20 Erotic Novels That Won't Make You Cringe (Because Valentine's Day Is Around the Corner)

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When you think of erotica, images of Fabio’s muscular torso and Christian Grey’s red room may come to mind. But there’s so much more to this literary genre than cheesy book covers and hunky billionaires with an affinity for BDSM. Erotic novels can be sensual, provocative and even esteemed. Don’t believe us? Here are 20 books proving just how sexy (and well-written) good smut can be.

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erotic books neruda

1. Love Poems by Pablo Neruda

This collection of poems, widely considered Nobel Prize-winner Neruda’s best work, are so sexually charged, we’re blushing just thinking about them. One of our favorite, tamer lines is, "My love feeds on your love, beloved, and as long as you live it will be in your arms without leaving mine." Swoon.

erotic books mcquiston

2. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

The handsome and charismatic Alex Claremont-Diaz became the American equivalent of a young royal when his mother became President. There's only one problem: Alex has a rocky relationship with the actual prince, Henry, in London. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an altercation between the two, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse. Those around Alex and Henry devise a plan for damage control, but what at first begins as a fake friendship soon grows deeper, with the two beginning a secret romance that could derail both of their families’ lives.

erotic books hoang

3. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Stella Lane is a math whiz who's crushing it at her job. Her love life? Not so much. She's 30 years old and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. She decides her best bet for practicing is to hire an escort, Michael. Before long, Stella comes to crave all of the things he's making her feel. Equal parts sexy and sweet, The Kiss Quotient proves that all the data in the world can't help you make sense of what your heart wants.

erotic books roche

4. Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

This controversial debut novel (first published in 2010) centers on Helen, an outspoken, sexually precocious 18-year-old lying in a hospital bed as she recovers from an operation. To distract herself, she meditates on her past adventures in increasingly uncomfortable detail. The result is a funny and intimate manifesto on sex, hygiene and why the idea that girls should be clean, quiet and nice is B.S.

erotic books clark

5. Island Time by Georgia Clark

Queer romance, family secrets and ambition abound in this summery story of two families: the Kellys—loud, loving Australians—and the Lees—sophisticated, aloof Americans. The two clans have nothing in common, except for the fact that their daughters are married. While vacationing on a remote island off the coast of Queensland, a nearby volcano erupts and the two families are stranded together for six weeks. During those weeks, everyone is forced to question what—or who—they really want, along the way proving it's never too late to change your destiny.

erotic books lowell

6. The Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell

When painting student Lucy Coover trips over a naked man passed out in an East End alley, she covers him up and finds help. Instead of moving on from the incident, though, she can't stop thinking about him—his muscular physique in particular—so she paints him. In need of rent money, she puts the artwork up for sale. When Anthony Philby, Duke of Weston, discovers it’s a portrait of himself, he decides to buy it, burn it and confront the artist. When they meet, however, an irresistible, potentially dangerous, passion ignites between them.

erotic books nin

7. Delta of Venus by Anais Nin

A mold-breaking anthology of 15 short stories, this book was published posthumously in 1977 but mostly written in the 1940s, and has been setting hearts aflutter ever since. Decades later, the lurid tales of Hungarian adventurers, French courtesans and Peruvian opium dens still burn up the pages.

erotic books gabaldon

8. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Just as nurse Claire Randall is reunited with her husband post-WWII, she gets zapped away to 18th-century Scotland. There, she’s deemed a “Sassenach,” or Outlander, and is forced to marry Jamie Fraser, a soldier with a troubled past and a fiery temper. The eight-part series hops back and forth in time as Claire becomes torn between her desire for two men—in two different centuries. Read the books first and then stream the equally-riveting TV show on Netflix.

erotic books kundera

9. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

This modern classic about love and politics in communist-era Czechoslovakia centers around four lovers and their conflicting desires. If you want something that’s sensual and thought-provoking (Kundera delves into a lot of philosophical questions about love and the decisions we make), this is the read for you.

erotic books aciman

10. Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

This coming-of-age story is a beautifully written tale of all-consuming love and attraction set against the backdrop of 1980s Italy. The movie is wonderful, sure, but the book will give you chills.

erotic books blume

11. Forever by Judy Blume

For fans of YA, check out this teen novel from Blume (yes, the same author behind Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret) that tells the story of Katherine, a New Jersey teenager, and her blossoming relationship with Michael where they—gasp—have sex. This honest portrayal of first love (including the awkwardness of your first sexual encounter) was particularly groundbreaking when it was published in 1975, but still feels relevant today.

erotic books day

12. Bared to You by Sylvia Day

Eva Tramell is a 20-something aspiring advertising executive. Billionaire Gideon Cross is a hunky yet mysterious business tycoon. They work in the same building and when their paths cross, it’s fireworks. But their office romance quickly turns complicated as they both must confront their sexual pasts and secrets. Sounds familiar? OK, yes, but fans say the writing is less cringy and more sultry than, well…you know which book we’re talking about.

erotic books gaitskill

13. Bad Behavior: Stories by Mary Gaitskill

We love these nine short stories about modern love, friendship and sex, all told through Gaitskill’s unique and provocative voice. The most famous of the tales was made into the 2002 film The Secretary, starring Maggie Gyllenhall. But fans of the film should know that the written tale is quite a bit darker than the screen version (which Gaitskill called “the Pretty Woman version” of her story).

erotic books caldwell

14. Women by Chloe Caldwell

An account of a woman's first same-sex relationship and the earth-shattering discoveries and heartbreak that come with it. This novella beautifully captures love and longing, with a can’t-put-down sense of urgency.

erotic books reage

15. The Story of O by Pauline Réage

Before 50 Shades, there was The Story of O. Published anonymously in 1954, this read about a woman’s BDSM training at an elite and secret club has become an erotic classic. Passion, desire and obsession mixed in with social commentary—it’s all here.

erotic books mccullough

16. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

An epic tale of forbidden love in the Australian Outback that has enthralled readers for generations (seriously, ask your mom about it). You’ll root for multiple members of the Cleary family—a clan of ranchers—but especially their only daughter, Meggie, and her intense connection to the handsome priest, Ralph de Bricassart.

erotic books miller

17. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

This semi-autobiographical account of the author’s sexual exploits in 1930s Paris is so full of debauchery that it was banned in the U.S. for nearly 30 years and only declared not-obscene by the Supreme Court in 1961. Scandalous, daring and totally gripping.

erotic books millet

18. The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet

Introducing the female version of Tropic of Cancer. Here, Millet describes her sexual exploits in Paris (isn’t it always Paris?) unapologetically and in graphic detail. This one is salacious, humorous and definitely explicit.

erotic books laclos

19. Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos

The ‘90s hit teen flick Cruel Intentions was loosely based on this sexy novel that crackles with eroticism. Two 18th-century nobels—Vicomte de Valmont and his ex-lover Marquise de Merteuil—make wicked plans to mess with other people’s lives just for fun.

erotic books guillory

20. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

This best-seller is like your favorite rom-com—fun and flirty—but with some very raunchy bedroom scenes. When two strangers, Drew and Alexa, are brought together by a chance encounter in an elevator, they decide to go on a date together. But what starts out as a fun weekend away quickly turns into so much more. A feel-good, effortless read.

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Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...