Intimacy in Translation: Bridging Consent in Culture and Language

Nov 15, 2022

We know intimacy choreography is a global artistic practice. Organizations across the US, Canada, England, Australia, and beyond are working to train the current and future generations of intimacy professionals worldwide. However, most of these trainings are all being held in English which is not only a language barrier but also a cultural barrier. In different cultures, our understanding of intimacy is very nuanced – we can’t expect the way we treat intimacy in the United States to work the same way as someone would in Brazil or Germany, for example. 

So, I decided to chat with a couple artists who are doing the work of translating consent and intimacy practices into their native tongues alongside my own work of doing so. I’m so excited to introduce you to…

Neha Vyaso (she/they) is an Actor, Clown, Poet and Intimacy Professional based in Mumbai. They’ve trained and are certified with IDC for intimacy coordination. They are passionate about telling diverse stories across mediums and hope to create a culture of consent and braver performance spaces for artists in India. They are a firm believer of the idea that magic rests within us all and art created with kindness and love reaches the heart. She works in the Hindi Film Industry.

Juuso-Matias Maijanen (they/them) is an artist residing in Finland in Northern Europe. They combine their knowledge of physical acting (BA, 2015), theatre pedagogy (BA, 2019) into everything they have picked from working, studying and encountering people on three different continents and in their three working languages: Finnish, English and Swedish. Juuso-Matias’ special interest lies in systems and structures that create more effective practical tools and environments for story-tellers to convey their stories. They are a flexible technician fascinated by combining different forms of expertise to show the intrinsic colors and flavors of human interaction. Juuso-Matias started their journey into intimacy direction in 2017 with Intimacy Directors International’s mentor program, and after a journey of five years they were able to finally finish their Level 3 with IDC this summer.

And myself, Lauren Kiele DeLeon (she/her) an Uruguayan-American intimacy director and coordinator, director, and teaching artist from Miami, Florida who works in English and Spanish. I hold a Master’s degree from NYU in Performance Studies with a thesis on Decolonizing Touch in Intimacy Direction. Along with being the Director of Community Education at IDC and assistant teaching Level 3 and teaching the CFA program, I am an adjunct professor at Sarah Lawrence teaching Intimacy in Performance. My intimacy choreography has been seen across NYC and regionally across the Northeast.

While there are a COUNTLESS ways in which we approach translation in this work (and I know there are likely many others doing this work!) I wanted to start with a bit of a look into how the three of us work. Firstly, we have a few questions to get a sense of how the work changes from country to country, language to language, and culture to culture. And second, the three of us each took a shot at how we’ve translated IDC’s acronym of “CRISP” into our own languages… 

Take a look!

How did you find your way into intimacy choreography and this specific training?

Neha: It was 2018 and I was doing an intensive with the Prague Shakespeare Company under the mentorship of Ben Crystal when I first got introduced to the idea of Intimacy Direction & Coordination. Once back home, I wanted to make a film that involved intimacy, even as a producer and actor on that set, I felt that we didn't have the right approach to these scenes. Even though it wasn't hugely lopsided in terms of power, I still felt unsafe as an actor.

I understood the need for it and more so in my country because the concept of consent and safety, particularly for performers, is almost non-existent. I started building a process of my own for projects that I was creating. People started hearing about my work and started getting projects. Here is when I took the time to research my educational options and IDC felt just right. 


Juuso-Matias: I have always been interested in stories about being human. Somewhere when I was taking the steps through physical theatre training program (BA in 2015), practical pedagogical and movement director work in Finland (starting in 2011), pedagogical degree (BA in 2019) and during my thousand or so hours of training in dramatic combat with Nordic Stage Fight Society and Dramatic Combat Finland, I became drawn to the budding intimacy direction industry and ended up starting the mentor program with Intimacy Directors International.

To base the practical work on the pillars of context, communication, consent and choreography really resonated with me, and I applied - and was accepted - to continue my journey with IDI’s mentorship program. I did all I could to delve into the material but I didn’t then have the connections, skills and time to actually make it through the program. 

