The 2022 Intimacy Professionals Census Review seeks to present and analyze the findings of the Intimacy Professionals Census distributed January, 2022. The data gathered included demographic information of working intimacy professionals as well as qualitative data gathered from open-ended responses which collected the opinions of intimacy professionals regarding some of the most pressing topics in the field such as diversity, training, qualifications, finances, availability of work, certification, and more. The information shared in this paper may be used as a snapshot of the state of the field today and the obstacles faced by those working in it. It is our goal that this deep, nuanced understanding of our industry can assist in the tackling of our identified obstacles and in fostering a greater sense of community.
By evaluating the respondents’ answers from the Intimacy Professionals Census (IPC), we have learned that representation of queer women within the intimacy professionals community was relatively high with 63% identifying as female and 68% being categorized as LGBTQIA+. However, the vast majority of respondents were currently abled and white. While there was a much higher than average representation of gender diversity with agender, genderfluid, genderqueer, nonbinary, and transgender people all being represented, men were drastically underrepresented. It should also be noted that the male respondents were largely homogeneous in areas such as race, disability, and survivor status—most having a closer proximity to power (The National Domestic Violence Hotline 2021). This is not surprising, considering men are often discouraged from the field in subtle ways, as illustrated by a section in IPA’s Intimacy Coordinator Training Program Information Packet that says “We have observed that employers sometimes demonstrate a preference for female IC’s” when discussing whether they accept male applicants (Intimacy Professionals Association 2022). Global Majority members were underrepresented, particularly those of Asian and specifically East Asian descent. Global Majority members were also more likely to cite finding work as a barrier in the industry. The lack of racial diversity amongst intimacy professionals remains a problem, despite efforts to offer scholarships and training opportunities specifically for Global Majority individuals interested in becoming intimacy professionals (IDC Professionals 2019; Theatrical Intimacy Education 2020).
Regarding representation of disabled intimacy professionals, respondents who were deaf or hard of hearing were noticeably missing. While people who are deaf or hard of hearing should not necessarily be listed as disabled, it is important to note that none of the respondents listed ASL when asked “What languages do you primarily speak,” which means there might be no intimacy professionals available to support deaf or hard of hearing actors (Jones 2002). In a time where Deaf representation is on the rise, as exemplified by the Academy Award Best Picture Winner CODA(2021), Marvel’s Eternals (2021) and Hawkeye (2021), Deaf West Theater’s Spring Awakening, and Hulu’s Only Murders In the Building(2021-), it is necessary that we work towards providing specific support to deaf actors because the strategies for communicating boundaries, consent, choreography, etc. will necessarily change based on the means of language or communication. To properly support the development of deaf and hard of hearing intimacy professionals, it is likely that educational institutions such as IDC and TIE will need to evaluate accessibility needs and hire interpreters. Also underrepresented amongst those who identified as disabled were individuals using mobility aids. This, too, may affect the work and choreography of an intimacy professional, as their lived experiences can provide valuable insight for storytelling. Because most organizations provide training virtually (Intimacy Directors and Coordinators 2022; Theatrical Intimacy Education 2022), it is unclear what accommodations might make this work more accessible for those who use mobility aids.
Another notable finding from our analysis of demographic information was the high rate of sexual assault survivors, many of which were LGBTQIA+, Global Majority members, and Disabled. Considering that these populations are more likely to be depicted as victims of sexual violence in the media as well, the need for education not only for choreographing scenes of sexual violence safely for actors, but also for the intimacy professionals themselves, becomes apparent. Trauma stewardship is important when training individuals to enter the field (The National Society of Intimacy Professionals & Moores 2021); classes aimed at diversifying the field, in particular, should consider how topics of sexual violence might impact participants.
Our findings discovered that the majority (65%) of respondents were educators in areas relating to—but not directly encompassing—staged intimacy, such as gender and sexuality, sex and relationships, consent, or movement. On top of that, there was a correlation between frequency of work and being an educator as every respondent who worked on more than one project per month was an educator.[i]
We also learned that every respondent had received some sort of education specific to being an intimacy professional. Most people trained with 3 or less intimacy organizations. Of the organizations listed, IDC, TIE, and ICOC were the most popular. However, those who cited mentorship as a barrier to the industry were more likely to train with one or more of these three organizations exclusively as opposed to training with additional organizations such as Heartland Intimacy Design, NSIP, Humble Warrior Movement Arts, or Intimacy for Stage and Screen.
