Scoff if you must, but erotic fiction is a $1.5 billion industry.


Because it’s so good it sells that much.

Erotic novels have always gotten a bad rap. While there a few bad eggs–we’re looking at you, E.L. James–you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The world of erotic literature is rich. If you’ve never picked up an erotic novel before or you’re an avid reader looking for the next pile of books to hoard, you’re not going to run out of choices.

Here are 12 steamy novels, ranging from classic erotica to contemporary sexy fiction, to get you started..

“Sabbath’s Theatre” by Philip Roth

When people mention Philip Roth, they’re usually referring to the classic masturbate-with-anything novel “Portnoy’s Complaint.”

However, we’re partial to “Sabbath’s Theatre”, which tells the story of Mickey Sabbath, a puppeteer who loses his lover to embolism.

Instead of doing what a lot of people in erotic novels do—go on a journey of self-discovery with lots of lovers—Sabbath uses his memories of his dead lover to pleasure himself and feel young again.

This is a novel that masterfully blends sex, rage, and frustration. It’s about the rage of a man who loses his lover too soon and his rage at everything else, especially after getting fired for having phone sex with an undergrad in his college course.

“Bad Behavior” by Mary Gaitskill

Forget about “50 Shades of Grey.” This novel is all about BDSM and the painful beauty of a dominant and submissive relationship.

Gaitskill doesn’t try to be cute or kitschy. No references to the “inner goddess” here. She pushes the envelope of cruelty, faith, trust, pain, and pleasure for those who are brave enough to explore the BDSM underground.

Prepare to be spanked—hard.

“What Belongs to You” by Garth Greenwell

Greenwell likes to play with the twin themes of ecstasy and rejection, love and loss.

In “What Belongs to You”, the unnamed protagonist narrates his early realization that he is gay and that he is in love with a boy at school. After attempts to convince the boy of his love, he watches as his love interest makes love with his girlfriend—which arouses and hurts him at the same time.

He never really gets over this rejection/pleasure dichotomy. It follows even as he becomes an English teacher in Bulgaria. The narrator develops a relationship with a hustler named Miko. He falls in love even though he knows that not only is he paying Miko for sex, other men are too.

“A Sport and a Pastime” by James Salter

Air Force veteran James Salter weaves an amazing story of luxury and excess after the end of the war to end all wars.

The novel discusses the seduction and affair of a college dropout from Yale and a married woman from a small French town.

Our biggest complaint about the novel is that it starts off slowly, but it builds up to soul-shattering sex scenes you’re not likely to forget.

“Written on the Body” by Jeanette Winterson

“Written on the Body” will keep you guessing. You have no idea if the narrator is male or female.

And it doesn’t really matter as the book explores the narrator’s past relationships with various male and female lovers, comparing them with the torrid affair with a married woman on the brink of death.

Winterson’s prose is like romantic lyric poetry with an erotic undercurrent. You’ve never seen a good description of oral sex until you’ve read this book.

“The Rachel Papers” by Martin Amis

One of Martin Amis’ first novels is his most erotic. “The Rachel Papers” is about a teen boy who lusts after his love for months, successfully gaining her attention after a lot of the awkwardness characteristic of a late adolescent in feverish love.

You may expect this teen novel to portray goofy attempts at lovemaking, but it doesn’t. Instead, it dives straight into adult erotic literature as it describes in full detail the grinding pleasure and earth-shattering orgasms the characters have.

The main character, Charles Highway, is endearing. It’s fun to watch him grow into an adult with an almost insatiable sexual appetite.

Susan Minot’s erotic short stories take you through several generations of boarding school co-eds in lust and love. As the decades pass, you find various boys and girls coming of age as they explore their sexuality and emotions in cars and at frat parties.

While there are lots of sex scenes, the interesting thread is these stories don’t end well. It’s all about sex, yes, but it’s not about sex the characters get to have happily ever after. This book will crush your heart and will leave you feeling more gutted than satisfied.

“G” by John Berger

“G” is the story of a Don Juan making his way through Europe before World War I. His story is riddled with the lush excesses of salons and bars before the war.

There’s a lot of political discussion about the forces in pre-war Europe, but there’s also plenty of detailed descriptions of the penis and the lovemaking scenes that inevitably follow.

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera

The novel is over 20 years old, but it’s still every bit as gripping as it was when it came out.

Kundera’s work is set against the backdrop of the Prague Spring, when Czechoslovakia tried to introduce democratic reforms even though it was part of the Iron Curtain.

Amidst the chaos of the rebellion, “Lightness” follows four lovers who cheat on each other throughout the course of the novel.

The sex scenes are a mixture of romance and authenticity that will wake up a stirring beyond the physical realm.

“Couples” by John Updike

Updike revels in this tale of 10 couples participating in lots of free love in the era following the development of birth control.

Any sexual excess you can think of—and probably a few you haven’t—show up in this novel.

Although Updike’s novel may feel a bit dated, the sex scenes don’t. This is a period piece skillfully wrapped up in the pleasures of erotica.

“Endless Love” by Scott Spencer

Forget that horrible movie with Brooke Shields. The novel that gave birth to the film is light-years better than the cinema version.

Spencer’s novel details the excesses of young love with no boundaries, which is inherently dangerous—but the sex is unbelievable.

“House of Holes” by Nicholson Baker

We may have saved the best for last. Baker’s novel combines dystopian futuristic fiction with plenty of out-of-this-world sex.

There are no rules in the House of Holes, and the main objective is to please the customer. There’s even a “pornmonster” with 100 penises. Your whims and desires are catered to here—but to what end?

“House of Holes” is a great escapist novel with a fun, sexual twist.

Get Reading

Settle in for a night of pleasurable reading with these 12 erotic novels.

Got other recommendations? Let us know and we’ll add them to our list.