Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene: Disobedience Made Us Horny for Spit

Welcome to Anatomy of a Queer Sex Scene, a series by Drew Burnett Gregory and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about queer sex scenes in film. Today we are discussing 2018’s Disobedience, starring Rachels Weisz and McAdams, and its controversial spitty sex scene.


Kayla: I wanted to talk first, briefly, about our decision to create this series, which is going to deep dive on different queer sex scenes from film. It won’t always be structured as a conversation like this. More often than not, we’ll take turns writing essays, depending on the scene and our thoughts about it. But I wanted to kick things off with a conversation!

Basically the origins of the series is that as soon as I found out you were going to become an editor here, I was like I want to collab on a series and then the thought that quickly followed was it should be about sex scenes.

Drew: Sex scene discourse has been so pervasive on Twitter since, well, I joined Twitter. But it does sometimes feel like going in circles where someone tweets something fairly puritanical and then a bunch of horny nerds like us say ACTUALLY SEX SCENES ARE GOOD. So I like the idea of moving beyond that and really celebrating the artistry, depth, and, yes, horniness of the best queer sex scenes.

Kayla: Totally! And the way I’ve envisioned the series, we might even be talking about BAD sex scenes. I want to consider a whole range of scenes. And I intentionally wanted to start with the sex scene from Disobedience, because it’s…apparently controversial!

Drew: That is so wild to me, because I think it’s the best part of the film. I like the movie, but for me it’s definitely a case of 5 star sex scene, 4 star film.

Kayla: I agree with that assessment! I like the movie for the reason I think a lot of people don’t. It’s slow, it’s quiet, there aren’t really a lot of dynamics to it. But I’d put it at a solid 4 as well, whereas the sex scene is an easy 5! I was worried before rewatching it that I maybe was remembering it in a more glowing light but nope it held the fuck up.

Let’s set the scene up a bit: Ronit (Rachel Weisz) has returned to her Jewish Orthodox hometown following the death of her father, who was a very influential spiritual leader in the community. Ronit left a long time ago. When she returns, she learns her secret lover from her youth Esti (Rachel McAdams) has married her cousin Dovid and remained in the closet. One thing leads to another, and Ronit and Esti end up escaping to the city one day to fuck.

Drew: I do think it’s worth talking in detail about the moments right before the scene. Because one thing I love about the scene is it’s not kiss out in the world, smash cut to fucking in hotel room. There are several minutes (or at least it feels like several minutes) where the two of them are walking, taking public transit, living in the anticipation of the sex they’re about to have.

It’s an example of slowness, quietness, actually being quite thrilling. And it makes the sex scene itself feel like the sort of relief sex IRL can sometimes hold after a lot of build up.

Ronit and Esti stand at a crosswalk in coats holding hands.

Kayla: It feels so realistic! That almost youthful nervousness and anticipation! And this is not the first time they’re going to sleep together, but it also almost is, because it’s their first time as adults, it’s their first time since Ronit left and started living this whole new life. That lead up does such a good job of complicating their intimacy! They’re so familiar with each other but also nervous in the way sleeping with a totally new person feels.

Drew: Yes! And then the anticipation is so well-fulfilled. Their kissing is so hungry. We talk a lot about the spit but there’s a natural build up to it. Even the first hotel kiss when Ronit is removing Esti’s sheitel she’s really leading with her tongue.

I don’t remember is that the first time we see Esti’s sheitel removed? I wonder how that read for people who aren’t Jewish and don’t know about Orthodox women covering their hair?

I don’t think there’s anything inherently liberating about removing a wig or hair covering, but I do think for this character who feels trapped in her religion and community, it’s an excellent — if obvious — moment. McAdams really sells it too. She looks like she’s transforming.

Disobedience sex scene: Ronit runs her fingers through Esti's hair.

Kayla: I feel like the scene is largely regarded as “the spitplay scene” and while the spit is part of why I enjoy it, people have really overplayed how much space the spit takes up! It’s a long scene! Multiple positions! The spit is just one part lol.

I think one of my greatest achievements in life is when one of my besties told me she finally enjoys not only the Disobedience sex scene but also the concept of spitplay itself, after many years of being appalled by how much I love this scene. It’s also just so funny to me, because spitplay seems like such a mild kink! And look, it doesn’t have to be for you, but I think it’s so well done in this scene! But people sure do have feelings about it!

Drew: They really do! I was about to say I’m generally a fairly oral personal sexually, but I also think a lot of people are? And we just don’t often see it represented on-screen outside of porn because it’s the hardest thing to fake. If an actor is licking another actor’s nipple usually that’s actually happening, it’s not a prosthetic.

The way the two actresses here lick each other’s bodies and mouths is very hot and just feels very real!! And Esti putting her fingers to Ronit’s mouth after they finger each other… it is good.

Kayla: So many mouth moments!!!!!

Something that stood out to me on this viewing was how clothed they actually stay for the scene. I love nudity, no problems with nudity over here! But I think the scene operates as great proof that a sex scene can be really hot and horny without just falling back on showing a lot of skin.

Esti puts her mouth on Ronit's breast and it's covered by her hair.

Drew: Yes! I did learn this at a young age because as a teen I was too scared to go on porn sites so I just watched “girls kissing” on YouTube which was often the like plot parts and kissing while clothed parts of porn.

Kayla: And it highlights the urgency of their desire for each other, too. They’re like yeah I don’t need to bother with undressing you, I’m still going to consume you.

Drew: YES! I do think the specificity of the hands is also very good and very gay. So much gay sex on screen (especially with straight directors) is very confused. This is specific.