Certification was mentioned in both qualifications and barriers by respondents. However, only one respondent mentioned certification as a qualification for intimacy professionals as opposed to the 15 respondents that mentioned certification as a barrier indicating that certification was not viewed as necessary to work in the field and that it was generally unpopular among respondents for a variety of reasons. Many people also cited cost of training as a barrier to the industry, with 29% of respondents mentioning it, many in connection with certification.
When asked “What do you think qualifies an intimacy professional,” respondents mentioned a variety of areas, including general mental health, general (intimacy specific) training, MHFA certification, movement, communication, general diversity/DEI, anti-racism, LGBTQIA+, industry experience, sex ed, and consent. As the intimacy professionals community grows, we recommend these in addition to disability education, serve as a general list of qualifications for which any applicant must meet when being considered to serve as an intimacy professional on a production.
Respondents reported working in a variety of arts industries including circus, dance, film and television (both independent and studio), live performance, opera, and theater. Those who reported working in at least three different industries were significantly more likely to work on more than one project a month. The other largest factor correlated with higher work frequency besides working as an educator or working in three or more industries was training with 7 or more intimacy organizations.
Of the barriers cited, feeling undervalued or misunderstood by the arts and entertainment community, encountering exclusionary gatekeeping practices within the intimacy professionals community, the high cost of training, the perceived need for certification, and a lack of cohesion within the intimacy professionals community as well as backing from the arts and entertainment industry were the most pervasive.
Feeling undervalued/misunderstood by the arts and entertainment industry at large was the most commonly cited barrier to the industry. The good thing about this being the largest barrier is that misinformation and a lack of understanding can be corrected with help from unions, educational institutions, publishers, and other large organizations if they are properly informed about the duties and qualifications of intimacy professionals as well as the myriad of benefits they bring to a production. While efforts to educate the broader community such as the SAG•AFTRA Intimacy Coordinator registry and SAG•AFTRA Intimacy Coordinator Accreditation Program registry have taken place, because these efforts have been planned and executed behind closed doors and without accountability efforts, they have largely contributed to respondents’ experiences with Gatekeeping which was the second-largest Barrier cited. It was suggested that other support systems such as agents could aid professionals, but there is currently only one agency that we know of which manages intimacy professionals—IPA. This contributed to gatekeeping as well, because individuals interested in being represented by the agency have to be certified through IPA to be eligible. This presents both financial and mentorship barriers, as the program costs $7,000 for certification, plus travel, and there are not enough instructors to train all those interested (Intimacy Professionals Association 2022).
The barriers this paper outlines, particularly those speaking to certification, gatekeeping, and cost of training (such as the SAG•AFTRA accredited certification programs) prove that choosing to become an intimacy professional can be a poor financial investment for those entering the field. This unfortunately leaves the arts and entertainment industries in danger of preventing intimacy work from becoming a sustainable mainstay of the entertainment industry and leaves both individual performers and companies in the same place they were before the #metoo movement provided enough leverage for the position to exist in the first place (Hilton 2020). However, while “Finding Work” was listed as a barrier by intimacy professionals, it primarily was connected to confusion in locating jobs or connecting with employers. Entry into the field, particularly for film and television, can be almost impossible without connections in the industry. As IPA’s Intimacy Coordinator Training Program info packet says, “For many IC’s, how much work they get depends largely on their pre-existing professional network of film industry contacts” (Intimacy Professionals Association 2022). It could be that gaining the support of job recruitment websites for arts and entertainment professionals such as Backstage, Hollylist, or StaffMeUp could greatly aid in the development of the industry by creating options for connecting employers and intimacy professionals, particularly those without a background in film, television, or theater. Currently, the only central location for intimacy professionals to find work is the Facebook group titled “I Need an Intimacy Professional (Coordinator/Director/Consultant),” which hosts an average of just 4 jobs each month for nearly 500 members—most of which offer a daily compensation rate of $0 to $350, which is far below the industry standard for intimacy professionals (Hendon and DëQueer 2021; Pace and Rikard 2020b). Alternatively (or in addition to the former suggestions), a single site dedicated to providing a platform for intimacy professionals to connect with potential employers could greatly benefit the community and decrease confusion for those attempting to find work.
