Looking for an erotic novel that won’t make you cringe? From the 20th century to modern classics, we’ve collected some of the sexiest ones.
Erotic novels can be a real hit-or-miss type of genre. These types of books often feature social commentary, philosophical questions, and generally a plot that goes beyond vapid descriptions of sex, making them some of the most interesting novels to read.
Unsurprisingly, due to the “sensitive” nature of language around sexuality and desire, some of the books we’ve listed below were subject to obscenity trials when they were published. Erotic novels have had a fascinating relationship with mainstream literature throughout history, and it’s fascinating to observe their resurgence in popularity. Whether you’re after a fantasy plot, a historical throwback, or a modern romance, we’ve got you covered with the best erotic novels of all time.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence (1929)
While it’s now known as one of the best erotic novels of all time, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was originally published in 1929, subsequently banned for its obscenity, and then re-published decades later.
It details the salacious exploits of Constance Reid (Lady Chatterley) and her extramarital affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. Having been adapted for the stage, film and screen, it’s one of the most successful erotic novels ever written.
The Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller (1934)
Another novel that was banned from publication, Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer is a semi-autobiographical memoir of the author’s time in Paris.
Chronicling the expatriate writer’s adventures with his friends, lovers, and the unique Parisian bohemians that he encountered, The Tropic of Cancer has stunned audiences for generations with its explicit sexual content, raving philosophical inquiry, and profane language.
Story of O – Anne Desclos/Pauline Réage (1954)
Following the narrative of the protagonist, O, The Story of O details her involvement with a secret sex society. Exploring themes of polygomy, dominance, love, and submission, the erotic novel was originally published in 1954 under the pen name Pauline Réage and then revealed to be writer Anne Desclos, around 50 years later.
A Sport and a Pastime – James Salter (1967)
Set in Burgundy, France in the 1960s, A Sport and a Pastime is a provocative and brutal tale of desire. Narrated by a voyeuristic house guest, the novel follows the observation of fellow houseguests Philip Dean, an American man, and Anne-Marie, a local French woman.
As reviewed by Sarah Hall in The Guardian: “Since its publication in 1967, during the decade of sexual revolution, A Sport and a Pastime has set the standard not only for eroticism in fiction but for the principal organ of literature – the imagination. What appears at first to be a short, tragic novel about a love affair in France is in fact an ambitious, refractive inquiry into the nature and meaning of storytelling, and the reasons we are compelled to invent, in particular, romances.”
Emmanuelle – Emmanuelle Arsan (1967)
Emmanuelle follows the titular character embarking on a journey of sexual self-discovery. Written in the first-person, the erotic novel describes Emmanuelle’s encounters with oft-anonymous male and female partners, as well as her husband. Written by French-Thai novelist Marayat Rollet-Andriane, under the pen name Emmanuelle Arsan, Emmanuelle was widely successful in France and spawned a film adaptation and multiple sequels.
The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty – Anne Rice (1983)
Retelling the folktale of Sleeping Beauty, Anne Rice’s erotic novel The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty tells the story of Sleeping Beauty being awakened with not a kiss, but sexual initiation. As described by the publisher: “Anne Rice explores the world of erotic yearning and fantasy in a classic that becomes, with her skillful pen, a compelling experience. Readers of Fifty Shades of Grey will indulge in Rice’s deft storytelling and imaginative eroticism, a sure-to-be classic for years to come.”
Couples – John Updike (1968)
Couples details the lives of ten married couples living in a New England community who create a sex cult. While it sounds simple on the surface level, Couples embarks on an intense emotional and psychological meditation on the nature of love, sex, and commitment.
A review by Time describes the events of the novel as such: “Trapped in their cozy catacombs, the couples have made sex by turns their toy, their glue, their trauma, their therapy, their hope, their frustration, their revenge, their narcotic, their main line of communication and their sole and pitiable shield against the awareness of death.”
Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin (1977)
Using a dash of magical realism, Nin’s extraordinary erotic novel is a collection of vivid characters navigating their sexualities, taking the reader from the mysterious Parisians in France to the dens of Peru.
A celebrated erotic fiction writer, Nin was a powerhouse in the genre — daring to step into a realm of fiction that had — in her time — only been reserved for male writers. Originally written in the ’40s, Delta of Venus was published posthumously after the famed erotic writer’s death.
Bad Behavior – Mary Gaitskill (1988)
Bad Behaviour is an astonishing collection of short stories. Detailing the inner lives of young men and women, and their experiences of power, failure, sex, and pain, Mary Gaitskill’s erotic novel is most famously known as the inspiration behind the Maggie Gyllenhaal-starring 2002 film, Secretary.
As reviewed by Emily Temple for LitHub: “But like many young women, and many aspiring writers—young, female, and otherwise—I responded to Gaitskill’s stories instantly and intensely. I found them astonishing. I was seduced by the wildness of the characters, by their brazenness and force, even in the face of their own confusion, and often despite their inefficacy. I was interested and impressed, of course, by the amount and type of sex.”
Lust and Other Stories – Susan Minot (1989)
Consider yourself warned: yes, Lust and Other Stories is a sexy book… but it’s also heartbreaking. In the words of the publisher: “[the novel is] about the ways in which women and men come together and come apart again, about the disappointments and hopes of lovers who know what they want but don’t always know how to keep. [It is] a deeply poignant meditation on the nature of desire and loss.”