This far the generosity of Svenska Kulturfonden and Finnish Cultural Foundation allowed me to spend the autumn of 2019 in the US. There I connected with many superb IDI intimacy professionals. Soon after this journey, the pandemic arrived and I had to take a moment for self-reflection and ethics of the work.

Only after the pandemic started to subside, Intimacy Directors and Coordinators, a follower of IDI, started to finally offer spots for Level 3 certification training! As I did find IDI and IDC as the only professional associations whose practical intimacy pedagogy I actually find useful as an intimacy professional, this opportunity felt like a nice way to get to learn more.

That sounded possible to me, and within the timeframe of grant-providers. I successfully applied to three grants totaling in 10,000 euros by Svenska Kulturfonden, Turun teatterisäätiö and Art-promotion Centre Finland. With this kind of support, it was possible to finish this step of my five-year journey. Now, after the level 3 program, I am happy to finish my journey with Intimacy Director* (*certification pending) status and with pandemic subsiding, ready to find more work within live performance here in Finland.


Lauren: I first came across this work when I was in undergrad at SUNY Purchase studying Directing for Theatre and Performance. I heard of a #HealMeToo Festival of training and performances and one specific course was taught by Claire Warden and assisted by Judi Lewis Ockler (two incredible women I am now able to call friends and colleagues). The class was a sort of introduction to intimacy direction, though I fail to remember the exact name now, where we began playing things such as the Consent Circle and doing boundary work and learning more about what this new world of ‘intimacy direction’ could be. 

I had come down from Westchester, specifically for this training because in reading the description I felt it called to me. I remember to this day, and you can ask my mom for proof of this, that as I left the workshop I called her absolutely in AWE of what I had just learned. It was one of those epiphany moments where I finally had language for the thing I had been doing (in much less of a formal way) in my own directing style. Everything they had taught just made sense to me. It combined my artist side with my advocate and activist side into one role.

From that point on I followed IDI wherever I could – I went to a three day training in Washington DC and learned from Claire and the remarkable Tonia Sina assisted by Samantaha Kaufman. I went to another three day training in Houston, Texas where I was introduced to artists such as Adam Noble and Ashley H. White. I grew my community of intimacy professionals as much as I could, learning from the IDI instructors and alongside folks such as Leanna Gardella and Ian Bond (all of whom are professionals in the industry and close friends). 

When the pandemic hit, my formal training stopped but I choose to pursue a Masters at NYU in Performance Studies where I wrote theory on Intimacy Direction and Decolonization and was able to add to and supplement my intimacy work through academia and theory. Through all that, I found my way back to Judi Lewis Ockler who allowed me to assist teach her Intimacy in Performance class at NYU and soon thereafter at Sarah Lawrence – where I now co teach the class with her! All of that brought me to applying to IDC to become a teaching artist and one thing after another led to my current position(s) at IDC.

What moved you to pursue bringing this work back to your country/language?

Neha: When I was studying Intimacy Coordination, I realised that back home, not many people knew about this. We lack basic consent advocacy education in our system. In the last decade, with the advent of OTT, our films and web shows have become more open to showing explicit intimacy, nudity and violence on screen. However, all of it had been happening in an absence of specific direction and safety of performers. Even theatre in our country somehow remains a lesser explored territory in terms of intimacy and that made me firm in my belief that I would love to tell stories on stage and screen alike and introduce this work to artists and creators here. I have always felt that shying away from these stories is not the way to go, because narratives around intimacy are important, but finding a way to tell these stories keeping the process humane is very powerful.

Juuso-Matias: My superpower has always been “languages” - at high school that mean English, German, Swedish, Finnish, or Maths or Physics, Religion or whatever. I understand the meaning of a mother tongue, and a personal way of understanding things, in learning and teaching new concepts and sharing material.

This kind of work is needed here in Finland, and even if I feel like things are more busy at the film branch, I am sure that live performances could greatly benefit from this kind of work in the long run.


