of people required. "We are always very careful, and the industry has very clear terms in the standard cast contract which we follow.

"We also have harassment prevention policies that go hand in hand with our health and safety policies. Our aim is to make performers as secure as possible and nothing is done without their consent... "

Westside producer Mark Beesley said the production staff try to "remove the unexpected" from intimate shoots "so actors are never surprised on set by being asked to perform actions that have not previously been choreographed and rehearsed. I suspect that's where a number of Hollywood productions have gone wrong over the years."

Last week Neal McDonough revealed he was fired from the ABC series Scoundrels in 2010 for refusing to engage in sex scenes with his co-star Virginia Madsen.

He was cast in Desperate Housewives despite his refusal to embrace his on-screen wife Edie Britt (Nicollette Sheridan).

Body doubles are sometimes used. In scenes where the actor's face and the double's nude body need to be seen in the same shot, post-production CGI is used to splice them together. The technique was used in Game of Thrones, when Lena Headey's character, Cersei, took a nude walk.

- Additional reporting: Daily Telegraph