Hot List: The 10 Steamiest Lesbian Sex Scenes in Films

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday November 29, 2021

A promotional photo for "Blue is the Warmest Color"
A promotional photo for "Blue is the Warmest Color"  

Recently, EDGE listed the 10 steamiest gay male sex scenes. Here are the steamiest lesbian ones.

When it comes to the portrayals of same-sex love onscreen, because the male gaze has always been paramount, salacious and gratuitous girl-on-girl action was often captured simply to appeal to men throughout most of film history — until the 1960s (and except for certain underground films).

Carl Froelich's "Mädchen in Uniform" ("Girls in Uniform") was the first feature length lesbian themed film (Germany, 1931), although Josef von Sternberg's "Morocco," the year prior, did show Marlene Dietrich kissing a woman on the mouth (playfully). Pre-code Hollywood female gay aesthetics were more than visible in films made by Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Louise Brooks, and even Mae West. Once the production code took hold, few overt lesbian themes could be explored until William Wyler's "The Children's Hour" in 1961 with Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine — but one of them had to die.

Many a film like "Johnny Guitar," starring Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge, and "Walk on the Wild Side," with Barbara Stanwyck and Capucine (clips below) slipped in moments of lesbian tension.

'Johnny Guitar' (1954)



'Walk on the Wild Side' (1962)




The end of the 1970s saw "The Killing of Sister George" and an actual lesbian triangle onscreen. From there, Robert Towne's "Personal Best" and John Sayles's "Lianna" broke down love scene barriers, though still through a man's eye; but female helmers would soon burst onto the scene with new and exciting perspectives and stories.

This is a list of the steamiest scenes from lesbian-themed movies. As with any list, it's a matter of personal taste and made to provoke dialogue. Create your own list and share it with us. And, full disclosure: This list is from a queer man.

Honorable Mentions to Philip Kaufman's "Henry and June," Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," Park Chan-wook's "The Handmaiden," Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Favourite," Stephen Cone's "Princess Cyd," Rose Troche's "Go Fish," Mona Fastvoid's "The World to Come," Annabel Jankel's "Tell It to the Bees," Maria Maggenti's "The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love," and Céline Sciamma's "Portrait of a Lady on Fire."

Now, the Top 10 — chronologically:

'The Hunger' (1983)




Tony Scott's "The Hunger" was a vampire film before vampire films were popular, and was one of the first studio films to explore female bisexuality. For that alone it is to be commended. The two stars happen to be the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve and sexy Susan Sarandon, so that makes the sultry scenes beyond tantalizing. (FYI: Deneuve was already a star and Sarandon was well on her way.) The clip above is interspersed with some Sarandon chat. For a pic way before its time, I highly recommend streaming or purchasing this one. Oh, and David Bowie is in it, too.

"The Hunger" is available to stream on HBO Max.

'Desert Hearts' (1985)




Donna Deitch's seminal "Desert Hearts" contains the very first lesbian love scenes directed by a female. Set in the 1950s, Helen Shaver plays a woman about to get a divorce who meets the mysterious Patricia Charbonneau. Deitch takes her time with establishing and building the relationship, and in the clip above you can see the tender and sweet beginnings of what becomes a passionate romance. (You can stream the entire film .

'Bound' (1996)




"Do I make you nervous, Corky?"

"No. Curious maybe."

"That's funny, I'm feeling a little bit curious myself."

Has Jennifer Tilly ever been so seductive as she is in the Washowskis' "Bound?" In the above scene, in her high-pitched squeal, she goes about enticing Gina Gershon, culminating in her sticking Gershon's fingers in her mouth and then guiding them down below. The sex scenes in "Bound" feel authentic and, despite the camp quality of the film and the performances, a true female sensibility is felt throughout. This butch and fem duo are the sensual real deal.