Lauren: It’s a mix of incidental and intentional. I have always been bilingual, I grew up speaking both Spanish and English as my father’s side of the family is Uruguayan and I hold citizenship there while my mother’s is Jewish with history going back through Poland and Austria. Growing up in Miami, Florida, Spanish was everywhere. The vast majority of my friends were/are Latine from places like Cuba and Colombia amongst many others and you can’t go out in Miami without hearing Spanish nearly as often, if not more often, than you hear English.

After training in this with IDI and then IDC, as need arose, I started wondering if I could translate the work I was learning into Spanish. Thanks to Cha Ramos, I’ve been able to get into rooms Off Broadway and independently to work as the intimacy director to entirely or almost entirely Spanish speaking teams and actors. As I’ve continued to do so, it’s had me reflecting on the cultural differences regarding intimacy with Latine people. 

With the cultural differences, what do you think has been the most interesting discrepancy in translating the work? Or what have you discovered in the process as unique to the people you are working with?

Neha: We as a society are at a junction where we are finally normalizing intimacy around us, at least in the cosmopolitan parts of India. However, over the last three years working with various storytellers, I have recognized how surprising it gets for them to hear me saying the names of body parts or addressing specific sexual interactions openly while explaining choreography. It is slightly unfortunate that sex has been a taboo in a nation that introduced the world to Kamasutra. But I believe we are opening ourselves up to the process of intimacy coordination and direction. It is often not the same as what I have learnt, but I love the challenge of adapting the work to my culture. The more people I am working with, the more I feel that creators are opening up to and embracing this work.     


Juuso-Matias: During my seven years I have worked with different professionals, I feel like the spaces I have worked in are more different to each other than the cultures themselves. The industry itself is much smaller in Finland. We only have about 10.000 professionals in total working in the performing arts. The industry is also currently self-evaluating and re-discussing what it means to be a professional working in the performing arts - and what it means to be a responsible workplace.


Lauren: What I focus on mostly in my studies of intimacy work in Spanish is how to meet Latine cultural dynamics with how we do this work in English. It’s by far the biggest discrepancy. Most hispanic cultures are very affectionate and intimate with one another naturally. I’ve been told by directors that I know that they often find their hispanic actors add kisses and other forms of intimacy throughout choreography when it wasn’t initially choreographed. I’m trying to figure out mostly how to translate the work culturally and see where exactly it’s needed and what isn’t needed so that I’m not trying to change or westernize the natural culture of intimacy in these communities. The work should accommodate the people it’s serving vs the other way around.

What’s been the hardest word or phrase to translate?

Neha: All of the words and phrases are very difficult to translate. Something as simple as “Simulated Sex” is not instantly understood. I have often had to simplify it by using either longer sentences or even start with phrasing that we will call this action written in the script as “Simulated Sex” and then take it from there. Our language around sex is very limited in colloquial usage. So it's usually a mix of Hindi and English with simpler English words. 

Juuso-Matias: The Pillars of Intimacy are my pet peeve: The five C’s of Context, Communication, Consent, Choreography and Closure! During these five latest years I have tried and retried to figure out a ways to translate them in a way that would respect the original, and still fit my practice and understanding of them (as I am one of the few people using them, I feel like I must). 

When I teach about them, I normally just use the originals, but roughly translated, I tend to go for ‘konteksti’ (borrowed word, “context”, sometimes I use ‘kehystäminen’ or framing) ja ‘keskustelu’ (discussion), and then ‘suostumus’ (consent, direct translation), ‘suunnitelmat’ (plans instead of choreography, sometimes I used ‘konkretia’, which is something I tend to bring forward as much as I can), ‘siirtymät’ (‘transitions’ - which is not fully closure, but close to it). 

As the contextual work and discussions are part of larger ‘this is how we work before the work’ discussion, and consent, choreography and closure are more about the work itself, I feel like two different initial letters work in this context.

