Lesbian Sex Scenes that Made Movie History


The Fox (1968)

This adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s novel, starring Sandy Dennis and Anne Heywood as doomed lesbian lovers (of course), was actually considered steamy when it was made, although it doesn’t have anything you could call a sex scene in it. But The Fox did make the sexual nature of the women’s relationship a central focus of the film – more so than the novel, in fact.

The Killing of Sister George (1968)

The Killing of Sister George is an iconic lesbian film starring Beryl Reid as June Buckridge, an actress who plays a beloved character on a British television show, and a luscious young Susannah York as her girl toy, Childie McNaught. Childie is stolen away by sophisticated lesbian lady killer Mercy Croft (Coral Browne), leaving June without job, lover or future.

Filmmaker Robert Aldrich was determined to make the lesbianism in the film as explicit as possible. In the Celluloid Closet, Vito Russo quoted him as saying, “the picture had to play out the betrayal, and the story itself is so genteel, it’s possible you could be sitting in Sheboygan and the film could be so ‘well done’ that nobody would know that the hell you were talking about.”

Russo then recounted how infamously homophobic critic Pauline Kael complained at the time that lesbians “don’t really do anything, after all,” adding, “I always thought that was why lesbians needed sympathy – because there isn’t much they can do.” Ironically, when she saw the sex scene from Sister George, she entitled her review “Frightening the Horses.” Some people are never happy.

The sex scene was cut from the film for its release in a number of American cities, but even with that cut, the film was given the problematic – and new at the time – “X” rating on theme alone; Aldrich’s offer to make further cuts to get an “R” rating was rejected. One year later, Midnight Cowboy, also rated “X” for its gay themes, won the Oscar for best picture.

Therese and Isabelle (1968)

Kind of the quintessential French art house film of the ’60s, Therese and Isabelle is a black-and-white trip down memory lane to the boarding school where a woman had her first love affair. It’s very respectful of its subject matter and shot with all kinds of soft focus, and was actually considered soft-core porn at the time of its release.

The film features lots of gauze everywhere and some bad acting, but it was unquestionably both groundbreaking and influential. It’s still one of the most recognizable lesbian film titles in movie history and was based on the memoirs of French lesbian novelist Violette Leduc.

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