It’s not just a disconnect between employers and intimacy professionals that presents a problem. Rather, it is also a lack of productions, theaters, and other arts organizations thinking to hire intimacy professionals—probably due to the reasons outlined in intimacy professionals feeling Undervalued/Misunderstood. After educating potential employers about the benefits of and reasons for hiring an intimacy professional, other solutions to encourage job production might lie in economic incentives. One solution might be for unions such as SAG•AFTRA to provide financial incentives for productions to hire an intimacy professional to encourage job growth similar to their Diversity-in-Casting Incentive, which increases the total budget maximum for Moderate Low Budget Project Agreements and Low Budget Agreements for ensuring “a minimum of 50% of the total speaking roles and 50% of the total days of employment are cast with performers who are” women, senior performers, performers with disabilities, or people of color (SAG•AFTRA). A financial incentive, unlike a requirement to have an intimacy professional present, encourages productions to hire an intimacy professional while understanding that one might not be available due to the limited number of qualified individuals currently working in the field. Another option would be for training programs to have deferred payment plans, where those seeking to enter the field are given a predetermined time to pay off classes and training. Because intimacy professionals overwhelmingly comprise underrepresented communities, nonprofits and government agencies might also be convinced to create financial assistance programs such as fellowships, grants, or scholarships. An excellent example would be how IPA partnered with the “New Mexico Film Office to provide an opportunity for up to three New Mexico residents to receive a grant that covers 60% of tuition for” their certification program (“Letter to Acacia DëQueer” 2021). Additionally, if governments could be enticed to act, some bodies might be convinced to provide incentives for hiring intimacy professionals in the same way states provide tax incentives for film production (Brainerd and Jimenez 2022).
Financial deterrents are not the only barriers to the industry expanding and retaining intimacy professionals, however. There are emotional and social barriers as well. Gatekeeping in particular was a heavy, emotionally charged term for intimacy professionals. We seem to be asking each other, Do you want me here? Am I good enough? Here, gatekeeping implies ownership of job opportunities, knowledge, community, and more. Factually, though, there are professionals who have been doing intimacy work for stage and screen since before any certifications or accreditations were created. The costume department, for example, provided what we now call “modesty garments” long before intimacy professionals were there to assist them (Dor 2022). The field is so new, too, that the difference between a mentor and mentee can be just a couple of years of experience, given that the field’s origins are tied to the #metoo movement, and most of its growth has occurred in just the last 5 years (Villarreal 2022). Intimacy work, as it is now titled and organized, has not been around long enough for any intimacy professional to have decades of experience over another. Even so, hierarchies and leadership have emerged, creating structure in the absence of regulations or broader authorities such as a union for intimacy professionals. Individuals perceived as leaders within the community seemed to be tasked with validating an intimacy professional’s education and experience, according to our findings. The voices of these perceived leaders have been amplified while individuals who are working but not as visible have been minimized or unheard. This power dynamic is an argument for grassroots organizing efforts to utilize the opinions, experience, and needs of the broader intimacy professionals community.
We are particularly interested in seeing actionable applications of the information presented here. This data can inform the actions of leaders of training organizations and future community organizing/unionization efforts. Other applications can be imagined in the sharing of this information outside of the intimacy professionals community as well, such as communicating our needs to professionals in our industry less familiar with intimacy coordinators, directors, and choreographers. We also seek to create a precedent of seeking and including the opinions and specific needs of individual community members in our work as we continue to experience the growing pains of our exciting young industry.
Fostering a sense of community and inclusivity, instead of exclusivity or gatekeeping, will require continued efforts such as the IPC in order to communicate to every member of our community, we want to know what you think, what you are bringing to this work, and how you would like to shape its future. We would like to emphasize that embodying the values intimacy professionals espouse as an industry of anti-racism, creativity, integrity, sustainability, and ethics must start in our own community (“Core Values” n.d.). Opposing the existing power structures in our industry that result in harm and inequities will take conscious, cooperative work with long-term focus. We hope intimacy professionals will be able to prove to the entertainment industry—by the way we treat each other and those seeking to join us—that we are here to stay, and we are here to make things better.