A literary erotica reading list
When I was in high school, a friend gifted me a copy of Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus, a collection of lush and surreal erotica that Nin wrote for an unknown private collector who paid her handsomely for each story.
Since then, I’ve developed a penchant for weird and steamy erotica. The kind of stuff that makes you raise an eyebrow and question the limits of your own sexual desires as you read.
The oldest known example of erotica comes from a sumerian tablet from roughly 2000 BCE, according to the Guiness Book of World Records. Erotica’s been around for a long time. It’s an integral part of who we are as humans. We love to talk about sex. And we love reading about it, too.
But these days, visual porn is all the rage. It can be easy to forget that erotica even exists next to the bells and whistles of the porn industry.
And that’s a shame! Because erotica can be excellent, both as a means for getting off and sometimes for being just downright interesting. It is a window into the bedrooms of the past, as well as a lesson in patience. Porn can condition us to get off fast; good erotica reminds us to slow down. Taking the time to read erotica—whether it’s something dirty and smutty or romantic and tame—can help us remember to savor every detail of a sexual fantasy.
Granted, there’s a lot of really—really—bad erotica out there, and it can be overwhelming to know where to begin. So here’s a reading list of some of my favorite erotica that I’ve found over the years to help get you started:
The Pearl: A Journal of Voluptuous Reading
The Pearl: A Magazine of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading was an English underground victorian era publication that ran monthly between 1879 and 1880. The Pearl was known for its humorous and raunchy erotica, poetry and advertisements, but it was quickly shut down by British authorities for violating obscenity laws.
The Pearl: A Journal of Voluptuous Reading is a collection of some of the best erotica originally published in the magazine. The book provides a fascinating dichotomy between the facade of respectability and sexual repression that existed in the Victorian era, and the kinkiness and sexual experimentation that existed just beneath the surface.
Many of the stories and poems included in the collection are downright filthy; others are hilarious and lighthearted; and others still are just hot and steamy, quality erotica.
Emmanuelle is an erotic novel written by Thai/French writer Emmannuelle Arsan. It was officially published in France in 1967, but underground copies were distributed clandestinely since it was written in 1959.
The novel depicts the authors actual and fictionalized experiences as a sexually adventurous bisexual woman during the sexually conservative post-war era in Bangkok. The novel is a unique portrait of a self-confident and sexually forward woman who enjoys casual and anonymous sex with other bisexual men and women who desire the same. Ultimately, her experiences lead her to a state of transcendence.
On top of its vivid and captivating eroticism, the novel also delves into deeper philosophical discussions about polyamory, bisexuality and desire.
Never Endings is a relatively new collection of trans erotica compiled and edited by Tobi Hill-Meyer. It includes 30 stories written entirely by new and upcoming trans authors.
The collection comes as a part of a burgeoning trans erotica literary movement focused on exploring the beauty of trans sex and trans bodies, the complexity of the trans experience and the differences between stereotypical hetero erotica and trans erotica.
Never Endings isn’t all erotica—many of the stories tackle themes like gender dysphoria, dating, sexuality and self love. However, erotica remains the focal point of the collection, and many of the stories are both erotic and strikingly intimate and beautiful.
While not necessarily a book of erotica, Aphrodite is just as titillating as anything else on this list.
Written by Isabel Allende in 1997, Aphrodite—an “aphrodisiac cookbook”—weaves together the personal, the mythological and the bizarre, as well as a passion for food, to create a unique book that is part erotica, part personal essay and part cookbook.
Allende writes that often times it isn’t a meal itself that acts as an aphrodisiac: it is the stories, histories and gestures that come along with a meal that can turn it into a love potion.
Aphrodite is a love letter to the senses. It’s a cookbook you can read from cover to cover without even cooking anything. It includes everything from “how to seductively set a table” to “soup for orgies.”
For those looking to have experiences to write their own erotica about, this may be the book for you…