But… this all is still work in progress and I tend to nowadays use originals: especially when my own idea of this work advances, I am still far away from fully understanding the concepts and with only five years of going back to these wonderful principles, I sometimes feel like I am not good enough to make the calls on my own.


Lauren: Luckily, English to Spanish translation isn’t wildly different. Similar to CRISP, I find that most of the words have a near exact translation or one that’s close enough that it all fits easily. I think it’s mostly the cultural differences that I have the issue with. How to talk about boundaries in intimacy without making it seem/feel as though I am telling someone that it’s wrong to have no boundaries or very few. I find that most Latine folks are very physically open and affectionate so making space for that while also introducing clear boundaries is a weird line to walk. Truly, boundaries aren’t really discussed in Latine cultures. The idea of boundaries is almost foreign – we are all open and touchy and caring in a way that it almost feels sacrilegious to have limits to that. And, even when it makes sense, many of us haven’t actually stopped to think about what those boundaries are. 

Is there something you’ve added that you weren’t taught that is essential to the work you do?

Neha: A mandate of workshops before we go on floors is what I have added. I have realized that often actors are not even aware of their boundaries or are not really sure about the blend of emotions and choreography. An extended prep time and some unique exercises that I have created for building comfort and chemistry between the performers is what is essential to the process here in India. 


Juuso-Matias: I have my background in physical theatre and theatre pedagogy to lean into. Thousands of hours of training has given me a lot of tools and ways to go into different exercises: mostly I am just deciding which journey feels the best in which situation. The strongest influences outside intimacy work would be the various movement styles I have picked up through over ten years of professional growth, and I feel like different styles of actor mime are something I end up using a lot when creating intimate scenes. 

I feel like I mix and match a lot of different things to different situations depending on what kind of intimacy I feel like crafting and what the actors have already mastered. 

I tend to get fascinated by the biology of what happens and the convention talk: and mix everything I know when I work. I am technical and love to perfect things.


Lauren: I guess most of it comes from my studies at NYU and figuring out how to theorize about the work. I grew a much deeper understanding of what I’m doing when I was able to compare it to decolonizing practices and other forms of performance studies. Knowing the work in that deeper, academic form, has allowed me to use my practice as research and my research to inform my practice. 

That specifically exists around the idea of care and how it functions in our societies. Where care ties into intimacy choreography and decolonization and how those two can then be linked because of that. It’s a lot deeper than I can explain just here but having those two approaches to the work has really helped me.

Name a particular success you’re proud of in working in your chosen language!

Neha: There is a feature film called “Gehraiyaan” where I was the Intimacy Coach, and a short musical film called “Closure” for Tinder. I have a few more projects yet to release and I am very proud of the small but significant steps we are taking. 


Juuso-Matias: I was really happy seeing a director I have been working with for a long time to use actor names and character names correctly in a recent rehearsal, and naming how important it is to make language difference in a way that even I never thought about: to give both of the parties - fictional and factual - the respect they actually deserve.


Lauren: I think a big one was being able to put my own nervousness about the ‘lack of boundaries’ or very few boundaries to the side and accept what I was given by the actors I was directing. We were working on a  pretty intense scene of simulated sex with nudity and neither actor had any limits regarding what I was able to choreograph or how we built the scene. Being able to realize the discomfort I felt about that was purely about me and not them and then working with what they told me was a big win in my book.

Are there any questions you’ve been pondering about your translations that are on the top of your mind?

Neha: I am often pondering over the gap in translations, are they true to the words I am translating or is it half baked. I have started to use the approach of interpreting instead, because exact translations can be limiting but interpretations allow me to apply my own understanding to the phrases. 

I sometimes question my interpretation and understanding but that's a journey I have to make. 


Juuso-Matias: Mostly I feel like… My job is about walking the fine line of educational language that people can carry with them and effective, clear language to convey the practical ideas in given situations. When I am working as an ID, I tend to experiment a lot with different words and concepts: which one fits this particular human being in front of me.

