Written by Mia Schachter.
Art by Susan Gordon.
You’d think that training to be an Intimacy Coordinator for TV and Film would be about sexual freedom and kinky shenanigans. For me, I became more careful, more reserved, and shyer than ever. I got in touch with a younger, purer self that didn’t second guess what my body was trying to tell me. But it also illuminated the ways in which I have ignored my own boundaries, boundaries I no longer push myself to cross.
“You don’t even want to go down on me? What am I supposed to do with this [boner]?”
I had a traumatizing sexual experience when I was 19. The first time we had sex, we agreed to use a condom and next thing I knew his dick was inside me without one. I dissociated and went numb. After that, sex with him was painful for me. I would try to push through, but eventually I’d ask him to stop because of the discomfort. He got unnervingly angry with me for not prioritizing his pleasure while I was in pain, one time even saying, “You don’t even want to go down on me? What am I supposed to do with this [boner]?” and leaving the room in frustration.
“I pushed myself to try new things very quickly, which, when with the right person, was fun and exploratory, but when it was with a person who wasn’t so good for me, I felt silly and embarrassed for having shared that experience with them.”
After the relationship ended, I committed to being “cool” about sex so that I never did the same thing to anyone else ever again. I pushed myself to try new things very quickly, which, when with the right person, was fun and exploratory, but when it was with a person who wasn’t so good for me, I felt silly and embarrassed for having shared that experience with them.
I believe that pushing myself through things that made me nervous was sometimes a positive thing, especially with someone I loved and trusted. But it was not happening with the kindness and compassion inwardly that would have granted me a deeper connection with myself. Instead, I was only seeking a deeper connection with other people, and also reacting to the stereotype of a “frigid woman.” Being reactionary isn’t introspective; it’s about other people. This concern about being seen as “just another x-type of woman” prevented me from asking myself what I actually wanted.
Many years later, I got back together with my abuser. I explained away his mistreatment of me as my fault, and a result of his alcoholism. I wanted to try again once he was sober. Going back for more pain is a lifelong habit that I’m still trying to break. In returning to him and that story, I rewrote the script. I could finally see his behavior as gaslighting and manipulation. I finally understood that the abuse had never been my fault; he had given me that narrative to protect himself. He told me about his bandmate who was being accused of stealthing, a form of rape in which you agree to use a condom and then secretly don’t. He said, “I would never do that.” I couldn’t bring myself to say, “You did that to me.”
“We practice many forms of consent on set so we can ensure that it’s ongoing. In order to assist others in finding their boundaries, I had to get much more in touch with my own.”
I went through a period of sexual dormancy after that second breakup in the midst of an autoimmune health crisis. (Related? Probably.) As I got my health under control I began training to be an Intimacy Coordinator. Recovery and training paralleled each other beautifully. The job of Intimacy Coordinator is to help actors find, express, and maintain their own boundaries while simultaneously helping the director achieve their vision. We’re much like stunt coordinators: we’re there to make the scenes look real and stay safe, but our domain is emotional safety within sex and nude scenes. We practice many forms of consent on set so we can ensure that it’s ongoing. In order to assist others in finding their boundaries, I had to get much more in touch with my own. At the same time, I was learning to listen to my gut and what my body needed. Through my healing, my body reawakened and I had this job that meant something. I had less to prove than ever. I didn’t need to convince anyone that I was good at communication, intimacy, or sex. As I entered back into the dating world, I anticipated feeling empowered to say “no,” or “slow down,” or “I’m not comfortable with that yet.”
I was right: this deeper knowledge of myself helps me say when I’m not ready in situations where I might have pushed through nerves at other times in my life. And if anyone tries to convince me that I don’t know myself in these circumstances, they can go fuck themselves because I’m certainly not going to.
“Finally, after eight months I was invited into someone’s bed.”
I found myself covering for my own trainer on the set of Euphoria in the midst of a long period of no intimate physical contact. My life started to feel like a rom com: “A celebate Intimacy Coordinator navigates Hollywood sex scenes for others, but struggles to find intimacy for themselves.” Finally, after eight months I was invited into someone’s bed. It was an incredibly nourishing sexual encounter in which we explored each other with our underwear still on. I got nervous, as I always do, but for the first time, I communicated it. He was so kind and careful, checking in constantly to see if the way he was touching me was okay, to check if there was anything that I wanted or didn’t want to do, to ask if I wanted to stop and talk about it when my hands were shaking. In the past, I would have gone much further with him that day. Instead I told him I wanted us to keep our underwear on.
I don’t know if I’ll see this person again. But this one experience reminded me of who I used to be, before I was given the undue burden of making any man aroused in my presence have an orgasm, and even before I was sexually active. I’m shy and I get nervous. For so long I thought I’d grow out of those traits, but it turns out they’re just what make me me. I’m finally comfortable enough in this self-awareness to go slowly, pump the breaks, and make sure that the person I’m being physical with deserves my vulnerability before I determine if I want theirs.
I’m going to continue to listen to myself with the same attention and compassion with which I’ve been trained to listen to actors. I will make sure that I give myself enthusiastic consent. I will pay attention to my body language and my eye contact and the way I say “okay” and “maybe” to make sure that I’m not pushing myself through something that doesn’t feel good. I will let myself be shy and nervous and I will communicate those feelings because how they are received will tell me everything I need to know about the person I’m sharing them with. I will keep certain parts of me for myself until I am absolutely certain that I’m engaging with someone who will be careful and responsible with those parts. And I will treat my own intimacy as the finite resource that it is, only spending it when it is earned.
About the Author
Mia Schachter (she/they) was one of the first few intimacy coordinators in Los Angeles. They currently teach consent and boundary classes online, developed their own one-on-one boundary guidance practice, and have a podcast called Share the Load. Mia’s credits include HBO’s Perry Mason and Insecure, BET’s Twenties, HBO’s Euphoria (covering IC), ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, and more.