Skip to main content

Psychologically Safe Space on the Set

In 1999 Dr. Amy C. Edmondson coined the term psychological safety, and it refers to our perception of consequences when taking risk. In other words, in a psychologically safe space, one believes that they won’t be punished or humiliated when they speak up or share their ideas, even if the ideas are not what others agree with.

The psychologically safe space allows creative growth. It gives a chance for balanced, open-minded conversations where one won’t be afraid to share ideas or admit to their faults. People who feel that they are in a psychologically safe space are the ones who won’t be scared to say, “sorry I was wrong” and “please tell me more so we can work on it”. This environment is essential in any working space, especially when working with psychologically impactful topics like intimacy and real sex scenarios. In a safe space, the performers and actors will feel comfortable sharing and reinforcing their boundaries, and if something is not okay, they will announce it. They won’t feel threatened by losing their job because they say “No” to a particular intimate contact that wasn’t previously agreed on. Neither they will feel like being alienated or excluded from certain social circles if they express their honest opinion. However, it’s important to acknowledge that expressing one’s opinion can’t be rude, uneducated or insensitive. Our intentions and context matter. The ability to be genuinely empathetic and open to seeing another person from their perspective leads to creating a psychologically safe space.

“The conversation about safe spaces should not be a battle […] Rather, it should be a conversation about how we can all benefit from being brave enough to be who we are and see the person across from us in all of who they want to be”.

How do we achieve psychologically safe space on film sets when working with intimate and real sex scenes?

Presence of Intimacy Professional on set.

Every production company when working with intimate scenes should hire Intimacy Professional (IP), and this includes porn companies. Frankly, I am surprised that the need for an Intimacy Professional in the adult industry didn’t arise earlier. Who is Intimacy Professional? Briefly speaking, It’s a person with a high work ethic and education in different areas of human psychology and sexuality. This person knows that consent is an ongoing conversation, has extensive knowledge about STIs, different kinks and fetishes, and is familiar with various techniques that can be used on the set to establish or reinforce boundaries.

Ask questions.

By asking questions we are opening ourselves to new ideas but also, we are exposing our vulnerable side. We voluntary show that we don’t know something, BUT we also show, that we are willing to learn. And that’s good! That’s brave. Us being brave leads to creating psychologically safe spaces. However, you can’t just ask questions for the sake of asking. You need to mean it. You need to ask questions from a place of curiosity, where you are willing to listen and learn about other people, their situations and beliefs. 

Boundaries establishment

Even if an organisation or producer decides not to work with an Intimacy Professional, they must ensure that performers’ boundaries and consent are taken into account and being treated with respect. Establishing and reinforcing boundaries should be an inclusive learning process that calls for the minds and voices of all performers. With each shoot day, the production company must engage with performers about their preferences and any possible changes to their consent. On some occasions (when time and finances permit) the organisation may consider including the crew in these conversations. Even though they do not perform in the scene, they still work with intimacy, and their comfort is important. This is called an inclusive conversation that welcomes everyone into the discussion.

Model the behaviour that you wish to see in others

It all starts with us and our potential to embrace vulnerability. When we do that, we will open ourselves to conversations that expand our mindset, and provide us and others with a safe space to grow.

-Psychological Safety: The History, Renaissance, and Future of an Interpersonal Construct, authors: Amy C. Edmondson and Zhike Lei. DOI: 10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091305
-“Inclusive Conversations”, Winters, Mary-Frances. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Image credit: Cottonbro