Actors Explain What It's Really Like To Work On A Sex Scene

There's a film by the French auteur Catherine Breillat called Sex is Comedy, in which we discover sex is anything but. Two actors who hate each other are asked to act out a sex scene on camera and it's as awkward and as distressing as you can imagine. The audience learns a lot about filmmaking, intimacy and authenticity, and even themselves along the way. There comes a point where the premise isn't all that funny anymore, but Breillat is well known for that. Check it out sometime if you want to experience some awkward discomfort.

We imagine the people who responded to "Actors and Actresses, what is filming a sex scene really like?" which is today's burning question from Redditor emllik2, can relate to this all too well.

"I was shooting a short..."

I was shooting a short non explicit sex scene for a short film while being so freakin sick. I had to take breaks from shooting a film to go shoot diarrhea out of my futile weak body. Thankfully everyone was professional about it.

The shooting itself was quite interesting, i was laying on my back, the other person sitting on me (both of us pants on), camera operator standing above us, so there were three layers of people on the bed.

We were grinding - under the sheets - only when it was necessary, for couple of seconds, maybe three times. Then we were shooting details of our hands locking into one another, our faces, running fingers through hair and so.

The voice-over was the most fun part, we had a blast syncing our "aaaah"'s and "oh god"'s with the footage.


"The second I read it..."

I was in a theatre show where I had to sit next to a girl and feel her boob. The second I read it in the script I started feeling anxious about it. When I was talking to the actress about the scene she seemed totally cool with everything so for the whole two week run of the show she got her boob groped every day and twice on Wednesdays and Sundays.


"Have done exactly one..."

Amateur actor. Have done exactly one of these. It was very awkward and quite cold, but it was a very small production, so I wasn't pressured into anything I wasn't comfortable with.


"One of the interesting things..."

Actor here. It's very not sexy. Instead it's highly choreographed and rehearsed (I'm going to touch you here, you'll move there, we kiss here) with hopefully an intimacy coordinator (non-Union films will not always have one, so it's important to learn how to advocate for yourself to the director and your acting partner if ANYTHING feels uncomfortable). The goal is to have it completely down pat with your partner so that there is no improvisation. Usually it begins with both actors telling the other their no-fly zones. I always say, please don't touch my groin, or touch between my butt cheeks. It's awkward, but can be sort of a funny icebreaker. Once no fly zones are established, the intimacy coordinator works with the actors/director to establish what the choreo will be.

Then the shooting can take hours. Even for a two minute scene, if they just want a master, a closeup, and the reverse (which is standard), each shot can take anywhere from thirty minutes, to two hours before they begin rolling. And theeen you have to do multiple takes. A minimum would be three takes for each shot, but almost ALWAYS it's closer to 7-15 depending on the director and DP.

One of the interesting things about film acting too is perspective and what looks good on camera. Next time you're watching a scene in a car, take a second to look at how the characters are positioned/how their seats are positioned. It's usually not in anyway how a human being would ever sit, but it reads as totally normal on camera. This is the same for intimacy scenes. You might be in a super awkward position, not sexy at all, but it READS on-camera as super sexy.

Last but not least, try getting in the mood when 1) wearing a dance belt, and 2) there's anywhere from 15-50 people watching.


"Really the most important thing..."


Adding to what's here (because this is really spot-on), sex scenes are further complicated by being sometimes nude (in the wide shot, I've had my @ss on camera a few times), but then you can put on the dance belt for the close-ups. I did one scene where the actress wore sweat pants for all of the close-ups because they were just her back. I had pants on as well, per her request. Then in the wides we only had modesty tape because the director wanted that side shot where nothing shows but you can see everyone is naked. All very professional, but still, you know, weird.

Really the most important thing is that everyone is comfortable. Sometimes even the director or producer will tell you to tone things down because it's getting too much for them (and, one would assume, the target audience). Also, sometimes you're shooting a weird sex scene on purpose - I did a whole fantasy sequence on one show where I and a bunch of other people were just standing there naked while the two main characters were going down. Very awkward. The lead actress and writer kept apologizing to the lead actor because she'd forgotten the scene was in the script when she'd booked him for the role, and I guess they were long time friends. Lots of nervous laughter on set that day.


"The show that I was rehearsing for..."

Theatre actor here, so a bit of a different perspective. The show that I was rehearsing for before the pandemic featured intimate moments, albeit not full-on sex scenes, and we had an intimacy coordinator. On one hand, they act like a fight choreographer, mapping out the moves so that way they are the same every time. No one drops any surprises on their partner. On the other, they act as sort Reps or liaisons for the actors. They will discuss with the director what their vision is for the scene and try to replicate that while maintaining their actors' boundaries.

So before any physical work starts, they lead conversations between partners about what their no-gos are and what is okay. They will also help establish a tap-in between partners, which is a little shared gesture, like a high-five or handshake, between actors that indicates that what they are about to be doing is work and separate from them as people.


"Typically everyone is professional..."

Former actor and now director here: it's only as awkward as the people involved are. Typically everyone is professional, mature, and understands that this is the behavior their character would engage in, so they want to portray it as best as they can. Most approach it very professionally.

As a director I get rid of all non-essential people on set, but make sure that there are enough around that it doesn't feel creepily empty. Anybody who I feel would make it weird isn't allowed.

Communication is key, I always let the actors set their own boundaries. I describe my ideal scenario, then let the actors agree to it or offer a compromise. I let them know that at any point they can change their mind.

There are tons of little skin colored pasties, adhesive panty strips, and c*ck socks for the actors to wear.

Sometimes people get turned on, it's only natural, and in that case we takes breaks to chill out and then resume later.


"Communication is really key..."

Actor here. I'm more of a "charactery" type, so intimate scenes for me are few and far between, but do still happen.

Communication is really key, especially on some low-budget and TV shoots where you literally meet the person you're about to be intimate with while they're setting up the lights for the scene.

One TV show in particular, I had to be in "the sock" (basically a flesh colored thong that covers Johnson & Co but little else) while my scene partner was topless w/ nipple covers and a flesh colored thong. We had little time to prep, so it was change, then hop into bed, block the scene with the director, and then talk through comfort amongst ourselves before the shot began.

I was very sure to make it clear that if my acting partner had any qualms or hiccups during the scene (she was relatively new) that she should stay STOP and that was that. Also, I talked through the choreography (because it's important to not stray from what has been discussed for obvious reasons) beat by beat to make sure we were on the same page. This is just common courtesy, and for myself extremely important for my scene partner to know that I have their back as well as my own.

As for being enjoyable, if you think thrusting two tight thongs under covers close to each other while wondering how your pale pale backside is going to look on film, then I guess this is your kink.


"I was reading this..."

I was reading this and suddenly remembered I had done this for a short film in college. It was literally the least erotic thing ever. There were at least five other people in the room (lights, sound, camera, director, the girl's roommates etc), and you are just trying to remember what you are supposed to do--while acting naturally. Super, super awkward. This wasn't a sex scene as much as an implied sex scene.


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