Besides this, the concepts of ‘intimacy director’ and ‘intimacy coordinator’ itself have proven to be difficult to translate. Every single professional in Finland seems to have their own views on how to translate them, but we hope to find a consensus at some point within our small community of four.


Lauren: I think, yet again, it comes back to meeting cultural differences with openness and flexibility instead of fear and correction. I really am interested in working with cultural consultants or people who perhaps live and work in Spanish speaking countries as intimacy experts or psychologists to really get an understanding of what works and what doesn’t suit it. I’m really wondering what that whole conversation and adjustment would/does look like so that we’re not just teaching other people how to bring the American version of this work into their rooms but to find one that fits their needs.

Take your shot at translating IDC’s CRISP!


Confidence is Aatmavishwas 

Reversible is Prativartee 

Informed is Avgat 

Specific is Vistarit 

Present is Samaksh 

I would reorder it to PAVAS (In hindi this is rain)


Suostumus tarvitsee…

varmuuteen tarvittavan harkinta-ajan

ainutkertaisen, tarkoituksenmukaisen rajauksen 

rehelliset lähtökohdat

mahdollisuuden mielenmuutokseen

aidon vaikutusmahdollisuuden

“Varmuuteen tarvittava harkinta-aika” means “enough time to consider (to be sure)”. This is some of my thoughts on processes: sometimes they need time, and we have to respect those processes with enough time to get the best possible result.

“Ainutkertainen, tarkoituksenmukainen rajaus” means “a unique, meaningful definition. This means that with my definition, a person can never consent to 'everything'.

“Rehelliset lähtökohdat” would be “an honest starting point”. This is something I am still working with, as the whole process must be based on facts so that it can be considered consensual: if somebody is given false information, not enough information or too much information (overwhelmed by information so that some of the essential points might go unnoticed) they cannot be seen to have been consented. I am still working on this though.

“Mahdollisuus mielenmuutokseen” would be “a possibility to change one’s mind”. I feel like it might be misunderstood though, as I am not advocating for randomly changing one's mind but simply trusting one's intuition when it says 'no'.

Lastly, “aito vaikutusmahdollisuus” would be “an authentic possibility to have an effect". I feel like one cannot really consent rigidly without any ways to have agency after they have once given their 'yes': that is, if we work with people, we might as well accept their humanity (an important part of who they are as an artist!) as a part of the process.

In my current translation of CRISP, consent needs all these. This translation is not perfect, but it is the best I can create on my own as from this point on it becomes a social problem needing a social solution.


So, if we want to directly translate CRISP it’s actually not far off from the words in English. We’d have:






However, CRIEP in Spanish doesn’t really land. Instead I think the better format would be:

Voluntario (Voluntary for Present)

Especifico (Specific)

Reversible (Reversible)

De Seguro (This translates to sure or surely in place of confident)

Educado (Educated as in Informed)

This acronym would end up standing for VERDE or Green which I like because of the idea of a green light, the a-okay to proceed. The translation is definitely not perfect but, out of the work I’ve done, I like this one the most!    

Whatever else you’d like to share!

Neha: I just want to mention that intimacy work has a huge cultural context and impact. The one thing my mentors at IDC have always given me is the leaning in to understand my cultural context without dictating me, which is a huge asset.


Juuso-Matias: Because we have spoken so much about the language here, I would like to emphasize my small but powerful intimacy community in Finland Sara-Maria Heinonen, Marjo-Riikka Mäkelä and Pia Rickman who have been and will be invaluable allies whom I hope to work with for many years to come. And numerous others who form this chosen family, a world-wide community of intimacy professionals that I am part of! And hopefully for many more to come after us! 


Lauren: I’m constantly learning new things as I work on productions in Spanish and I’m so excited when I come in contact with other professionals who are also translating the work. I can’t wait to continue learning more about not only how we translate the work directly but how, specifically in Latine communities, we approach the work from such physically affectionate communities! I also want to shoutout Cha Ramos for doing this work in Spanish and being an awesome colleague to have as we continue to learn and explore!

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