We have heard a great deal about “the male gaze”, a concept coined by film theorist Laura Mulvey in 1975 to explain the objectification of women in Western media. And, of course, we’ve seen a great deal of it, too, with the most cited example being Michael Bay’s incredibly sexualised portrayal of Megan Fox in his 2007 film, Transformers.
More recently, though, “the female gaze” — the subtler flipside of the coin and, as such, trickier to define — has started to gain much more attention.
Vulture has done its best to pin down “the female gaze,” insisting that it “sees people as people… [and] seeks to empathise rather than objectify.”
Snd it’s a definition that is easy to get behind, particularly when it comes to scenes of an erotic nature. Because, for too long, female desire and pleasure have been stigmatised and brushed under the carpet.
You are very welcome.
Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s 1996 film Bound is a neo-noir crime thriller unlike any other. Violet (Gina Gershon) has fallen hard for Corky (Jennifer Tilly) – but she’s the live-in mistress of a violent gangster and, as such, is forced to turn to truly desperate measures to ensure that she can be with the woman she loves.
It’s worth noting that, to make the sex scenes between the two women come alive, the Wachowskis hired sex educator Susie Bright to choreograph them.
Bound is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
The sex scenes seen in Issa Rae’s Insecure are unlike any other. Reveling in all the awkward glory of coitus, we’re treated to cosy sofa sex, steamy encounters aboard a Ferris Wheel, blindfold-play, and everything in between.
Insecure is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
The Love Witch
In this erotic feminist satire, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) whips up spells and potions in her gothic apartment, then picks up men and seduces them. Her spells work just a little too well, though, and she soon ends up with a string of hapless victims to dispose of. And we’ll leave you to guess what happens when she finally falls hard for a man…
The Love Witch is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video with a Sundance Now subscription.
Full-frontal nudity, unhurried sex, raw desire, relatable bedroom mishaps, BDSM, and casual conversations about condoms and consent? No wonder we all fell so hard for the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People during our first UK lockdown, way back in 2020.
Normal People is streaming on BBC iPlayer.
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
It’s no surprise that Portrait Of A Lady On Fire won awards at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and the Queer Palme. Sumptuous and simmering with sexual tension, the period drama centres on the painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) and Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), the reluctant portrait subject with whom she falls deeply, madly in love.
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video with a MUBI subscription.
Jane Campion became the first female director to win the Cannes’ prestigious Palme d’Or with The Piano, which tells the story of a mute musician named Ada (Holly Hunter) and her impossibly tortured love affair with Baines (Harvey Keitel), a retired sailor with a Maori tattoo on his face.
The Piano is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Written by Laurie Nunn, Sex Education isn’t always sexy; far from it, in fact. But, despite all the moments that make you want to hide your face under a cushion and never come out again, this show’s focus is almost entirely on desire, pleasure, and how to ask for what you want in bed.
Sex Education is streaming on Netflix.
Shondaland’s Bridgerton is every bit as sexy as it is romantic, boasting a plethora of steamy scenes in an array of intriguing locations (we’re thinking, in particular, about that particular incident with the ladder).
Unlike your classic bodice-ripper, though, the Netflix series places a particular emphasis on female pleasure, and allows its debutantes to revel in their introduction to carnal pleasures without shame or hesitation.
Bridgerton is streaming on Netflix.
In Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art, Sydney (Radha Mitchell) has grown dissatisfied with her perfect life. When she knocks on the door upstairs, though, she meets renowned photographer Lucy (Ally Sheedy), and finds herself caught up in a dark romance unlike anything she could have imagined…
High Art is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Love & Basketball
Yes, we know this is primarily a film about a young woman’s desire to become a professional basketball player. It also, though, includes one of the most talked-about sex scenes in movie history.
As director Gina Prince-Bythewood explains to Shadow And Act: “When we did it, I was very specific about what I wanted it to be. It’s a girl’s first time, Monica’s first time, I wanted it to be the fantasy…I kind of wanted to give a blueprint for boys and girls of what to expect. I wanted the reality of it. Sanaa [Lathan] and Omar [Epps] were so dope in that scene, so protective of each other. They just gave the realness, especially just the looks that they were giving each other that said so much, which added organic humor to it which I loved.”
“When it came time to get our MPAA grade on it, they gave us an R, and it was because of that scene,” she continues.
“Their argument was that the scene was too real, which is so bizarre… there’s no nudity whatsoever in it, there’s no grinding. So you’re giving me an R because it felt too real, but that was the whole point.”
Love & Basketball is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
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Not binged your way through Valeria yet? Add it to the Netflix list! The comedy-drama follows a Madrid woman in her late 20s who is slowly realising just how unfulfilled she is by her marriage of six years. In exploring all the pitfalls of sex, though, her inevitable passionate affair with her crush, Victor (Maxi Iglesias) is off-the-charts hot.
Valeria is streaming on Netflix now.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.