How an intimacy coordinator is putting an end to ’50 Shades of Gray’ BDSM portrayals
- Olivia Troy is an intimacy coordinator for Netflix’s “Bonding” and Showtime’s “Billions.”
- Troy works with actors and directors to create safe and inventive sex scenes.
- She wants to do away with the “50 Shades of Gray” style of BDSM on film.
Olivia Troy was an intimacy coordinator before the role had a name.
It wasn’t until 2018 she noticed the title being used to describe her job of helping theater and television actors navigate intense sex scenes on set.
The show’s second season was a standout for its handling of consent, a concept other on-screen kink portrayals tend to miss. Troy is behind this standout portrayal, and was brought on by “Bonding” creator Rightor Doyle after season one was criticized by the BDSM, or bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, and sadism-masochism, community.
Troy’s job was to show kinky people in a positive light.
She pulled it off, both on “Bonding” and Showtime’s “Billions,” using her deep understanding of power dynamics, bondage techniques, and visual art to create realistic, respectful, and empowering scenes in a society that’s just now starting to understand sexual consent. It’s something she wants to repeat on other sets, and to see other intimacy coordinators, writers, and directors bring to their work.
“I think consent is something that we culturally have only recently started to be conscientious about,” Troy told Insider. “Because we have that language for it now, I think that there’s a responsibility to use it and, more importantly, to model it.”
The intersection of kink and theatrics
Troy got her start in theater production, but it was her personal relationship with the BDSM community as a shibari (Japanese rope bondage artist) that makes her expertise unique. She’s also dabbled in leather bondage techniques.
Her artistry has proven invaluable in scenes that push traditional limits, like in “Bonding” season two when a dominatrix’s client hangs from the ceiling while wrapped in full-body ropes.
For the scene, Troy recruited an experienced bondage bottom, or person who receives sex, who’d been tied up before.
“I worked with him before [filming the scene], and we did some test rigging so he knew physically what he was going to need,” Troy said.
It’s a process she goes through on every project.
“When I’m working with the actors, I’m going to each of them and talking to them privately about what their limits are, what their boundaries are, what they’re comfortable with,” Troy said.
She then speaks with the director about their vision. Using that information, Troy crafts scenes using props, body movement, and language.
Filming the precarious bondage scene, which took multiple takes, involved hoisting the actor in the air and then lowering him between tries so he could quickly remove the ropes and relieve stress points, Troy said.
In addition to logistical planning, Troy led the charge in portraying the dominatrix’s expertise and her ability to uphold consent while in a position of sexual power over her submissive.
Decking out the set’s sex dungeon with high-end leather gear and sex toys showed the dominatrix’s stunts were part of her hard-earned skillset as a seasoned sex worker, according to Troy.
‘Women can also be in control, and the men who submit to them aren’t grovelling worms’
Replacing inaccurate BDSM portrayals, which play into gender stereotypes, paint kinksters as freaks, and ignore consent, is Troy’s goal as an intimacy coordinator, she said.
That’s why she showcased a variety of relationships in “Bonding,” including friendships, relationships between sex workers and their submissives, and the dynamics sex workers have with lovers in their personal lives.
“So much of what we see when it comes to BDSM relationships in film and television is one, they’re rare, or they’re not consensual, or there is some kind of extreme power dynamic that’s happening,” Troy said.
She pointed to “50 Shades of Gray,” the book and movie adaptation that explores the BDSM relationship between wealthy mogul Christian Gray and young Anastasia Steele.
“He effectively stalks her and he kind of compelled her to do [kinky] things rather than allow the space for her to say yes or no to something, or give any kind of like enthusiastic consent,” said Troy.
She wants to do away with the trope of violent and painful BDSM experiences, and the idea that only men can hold sexual power, to help viewers see them as a way people express joy, caring, and connection.
“I’m very excited to redefine it, to say, ‘Yes, women can also be in control and the men who submit to them aren’t grovelling worms,’ or all that horrible language,” Troy said.
“Instead, these men are also strong, competent, powerful people who in their own right crave the control and guidance of a dominant woman. That is also a valid representation. I want to see more of these things.”