'High Art' (1998)




In 2010, Lisa Cholodenko's lesbian-themed film, "The Kids are All Right," received a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Her feature debut, "High Art," however, was a watershed moment in lesbian film in 1998. Rahda Mitchell plays a seemingly het photographer who falls for an older neighbor (Ally Sheedy), who lives with her heroin-addicted girlfriend (Patricia Clarkson). It was a big deal at the time for A-list Sheedy to take on this role. Cholodenko's film boasts a super-honest scene where someone who thought of themselves as straight has sex with someone of the same gender for the first time. It's a beautiful moment where the characters are overwhelmed with emotion.

"High Art" is available to rent or buy on Apple TV or Amazon Prime.

'Mulholland Drive' (2001)




One of our most idiosyncratic filmmakers, David Lynch, fashioned a female-queer-centric odyssey with his audacious film "Mulholland Drive." The characters of Betty and Diane (and Rita and Camilla) are played by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, respectively. Lynch plays with doubling as well as identity in this sexually-charged saga. Both women in the first portion desire one another — as we see in the sexy clip above — but the film takes a wild detour, and the actors find themselves as different characters in a sadomasochistic love triangle.

"Mulholland Drive" is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime or Apple TV.

'Blue is the Warmest Color' (2013)




Rightly divisive, Abdelatiff Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Color" created a firestorm of controversy when it came out for the director's creating a difficult environment on set, in addition to the "male gaze" discussions it sparked. The film's stars, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, along with the director, were awarded an historic Palme D'Or at Cannes. There is a ton of nudity and sex that is directed for a male audience, but what is also obvious is the strong bond these two create onscreen and the chemistry that is apparent, especially when they kiss.

"Blue is the Warmest Color" is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

'Carol' (2015)




Todd Haynes' "Carol" is simply one of the best films of this millennium. Period. Out screenwriter Phyllis Nagy crafted a brilliant screenplay that comments on the difficulty of breaking free from self-imposed traps and societal expectations and limitations. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara meticulously manage the minefields of daring to love a member of the same sex at a time when it was seen as abhorrent. The performances are perfection.

Women were expected to behave in a certain manner in the 1950s. As Carol and Therese begin to break free from these patriarchally enforced roles and explore one another, the audience feels that breathless release as well. The entire film is one steamy love scene from beginning to end.

"Carol" is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

'Disobedience' (2017)




Oscar winner Rachel Weisz plays Ronit, a successful photographer who returns home after the death of her Orthodox Jewish father in Sebastián Lelio's stirring film "Disobedience." Ostracized from the community, she reconnects with her childhood friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams, unrecognizable), and the two embark on a secret affair. The pent-up desire that Esti feels in the scene where she first kisses Ronit and then just lets herself go is palpable. And the sex scene that follows is a release for Esti that signals her freedom. The clip above is a cut-together version of certain scenes that gives you an idea of the intimacy, but be sure to stream or buy the film for the full force of these two performances.

"Disobedience" is available to stream on Hulu.

'Ammonite' (2020)




Francis Lee's bold, sexually-charged "Ammonite" will be a classic one day. Kate Winslet is extraordinary in a role that should have garnered her an Oscar nomination. Her paleontologist is seething with repressed longing, so when she finally allows herself to love a young married woman (Saoirse Ronan), the results are liberating. And while the love scenes do get incredibly explicit (God bless Winslet for never shying away from nudity), the sexiest moment is when Winslet and Ronan first touch, and then kiss, and then do a little bit more...

'T11 Incomplete' (2021)




Suzanne Guacci's "T11 Incomplete" is a story about a lower class, middle-aged woman (Karen Sillas) trying to get her mess of a life together as a home health aide looking after Laura (Kristen Renton), a young and vibrant paraplegic person. The two fall in love, and the intimate scene is as authentic as they come. The two are awkward and sexy and delicate and clumsy. The film is also groundbreaking — it features an older lesbian with a woman half her age who happens to be a T11 Incomplete (which is a term referring to the severing of the spine that causes paraplegia. "Incomplete" means the patient still has some feeling.) How often do we see disabled people represented in love scenes — let alone someone who is both lesbian and disabled?

"T11 Incomplete" is available to stream on Tubi and Vudu or to rent on Apple TV.

Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute