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13th December 2022

“Intimacy coordination was a self-healing journey for me”: Rufai Ajala on Sex Literacy and Safety Onset

In the latest edition of ‘Behind the Camera’, The Mancunion talks to Rufai Ajala about intimacy coordination and their valuable time in the film industry
“Intimacy coordination was a self-healing journey for me”: Rufai Ajala on Sex Literacy and Safety Onset
Photo: Rufai Ajala @

The Mancunion spoke to Rufai (Roo) Ajala about their work as an intimacy coordinator as part of our behind the camera series. Rufai has worked on innovative productions such as Dreaming Whilst Black and Channel 4’s Let’s Make a Love Scene, ensuring the wellbeing of the crew members and talent. The role of the Intimacy Coordinator is a relatively new one but is essential for safeguarding and communication with the cast and crew onset during intimate scenes. Rufai spoke to me about onset ethics, being vulnerable, and queer storytelling.

Warning: this article contains mentions of abuse.


What are your methods of making your actors (and everyone else onset) feel more comfortable?

It changes every time depending on the onscreen talent because everyone requires different needs. But the goal is that the onscreen actors understand what the scene is about, that they’re comfortable and have agency. That might be creating a space for rehearsals prior to the shoot, to run through some of the heightened emotional intimate scenes that they might be doing, if that’s by themselves or with their scene partners, to build trust and to build the intimate or emotional bond between their characters.

I like playing a lot with touch, I usually employ a Pilates ball in my rehearsals or a foam roller, or yoga mats and use tactile exercises between actors to build that trust and build that familiarity between each other and allow exploration between their characters. Building trust between themselves gives them agency to explore and be more spontaneous. Before that there’s a lot of discussing boundaries and discussing limits, places on the body that are okay and not okay for touch.

There are specific practices that are individualised with certain intimacy coordinators which make them successful in their practice and that define their method statement and working practices.


How did you initially get into the role?

I was working on a lot of productions that focused on a community that I am a part of, which was specifically stories around queer trans people of colour. And a lot of the stories we were telling were intimate stories either around transitioning or exploring queer sexuality and intimate moments like that. Being the cinematographer, I was very physically close when shooting those vulnerable moments. And because a lot of the onscreen talent were close friends I was thinking, “okay are there any tools or skills I can learn to support friends who were in such an intimate situation in front of the camera?” Usually as a cinematographer, you are so close to the talent, you can almost seem like an invisible third person in a scene between two characters. I feel like unconsciously there was a desire to have a skill set to support anyone in front of the camera at that time.

Another pathway into the role was that I’ve also done some in-front of the screen work as well, mostly as a supporting artist doing nude body double work or simulated sex scenes and I saw first-hand how vulnerable being in those situations can be. Particularly coming from my time behind the camera and now stepping in front of it- the power dynamic completely changes when you are as an onscreen talent suddenly in front of a crew, nude. Even if you are partially clothed or have modesty garments on, it can be quite a vulnerable thing.

Unfortunately, I worked with a director who abused their position of power and that traumatic experience kind of started that journey for me for how I could better protect myself against that abuse of power or having a safer set. Intimacy coordination was a self-healing journey of me healing from this abusive and traumatic episode. That was a very powerful instigating factor for me, how could I not be in this position at work?

Intimacy within the role of stunts to a degree, at least a third of trained intimacy coordinators come from a stunts background. The harm that is caused when an intimate scene goes wrong usually isn’t physical like when a stunt goes wrong. In intimacy it’s more emotional and mental harm, it’s not visual harm we see so it’s easily brushed under the table compared with physical bodily harm.


Do you think it’s important that sex scenes onscreen are portrayed in a realistic way?

In terms of sex literacy, I think in one way there should be an understanding that what’s onscreen is a glamourised version, in the sense that I feel that the sex in our personal lives there are pauses for safer sex practices like condoms, lube, or, dealing with blood. Sex can be very messy but very funny and also awkward, a lot of that is sanitised in film where unless it’s a particular show, that adds to that realism, like a show like Bonding where they brought on a BDSM expert/consultant to add more realistic examples of fetish practices to their scenes.

Realism has its place but isn’t needed for every narrative. If you look at Fast and Furious, sometimes you don’t want to see them stop and fill their car up with petrol during the race, you just want to see the action!

I think there’s a broader conversation in terms of literacy around sex and intimacy and having the diversity of that onscreen is very important. That should be reflected in education. Because I’ve done a lot of work with porn literacy and education, I think people start to see what’s onscreen as literal and how sex should be.


Sean Bean has recently commented that having an intimacy coordinator onset “spoils the spontaneity” what are your thoughts on this?

When I read that, my takeaway from it was if he was saying an intimacy coordinator might hamper improvisation during a scene- which I disagree with. There are intimacy coordinators who do a lot of work in improvisation. With improvised scenes it doesn’t mean a free fall. There should still be very clear established boundaries in terms of touch and intimacy.

I also don’t know who Sean Bean has worked with, I also think it’s important we listen to not just actors, but everyone involved in a process to learn and be introspective of our work and because this role is fairly new and being integrated into the industry, that maybe we take on feedback that is given and see areas where we can improve. We shouldn’t be above criticism, this would only help to make us better and improve our role within the industry.


Do you believe that having an intimacy coordinator onset is especially important in a post-Me too era?

I think it’s important to safeguard people involved in the process and who are part of any Stage or Screen practice or doing any intimate scene and the me-too movement has highlighted the structures in place that allow people to abuse their power and position. Me-Too has signal boosted and helped highlight the need for intimacy coordinators and wellbeing practitioners to safeguard all onscreen talent.


You can see Rufai’s work at and



Pip Carew is a third-year student at the University of Manchester studying Film Studies and English Literature. As head editor of the film section, she enjoys writing cultural journalism and has interviewed many industry professionals. After graduation Pip hopes to pursue a career in journalism with anyone who will let her write.

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