Tyomi Morgan Creates Safe Spaces For Intimacy Work In Film
Written by Vocalo Radio on April 6, 2023
Intimacy coordinator and founder of the Cowgirl Workout Tyomi Morgan has brought sexual health and safety to the masses as she works to create safe spaces on film sets for actors nationwide.
Inspired to learn more about sexual health because of the lack of research and professionals including Black women in the conversation, Tyomi Morgan decided to take matters into her own hands and began learning and doing the work herself. Beginning her career in 2011 with a sexual health blog, Glamerotica101, Morgan quickly grew to become consultant and speaker on the topic after the creation of her YouTube channel of the same name.
“I didn’t see sources speaking to Black women about sex and I didn’t feel like I was being spoken to,” Morgan explained. “I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not going to complain. I’m just going to jump in here and do the work.’”
Her love for promoting sexual wellness led her to create the Cowgirl Workout, an exercise program dedicated to helping women feel comfortable in their bodies and embracing their sexuality. Morgan credits much of her success to her Chicago family and friends, who have supported her journey from the beginning by uplifting her work whenever and however possible.
Now, 12 years later, Morgan continues her passions by working as an intimacy coordinator in the film industry. In her day-to-day, she advocates for actor boundaries and choreographs intimate scenes in collaboration with directors. This fun yet challenging work is important to Morgan because it puts the safety of the actors first and allows her to combine what she loves: choreography and sexual health. She pulls back the curtain on the process of creating intimate scenes on Hollywood sets and notes there is so much of the job audiences don’t see, like the paperwork and important conversations prior to filming.
“People don’t understand,” Morgan said. “The final product looks so beautiful, but to make that minute and a half look powerful and move the story along, there’s so much work.”
Morgan is excited to be part of the new wave of putting the safety of the actors first, and hopes to build more opportunities for intimacy coordinators everywhere. In this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Tyomi Morgan breaks down her work as an intimacy coordinator and the reason behind her passion for sexual health and wellness.
Are you from Chicago? If so, where did you grow up?
I was born on the West Side of Chicago, and I grew up on the North Side. This is home, you know? And I feel privileged and blessed to be from Chicago. Being from Chicago and spending time in Chicago growing up, it has informed my artistry. It’s informed just what I know about the world and the streets, because I realized that street smarts and just kind of like knowing what’s what, that kind of knowledge is not innate knowledge. You have to learn it.
And so being from Chicago, and having parents that grew up on the West Side of Chicago, Rockwell Gardens, they were able to inform me about things that I look out for now. Chicago is a beautiful city. There’s so much culture here, and I never felt like I didn’t have an opportunity to do whatever it was I wanted to do.
What do you do for a living, and what role did Chicago play in helping you start?
I do a lot, but I’m going to say the overarching umbrella is sexual health and wellness. I started a sex education blog in 2011 called Glamerotica101.com, and I really started it because I didn’t see sources speaking to Black women about sex, and I didn’t feel like I was being spoken to.
And so I was like, “You know what? I’m not going to complain. I’m just going to jump in here and do the work.” And I started a YouTube channel, as well. I remember when I did my first Exotica Expo — Exotica is the largest event dedicated to sex and love in the U.S. Back then, when I first started, I was just a vendor and a seminar speaker, and my friends at WGCI, they came out with banners and the flags and the microphones with the sleeve and the cameras, and they interviewed me there.
Having that support early on just really helped to push my career out. And so it was very helpful to have local Chicago folk who had a name to put their stamp on me and say, “Hey, she’s the real deal.” They were rocking with it. They was like, “Wow, a Black woman talking about sex and she’s knowledgeable and she knows what she’s doing? Yeah, let’s support this sister.”
Things just went super viral, and so 12 years later, here I am. I’m not only still teaching the masses about sex, but I developed a fitness program for women to help them become more embodied and comfortable with intimate movement called the Cowgirl Workout.