Kayla: Very specific. You can tell they both already know how to get each other off.

Ronit looks up at Esti from between her legs.

Drew: The spit wasn’t entirely spit right? I remember reading it was some sort of juice.

Kayla: REALLY? I must investigate now. Whatever juice they used really does a good job of looking like spit lol.

Drew: It does! I love how Esti’s tongue quivers in anticipation. And then when it hits her mouth there’s an immediate reaction of pleasure.

Kayla: “The makeup department tested out different flavors of lube the night before to use as the spit. We settled on lychee-flavored!” – Rachel McAdams

Drew: Beautiful. I love a lychee martini, and I imagine I’d love it even more spit into my mouth.

Kayla: LOL. It really is so artfully and organically done.

Drew: I like how they’re in the same frame in every shot until the end when Esti orgasms while Ronit is presumably going down on her.

Kayla: Yes, and that’s also an example of how you can show a lot without showing! It’s the first time Esti’s pleasure is genuinely centered. We don’t get a moment like that between her and Dovid.

Disobedience sex scene: Ronit and Esti make out while fingering each other.

Drew: That slow push-in as Esti comes is so beautifully done though.

One of my only big issues with the film is the detail that Ronit hasn’t been with a woman since they were together because I feel like it confuses her character and their dynamic. And this moment especially would hit even harder for me if Ronit has been experiencing queer pleasure out in the world and Esti was the only one denied it between the two of them.

Kayla: Well, this is somewhat related to that but something I actually like. I noticed even more during this viewing that Esti initiates physical contact most of the time. I think it really plays with our expectations of who might be the more forward between them, who might have the most agency. Because Esti is presented as this Orthodox woman who has decided to stay in the church, and Ronit has left. But it’s Esti who really directs a lot of the initial flirtation and touch. Dovid tries to say Esti is being manipulated by Ronit, but that is never once shown to be true.

Drew: Yes! I really love that detail. To me it communicates that as much as their love is mutual, for Ronit there’s a world of possibility, for Esti Ronit IS her world of possibility.

Esti licks the side of Ronit's mouth.

Kayla: Yes! And then in the sex scene, we do see Ronit taking on the more toppy role, especially with the spit. But they also both seem a little switchy to me! Or at least like Esti is sometimes topping from the bottom lol.

Drew: Yeah, she’s more forward even if her role in their dynamic is bottom-y.

I also love that this happens after they were already caught kissing. The history of lesbian cinema has a lot of stories where there’s passion between the women until they’re caught and then one of them is like NO I CANT DO THIS ANYMORE. This subverts that, where Esti is like we’re caught so we need to fuck NOW before things escalate and we’re apart forever.

Kayla: Yes, there’s a desperation to it. It’s why I think the scene is hot but also…tinged with a bit of sadness, which is probably true of a lot of my favorite sex scenes lol. It’s not tinged with TRAGEDY or TRAUMA, but there is an undercurrent of sadness. And also nostalgia! They’re accessing past versions of themselves. And nostalgia is usually a little sad.

Disobedience sex scene: Esti leans her head back as she comes.

Drew: Absolutely. At the very least, the desperation of impermanence.

Kayla: I mean pretty much right after, they reminisce on the time Ronit’s father walked in on them hooking up lol.

Drew: Yes! That’s a really good point. I love that we spend time with them right after. And the moment of Ronit taking Esti’s photo is swoon-worthy. This really excels at the before, during, and after of a sex scene.

Kayla: Yeah! We get all of those beats, which is super rare for queer sex scenes.

Drew: There’s usually at least a bit more of a time jump. The after in this case starts when Ronit is still resting between Esti’s legs.

Kayla: The movie really does take its time, and I appreciate that about it.

Ronit rests her head in Esti's lap after sex.

Drew: I’ll always have a love for this movie, because I saw it at a matinee when my nails were matching my shoes, and I felt so fabulous as I experienced immense horniness and melancholy. Top tier movie going experience.

I’d never really done spit play at the time either!! I’d only been out of the closet for a year and my sex life was pretty boring.

Do I love the Disobedience sex scene because of how I have sex or do I have sex the way I do because of the Disobedience sex scene? Who can say!

Kayla: I hadn’t done spitplay when I first say it either! I was in a relationship when the movie came out, but we weren’t really having sex anymore. As soon as I was single again, I made spitplay a priority! Now I barely remember a time before!!!!!

Drew: The greatest trans allyship of the director of A Fantastic Woman was actually giving ME this scene.

Esti sticks her tongue out waiting for Ronit's spit.


Disobedience is now streaming on Hulu. The sex scene starts around 1:01:20 if you need to rewatch it for research purposes. 

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 859 articles for us.

Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 547 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. I’ll never understand how anyone viewed that spitting scene as anything other than gross and I honestly am a fairly open person but spitting into her mouth? Spitting on someone in general?

    Each to their own… I guess…

  2. I love this conversation and this film. One thing I disagree on is the nudity though, as much as a scene without nudity can be great, here it didn’t feel realistic and took me out of the film. After all these years apart, I don’t think the wig is the only thing they’ll want to remove around each other. You don’t have to show much to the audience, but let them show each other!

  3. The best wlw sex scene, imo. I thought the idea of spitting pretty squicky when I heard about it, and while I still wouldn’t want it myself, it’s as hot as hell the way they portrayed it.

    And I’m glad for little kinky moments in wlw sex scenes. Sure many of us are entirely vanilla, but many of us are not.

    Sure, if we were all portrayed as leatherdykes all the time, that’d be stereotyping in a bad way, but a bit of spice here and there is lovely.

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