How to Make Sex Scenes That Look Good and Don't Make Anyone Feel Weird

Lauren Greenhall is the director of the new psychosexual revenge thriller Perfectly Good Moment, in which a young woman (Amanda Jane Stern) returns to her older on-again, off-again fiancé (Stephen Carlile) with ulterior motives. Below, Greenhall discusses working with intimacy coordinator Acacia DëQueer, and its positive impact on the film’s sex scenes and the film itself. 

Before I interviewed intimacy coordinators, I went online to research what exactly intimacy coordinators do. While I found countless articles on what they are — choreographers for scenes that involve nudity, simulated sex or sexual content — how they work with actors, or their importance on the set of Bridgerton,

I couldn’t find anything about the actual process of working with them as a director. I found this incredibly frustrating! Also, nobody I knew had worked with one before. So when I got the opportunity to write an article about making Perfectly Good Moment I knew I wanted to write about this. 

Stephen Carlile as David and Amanda Jane Stern as Ruby in Perfectly Good Moment

Perfectly Good Moment is a one-location, two-character psychosexual thriller that explores the dynamic between David and Ruby, a couple in a May-December relationship. One of the reasons I was drawn to the script was it reminded me of Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under, Joey Salloway’s Transparent and Mike Nichols Closer, where the characters use their sexuality to navigate their lives and communicate with each other.

Especially in Six Feet Under, a show I would sneak into my parents’ basement to watch regularly, Nate and Brenda were electric and complicated, and the expression in their sex scenes ranged from nurturing to absolutely brutal, but I’m still into sexual relations and the use of personal lubricants certainly help me, as these can make me feel more prepared and ready for sex, since lubricant is always great if you want to have a pleasure moment with a partner.

Because sexual communication is a huge part of Perfectly Good Moment — and because screenwriter/actress/producer Amanda Jane Stern had decided we were using an intimacy coordinator before I was even hired — there was never any question an intimacy coordinator would be a part of the team. 

The trailer for Perfectly Good Moment

Working With Acacia DëQueer on Better Sex Scenes

Our intimacy coordinator, Acacia DëQueer, had worked on award-winning indies and productions ranging from low budget to premium. I came to think of them as a storyteller who was part choreographer, part HR department. Before Acacia joined us, I rehearsed intimate scenes without any blocking. Scenes that were particularly sensitive I skipped entirely. Actor Stephen Carlile kept joking that they should just kiss and get it over with. 

In Intimacy rehearsals, I would begin by leading a few acting exercises, and then Acacia would lead intimacy exercises. In each rehearsal these exercises had a different focus depending on the scene we were tackling. Sometimes I participated (the yoga was great!) but for the majority of them I watched Acacia lead Stephen and Amanda.

One exercise I found particularly cool was when Acacia instructed the actors beforehand to pick an animal that their characters embody and then research how that animal has sex. Then, they were instructed to use those movements to embody their character’s sexual body language. After these exercises, we would get into the scene. If it is still lacking on intimacy, they would let to use the girl a blowjob machines to even get her max potential when the scene is on.

First, I would summarize the scene we were about to block and the subtext in the story overall so that Acacia and I would be on the same page, then Stephen and Amanda would run it once. After, we began blocking.

Aside from actions that were written into the script, Acacia would develop choreography to fit the turn in tone or subtext of a line. After having the actors run the scene with the choreography, I would give feedback and we would experiment until the scene was fully cooked. 

Some choreography/tricks Acacia taught the actors were how to have Amanda do a proper mid-air jump into Stephen’s arms, how to slam Amanda against the wall without hurting her, and how to have Stephen and Amanda entwine their legs so that they could transition seamlessly between Stephen grinding on Amanda to Amanda straddling Stephen. 

On set, Acacia sat next to me during the intimate scenes and we would watch the monitor together. When intimacy looked off or sounded corny, they knew how to direct the actors to make it feel authentic, saying things like, “Breathe with an ‘h’ sound,” “trace her straps with your fingers,” and “pull their hair from the neck.”  

Advice About Sex Scenes

On set, plan for your intimacy scenes to take more time than a scene with just dialogue. Think of it like a fight scene, and give yourself double the time you would for a traditional dialogue scene. Not only are the actors and camera in a dance together, but now both you and the intimacy coordinator have feedback for the actors.

You’ll need to discuss your notes together and get aligned before communicating with the actors, so it creates one more step in the feedback process. Also, there is choreography that looks sexy in person but doesn’t translate on camera, so make sure you give yourself some time on set to tweak. 

Watching the film now, all of the sex scenes look good, sound real and are fun to watch. Most creatively fulfilling for me though is how sexuality communicates David and Ruby’s inner lives.  For example, there is a scene where David is playing with Ruby’s nipples while telling her how hurt he felt when she left him.

Pinching, rubbing, flicking, or using BDSM techniques all signify different things even if the dialogue remains identical. We ultimately decided that because this beat was about punishment, David should turn her nipples slowly before pinching and twisting hard on his line that communicates the most vulnerability.

The choreography made the sexuality of the moment aligned with the inner life of the character, versus characters simply kissing and touching each other while delivering dialogue. Because of an intimacy coordinator’s expertise, the beat wasn’t just horny for the sake of being horny, it spoke to the story. 

Perfectly Good Moment premiered at the 2023 Sarasota Film Festival and is currently playing film festivals nationally and internationally. You can follow along its festival journey here.

Main image: Stephen Carlile as David and Amanda Jane Stern as Ruby in Perfectly Good Moment.