And I am an intimacy coordinator trained through IDC professionals. It’s like a marrying of everything that I love: sex, consent, choreography and the magic of movies and television.
Can you explain what an intimacy coordinator is and what they do?
An intimacy coordinator is a liaison between actors and production for scenes of intimacy and nudity. We are like a stunt coordinator, but just for intimacy scenes.
What are the biggest misconceptions with intimacy coordinators and the work they do?
With intimacy coordinating in itself, a lot of people still don’t know what it is. People in the industry, when they hear it, they’re like, “Oh, that’s so important.” Because they understand immediately that this person is someone who is overseeing intimacy on set. I think that, on average, the average person does not know that the scenes are simulated.
They don’t understand how much paperwork, how much prep, how many phone calls go into the job, and also having to deal with power dynamics, having to deal with attitudes. It’s a lot of work. People don’t understand. The final product looks so beautiful, but to make that minute and a half look powerful and move the story along, there’s so much work.
What is the process of putting together an intimacy scene?
The entire process of putting together an intimacy scene is a few steps. The first step: reviewing the script. So, reviewing the script and knowing which scenes I’m going to be working on, and then who’s in the scenes, and then having a conversation with the director about their vision for the scene and how they see it playing out. And then asking the question of if they’ve already gone over this choreography with the actors, or if they want me to do that.
And then I have a conversation with the actors, asking them if they’re aware of what the director wants and then asking them what their boundaries are, as far as what they want seen on camera, what they want to have concealed, what areas are no areas to be interacted with. And then we create what’s called a writer. There’s a nudity writer, and then there is an intimacy writer. That’s the language that we send into the legal department, and legal puts that into a contract. That contract is signed off on before we go onto set.
And then there’s a conversation that I have with the director, the AD, basically the whole team to figure out how we’re going to shoot it, what it’s going to look like, what’s the frame-up, and incorporating the actor’s boundaries in that.
And so, there’s a lot of calls, a lot of taking in and then checking out with the department heads, makeup and wardrobe, because wardrobe is responsible for covering. Covering is where we bring in the robes between takes, and then pulling the robes when we’re about to shoot. And then, if we are lucky, we get to have a rehearsal before we go to set.
If not, then we do a marking rehearsal on set right before we go in. And so I’m there as a guide and a liaison. It’s up to the actors to act, so I don’t do the work for them. I just give them tips on how to make it look more believable and real. Doing tap ins and having the actors check in with each other, and then having them tap out when they’re coming out of the scene so that way they can come back into their bodies and out of the character. So, it’s work.
Tyomi Morgan strikes a pose on the South Side of Chicago. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio
What does a successful intimacy scene look like?
A successful intimacy scene looks like two people that have chemistry, the movements look real, the positioning looks real — because sometimes I’m like, “In real life that would not be like that.” You know? I’m like, “This is not the right positioning. It’s too much distance,” you know? It’s just, it looks weird. You can always tell.
Whatever the vision that the director has, if we are nailing that, if the actors are connecting and their bodies are in the right positions and their bodies and their expressions are following what would naturally happen in a real sex situation, then I’m like, “Alright, nailed it.” And if everybody in the room and just like, “Woah.” Is just, like, in it, then we know it was a successful scene.
Why are you passionate about this work?
One thing that I was very specific about when I went into my training was that I want to work with Black actors. I’m okay with working with anyone, but I was very adamant about working with Black actors, because I believe that Black actors should see a representation of themselves in the person who is advocating for their safety. I know that, for especially young Black actors who are just coming in and they’ve never had an intimacy scene before, my presence is going to be very much so received and they’re going to feel protected, and I’m really excited about that.
I’m excited to see this new culture go forward, where intimacy coordinators are the wave and actors are safe. General public, advocate for your favorite actors to have an intimacy coordinator! End scene.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Joshua X. Miller
Introduction written by Joshua X. Miller
Photography by Ari Mejia, edited by Morgan Ciocca
Transcription by Joshua X. Miller, editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca and Omi Salisbury
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