Outlander – Diana Gabaldon (1991)
While Outlander is an excellent work of historical fantasy in its own right, it’s also full of some of the sexiest fiction you’ll ever read.
Following the life of Claire Beauchamp, a WWII nurse who is transported back in time to 18th century Scotland, Outlander details her encounter with Highlander Jamie Fraser. What ensues is a sexy, fantastical, and adventurous series of events.
Vox – Nicholson Baker (1992)
Allegedly gifted to former-President Bill Clinton by Monica Lewinsky, Vox was one of the most successful examples of erotic literary fiction in recent years.
The novel functions as a transcript of the conversation between two strangers, Abby and Jim, who connect via a phone-sex line in the early 1990s. Despite being full of sexually-charged, explicit dialogue, Vox is full of humour, and questions of intimacy, love, and sex.
In The Cut – Susanna Moore (1995)
In The Cut is a novel that combines elements of suspense, terror, and mystery, to give readers a masterfully written erotic thriller. Detailing the life of schoolteacher Frannie, who gets embroiled in a chilling murder case, In The Cut details her descent into a dark, torrid sexual liason with the mysterious, key detective of the case.
The Sexual Life of Catherine M. – Catherine Millet (2002)
A graphic autobiography of Catherine Millet’s extremely liberated sex life, The Sexual Life of Catherine M (originally published in French as La Vie Sexuelle De Catherine M.) is a fascinating account of female desire, sexuality, polygamy, and physical gratification.
Bared to You – Sylvia Day (2012)
Bared to You follows the relationship between two twenty-somethings Eva Tramell and Gideon Cross, both of whom are trying to escape the horrors of their abusive pasts.
As their lives become increasingly intertwined, the erotic novel explores desire, obsession, and longing, as its protagonists try to find their way to building a healthy relationship.
Beautiful Bastard – Christina Lauren (2013)
Originally published online as a Twilight fan fiction, Beautiful Bastard details the sexual relationship between MBA student, Chloe Mills, and her mysterious, demanding boss Bennett Ryan. As described by the publisher, the couple’s burgeoning dynamic is an “appetite for one another,” that forces them to decide “exactly what they’re willing to lose in order to win each other.”
Carrie’s Story – Molly Weatherfield (2013)
Carrie’s Story is a BDSM novel that follows the main character, Berkeley Ph.D. candidate Carrie, who voluntarily surrenders herself over to the handsome, obscure, Jonathan. As Carrie does everything to satisfy his extreme sexual desires (including hard sex, torture, and absolute obedience), Molly Weatherfield’s erotic novel explores the darkest parts of desire.
Rush – Maya Bank (2013)
The first book in Maya Bank’s Breathless trilogy, Rush follows the intense, obsessive relationship between Gabe Hamilton, a wealthy, powerful real estate mogul, and Mia Crestwell, his best friend’s younger sister. Acting on both of their secret desires, the couple embarks on a secret, torrid, sexual affair, until they’re faced with the possibility of experiencing something more meaningful with each other.
One Night – Eric Jerome Dickey (2015)
One Night details the story of a couple who check into a motel for 12 hours — a night that involves con games, erotic interludes, jealousy, violence, and murder, and changes their lives forever. With mysterious characters, a murderous side plot, and full of eroticism, One Night is a thrilling romantic adventure.
Priest – Sierra Simone (2015)
Priest narrates the story of Tyler Anselm Bell, a 29-year-old priest who breaks his vow of celibacy with MBA student Poppy Danforth. Exploring the pair’s powerful sexual connection, the erotic novel also explores their experiences navigating the intersections of duty, love, faith, and desire.
The Master – Kresley Cole (2015)
The Master details the burgeoning sexual relationship between Mafia boss Maksimilian Sevastyan, and Miami escort, Catarina Marín. As described by the publisher, after the pair’s “mind-blowing encounter burns out of control, the lovers crave more. If they escape the deadly threats surrounding them, can Maksim overcome his past—to offer Cat his future?”
Vengeance – Zane (2016)
Vengeance is an erotic novel that details the life of Wicket, whose new name is Caprice Tatum, as she returns to her hometown to exact revenge on the people that traumatised her decades before. As she reconnects with her engimatic childhood crush, Jonathan, she begins a journey of self-realisation, finding inner-strength and resolution.
Hate to Want You – Alisha Rai (2017)
Described as one of contemporary romance’s brightest new stars, Alisha Rai’s debut novel Hate to Want You details the mysterious relationship between Livvy and Nicholas, a couple pulled apart by generations of family conflict, yet irrevocably attracted to each other.
While the novel makes use of romance tropes like sexual tension and forbidden romance, Hate to Want You is also a trailblazer in its own right with its inclusion of a diverse set of characters, including an Asian lead.
Open Me – Lisa Locascio (2018)
Open Me follows the life of Roxana Olsen, an American student who ends up on an exchange program by herself in Denmark, instead of with her friends in France, due to an administrative error.
After meeting the mysterious, older Soren at the airport, the relationship between the two turns romantic, and what follows is an erotic tale of power, sex, love, and belonging.
The Kingmaker – Kennedy Ryan (2019)
The Kingmaker explores the intense, once in a lifetime connection between Maxim Cade, the son of an oil magnate whose empire he hates, and Lennix Hunter, a member of the Apache Nation who protests against the invasion of Indigenous land. As they meet during a chance encounter at an anti-pipeline protest, their sexy, riveting connection is undeniable, with Kennedy Ryan exploring their succumbing to the “inexorable pull” between them.