The Handmaiden features several sex scenes between its two women protagonists, Hideko and Sook-Hee. These move the plot along, serve to characterise the two women and their relationship and fit into the generally very stylized, cinematic optics of the film (look for symmetries in the different acts). Definitely more than "fanservice" for people who like to look at improbably beautiful (and thin) women having sex. However, the scenes also made me wonder:

In one scene, Hideko and Sook-Hee engage in tribadism, according to the linked wiki article there's a serious discussion whether this form of intimacy is at all common outside of films (maybe it looks better on film than it feels in the sheets?). The final scene has Hideko and Sook-Hee inserting bells into each other's vaginas in a romantic and, again, highly stylized, scene. Earlier in the film we see Hideko read an erotic story (I think in-universe written by a man, though I'm not sure it's mentioned with this story) that features this act.

I'm very sure the sex scenes are not meant to be realistic or authentic:

  • Nothing about the movie is particularly realistic, why should the sex scenes be?

  • The final scene could be understood this way, Sook-Hee and Hideko excape "their" men but they don't escape their male, pornographic vision of sexuality.

I want to double check my suspicion that the sex scenes depict more cinematic or male perspectives on lesbian sex than actual lived experience of women who have sex with women. Did reviewers with closer knowledge of lesbian intimacy comment on "authenticity" of the sex scenes, and is there something like a consensus regarding said "authenticity"?

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    This covers a very broad area. good question though
    – Vishwa
    Apr 26, 2018 at 7:01
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    I think the more important question to ask is whether the movie as a whole was positively reviewed by queer women. Just focusing on the sex scenes feels quite lecherous. You are asking about whether the movie transcends the male gaze by asking a question that only occurs because of the male gaze. Furthermore, what even is "authentic" sex anyways? You are putting an entire population of people into a bucket. Sex is a deeply personal act and therefore it is different for everyone. Jun 8, 2018 at 20:08
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    I understand your criticism of the question but don't agree. 1) It makes sense to question sexual content specifically because it affects me as the viewer in a specific way 2) It was not my idea to put a whole population into a bucket, that's why I put the quotation marks around "authenticity" and asked if there's even a consensus re. this. Obviously I need a better wording because it was read that way.
    – mart
    Jun 9, 2018 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


Here's one lesbian critic's perspective that finds it inauthentic. Obviously though, queer women aren't a monolith. One survey suggests tribadism (more commonly called scissoring), isn't ubiquitous, but isn't rare either. All kinds of women use variations of Ben Wa balls, so that's fairly realistic (most modern versions don't tinkle though). If there's a level of unreality, it's on par with the aspirational sensuality of straight romances. Not many people are watching Titanic and then going home to draw their partner naked and have sex in a car, but that doesn't mean it's inauthentic in a bad way.

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