Books

35 of the best erotic novels of all time

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.

secretary film
Still from ‘Secretary,’ based on the novel ‘Bad Behaviour’ (Photo: Mubi)

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.

erotic novels 1

D.H. LAWRENCE
LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER

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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.

the tropic of cancer

HENRY MILLER
TROPIC OF CANCER

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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.

the story of o erotic novel

PAULINE REAGE
STORY OF O

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Thérèse and Isabelle – Violette Leduc (1954)

Thérèse and Isabelle follows the tempestuous affair that erupts between the titular characters, two young French women. Violette Leduc was championed by intellectuals Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Jean Genet, and was one of the foremost lesbian fiction writers of her time.

Thérèse and Isabelle

VIOLETTE LEDUC
THERESE AND ISABELLE

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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.”

erotic novel 3

JAMES SLATER
A SPORT AND A PASTIME

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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.

emmanuelle erotic novel

EMMANUELLE ARSAN
EMMANUELLE

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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.”

couples

JOHN UPDIKE
COUPLES

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Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth (1969)

Portnoy’s Complaint details the life of Alexander Portnoy, as he narrates it to his psychoanalyst, Dr. Spielvogel. While the novel caused an uproar when published, due to its frankness in dealing with sexuality, desire, and sexual curiosity, this erotic Roth classic is now considered one of the best novels of its generation.

portnoy's complaint

PHILLIP ROTH
PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT

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Crash – J.G Ballard (1973)

J.G Ballard’s novel has sustained a cult following, making it one of the more riveting postmodern classics of the ’70s.  Crash follows the story of a TV scientist turned nightmare angel of the highways, as he experiments with erotic atrocities among auto crash victims, each more shocking than the last. A blend of violence, transgression, and eroticism makes for a very cutting-edge read.

Crash the novel

J.G. BALLARD
CRASH

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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.

erotic novel anais nin

ANAIS NIN
DELTA OF VENUS

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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.”

anne rice erotic novel

ANNE RICE
THE CLAIMING OF SLEEPING BEAUTY

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The Catholic – David Plante (1985)

The Catholic follows the life of Daniel Francoeur, a young gay man who grapples with his sexuality against the constraints of the religion to which he has devoted his life. As reviewed by Publishers’ Weekly: “Readers who believe that character is revealed only through action will find this novel unfulfilling: little actually happens to Daniel, but Plante’s intoxicating ability to show us everything happening within him makes this book compelling and memorable.”

the catholic

DAVID PLANTE
THE CATHOLIC

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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.”

bad behaviour novel

MARY GAITSKILL
BAD BEHAVIOR

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The Abundant Dreamer – Harold Brodkey (1989)

The Abundant Dreamer is a set of short stories that detail the life of Annetje, a woman with an alluring, magnetic attraction; a quality that plays into the dangerous and destructive nature of her behaviour.

the abundant dreamer erotic novel

HAROLD BRODKEY
THE ABUNDANT DREAMER

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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.”

lust and other stories

SUSAN MINOT
LUST

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Damage – Josephine Hart (1991)

Damage explores the life of an unnamed British doctor-turned-politician on the verge of unimaginable political success. At the same time, he is introduced to his adult son’s enigmatic, mysterious girlfriend, Anna, and proceeds to be the cause of his own destructive undoing.

damage erotic novel

JOSEPHINE HART
DAMAGE

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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.

outlander amazon

DIANA GABALDON
OUTLANDER

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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.

vox erotic novel

NICHOLSON BAKER
VOX

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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.

in the cut erotic novel

SUSANNA MOORE
IN THE CUT

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Thorn Birds – Collen McCullough (1996)

A Sweeping and sexy saga of dreams, dark passions, and forbidden love in the Australian Outback. Chronicling the lives of three generations of Clearys.  At its heart is a love story, between Meggie, and the haunted priest, Father Ralph de Bricassart, whose relationship dangerously oversteps the sacred boundaries of ethics and dogma.

thorn birds erotic novel

COLLEEN MCCULLOUGH
THORN BIRDS

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The Lady’s Tutor – Robin Schone (1999)

A romance set in the Victorian era, The Lady’s Tutor follows the life of Elizabeth Petre, a young woman who was married off into a passionless marriage for sixteen years. Then enters Ramiel Devington, a young man who is scorned by society, yet tasked by Elizabeth to teach her the secrets of sensuality.

thelady's tutor erotic novel

ROBIN SCHONE
THE LADY’S TUTOR

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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.

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CATHERINE MILLET
THE SEXUAL LIFE OF CATHERINE M

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Liberating Lacey – Anne Calhoun (2009)

Liberating Lacey follows the life newly-divorced Lacey Meyer who is tired of the boredom of her sex life until she meets Hunter, a younger man, with whom she gets involved in a torrid, risqué affair.

liberating lacey

ANNE CALHOUN
LIBERATING LACEY

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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.

sylvia day

SYLVIA DAY
BARED TO YOU

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On Dublin Street – Samantha Young (2012)

On Dublin Street explores the story of Jocelyn Butler, an American ex-pat in Scotland, who falls for the mysterious Braden Carmichael, a man that lives in her new apartment building. As the couple grows closer, they are forced to question the lives that they have been running away from.

on dublin street erotic novel

SAMANTHA YOUNG
ON DUBLIN STREET

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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.”

beautiful bastard

CHRISTINA LAUREN
BEAUTIFUL BASTARD

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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.

carrie's story

MOLLY WEATHERFIELD
CARRIES STORY

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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.

rush maya banks

MAYA BANKS
RUSH

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Inside Madeleine – Paula Bomer (2014)

Inside Madeline explores themes of isolation, lust, and rage, through the life of an unnamed narrator as she traverses through a series of erotic exploits, toxic relationships, and drug use.

inside madeleine

PAULA BOMER
INSIDE MADELEINE

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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.

one night

ERIC JEROME DICKEY
ONE NIGHT

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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.

priest erotic novel

SIERRA SIMONE
PRIEST

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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?”

the master erotic novel

KRESLEY COLE
THE MASTER

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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.

vengeance erotic novel

ZANE
VENGEANCE

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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.

alisha rai erotic novel

ALISHA RAI
HATE TO WANT YOU

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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.

open me book

LISA LOCASCIO
OPEN ME

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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.

the kingmaker erotic novel

KENNEDY RYAN
THE KING MAKER

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