How to Deal with Sex Awkwardness in 4 Easy Steps

For scenes involving nudity or simulated sex, intimacy coordinators assist with actors to create and maintain a safe and comfortable environment on set. While their primary purpose is to guarantee that all individuals engaged in the filming process have continuing consent, they’re also in charge of ensuring that intimate moments flow smoothly and in accordance with the director’s vision. Intimacy coordinators must be low-key experts in how to handle awkwardness during sex, whatever it may appear, because they frequently deal with actors who don’t know each other well (or at all) before their parts require them to get super-steamy under bright lights and with cameras rolling. Many of their great recommendations, it turns out, may also be applied to all sexually active people trying to remove discomfort from the (very real) sex situations in their personal lives.

Awkwardness during simulated sex generally originates from not knowing what to expect, according to intimacy coordinator Rebecca Johannsen, PhD, a member of the Intimacy Professionals Association who has worked on a number of productions. “A lot of sexual anxiety stems from the fear of the unknown. The more I can assist in bringing the unknown into the known, the more comfortable I feel an intimate scene for the performers to be,” she says. Similarly, real-life sexual interactions that have nothing to do with performing are frequently subjected to the same scrutiny: Whether you’re unsure what to expect when it comes to sex (for example, if you’re having sex with a new partner or merely trying out a new position or toy), talking it out before diving in might help prevent anxiety-related awkwardness.

“A lot of sexual anxiety stems from the fear of the unknown. The more I can assist in bringing the unknown into the familiar, the more at ease I am with an intimate scene.” —Dr. Rebecca Johannsen

Strangeness or unease can arise even in the most secure of sexual situations—in which consent has been thoroughly established on all sides, of course. Based on her expertise helping actors through the false (but frequently, literally awkward) version of sex, Dr. Johannsen offers advise on how to deal with discomfort during sex.

According to an intimacy coordinator, there are four strategies to avoid discomfort during partnered sex:

1. Make a joke.

Accepting that sex doesn’t have to be so serious all of the time can lighten up the mood in bed in the same way that cracking a joke can rapidly dispel tension in a room. According to Dr. Johannsen, “being physically out of rhythm with each other is one of the ways that seemingly awkward things can happen.” “However, if you can laugh at the awkwardness or make light of it, it can help you embrace the notion that sex can be hilarious and enjoy it more easily.”

2. Give a compliment.

Giving an honest complement can go a long way toward avoiding awkwardness if your partner isn’t confident in their sexual abilities or is unsure of how you might view their performance or body during sex.

“A lot of the younger performers I work with are concerned that they aren’t doing it correctly,” Dr. Johannsen explains. “However, there is no right or wrong way to do it. In terms of a performance, you may need to modify to what looks nice on camera, but in real life, sex is just about what feels genuine to you.” To that end, normalising your partner’s sex expression through genuine praise can reassure and soothe them, as well as make the experience less awkward for you.

3. Take a moment to check in.

Yes, even during sex, taking a break for talk can be a good way to reset and restart from a more relaxed position. Dr. Johannsen says, “I’m a major fan of slowing down and talking it out.” “When you feel like you understand where a person is coming from and can communicate with them openly and honestly, it leads to a greater physical connection as well.”

While you might not be interested in learning a sexual partner’s entire life storey mid-sex—depending on how well you know this person—you might want to inquire about how they’re doing in general and how they’re feeling emotionally (to eliminate any distracting factors) or, more importantly, what turns them on and how they want to be touched in that moment.

4. Pay attention to nonverbal cues and ask inquiries.

The (unfortunate) stigma associated with sexual discomfort or shyness can often hinder people from saying what they truly mean or feel. If this is the case with your sexual partner, paying attention to their nonverbal clues can help you figure out what’s going on. Even if they’re verbally stating that everything is fine on their end, it won’t alleviate the problem if they’re dealing with some amount of underlying discomfort.

“If they say they’re fine but won’t make eye contact with you or their body language feels closed-off in any way,” adds Dr. Johannsen, “you might detect a concealed issue.” If that’s the case, she suggests starting with an observation and a question rather than jumping to a conclusion about what it could indicate.

“Instead of saying, ‘Wow, you must not be into me because you aren’t making eye contact,’ which is a judgement, you could say, ‘I observed that you aren’t making eye contact.’ “I was curious as to why you believe that is,” she continues. This allows your partner to fill in the blanks and opens the door for an open, non-defensive conversation in which you can find common ground in terms of sexual and relational interests.

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