Erotic fiction gets a bad reputation, and it's frankly unfair. Just because a work of literature can be a sexual turn-on does not inherently make it less than. Even "smutty" shouldn't have such a negative connotation. Don't let the bad eggs like Fifty Shades Of Grey, despite its rampant popularity, keep you from the sumptuous and diverse world of romance. These erotic and/or romance novels are actually good, indisputably. Some of them are so good, in fact, they've also made their way to your screens. I mean, did you see Bridgerton??
Maybe you're not a hater. Maybe you've already got a collection of paperbacks proudly displayed and are looking for new recommendations. Expand your erotic horizons, as it were. All are welcome here.
If you're shopping for your next salacious selection online, might we recommend looking up and supporting your local indie seller on Bookshop if you can. Here's a guide to figuring out exactly what you need to read and how to get it. [Note: "Choice descriptors" all come from inside the books/official descriptions online.]
1. The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory
Choice descriptor: "Mary falls in love with both her golden prince and her growing role as unofficial queen. However, she soon realizes just how much she is a pawn in her family's ambitious plots as the king's interest begins to wane and she is forced to step aside for her best friend and rival: her sister, Anne."
You will like this book if: You're ready to rewrite history books based on who had the hottest sexual tension.
2. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Choice descriptor: "Lawrence's frank portrayal of an extramarital affair and the explicit sexual explorations of its central characters caused this controversial book, now considered a masterpiece, to be banned as pornography until 1960."
You will like this book if: You love a beautiful (and steamy!) love story and also are a little curious to find out what was considered too sensitive for the public to read back in the day.
3. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins
Choice descriptor: "No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden."
You will like this book if: You're into illicit romances with lots of twists, turns, and tons of sexual tension.
4. Damage by Josephine Hart
Choice descriptor: "He is a man who appears to have everything: wealth, a beautiful wife and children, and a prestigious political career in Parliament. But his life lacks passion, and his aching emptiness drives him to an all-consuming, and ultimately catastrophic, relationship with his son's fiancée."
You will like this book if: Love affairs with a slightly sinister side to them are your thing. This book definitely has some darker aspects to it, so brace yourself!
5. Normal People by Sally Rooney
Choice descriptor: "It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find that they can't."
You will like this book if: You're watching the (seriously horny) series on Hulu and aren't quite ready to let it go just yet. You'd seriously give anything to go back to college.
6. Outlander by Diana Galbaldon
Choice descriptor: "... a spellbinding novel of passion and history that combines exhilarating adventure with a love story for the ages."
You will enjoy this book if: You have a thing for any of the following: Scotland, handsome men in kilts, time-travel, historical fiction. Addiction warning: There are eight novels in this series.
7. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Choice quote: "Is it your body that I want when I think of lying next to it every night or do I want to slip into it and own it as if it were my own, as I did when I put on your bathing suit and took it off again, all the while craving, as I craved nothing more in my life that afternoon, to feel you slip inside my as if my entire body were your bathing suit, your home?"
You will enjoy this book if: You loved the movie adaptation, of course, and want to see how Aciman originally wrote that peach scene. But also, you will love it if you were ever a teenager with a massive, confusing crush on someone who would definitely leave you at the end of the summer, making every single touch of theirs intense and explosive.
If You Loved Bridgerton
8. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
Choice descriptor: "Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands—and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate's determined to protect her sister—but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony's lips touch hers, she's suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself."
You will like this book if: You feel like you’ve been left high and dry with no more Bridgerton episodes to watch and need to know what’s going to happen next. This book, all about Anthony's love story, is what Season 2 will be based on!
9. Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare
Choice descriptor: "Izzy's given up yearning for romance. She'll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six-year-old woman who's never even been kissed?"
You will like this book if: You want your hot romantic trysts to be balanced out with sufficient levels of sugary sweetness.
10. Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake by Sarah MacLean
Choice descriptor: "Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules, rules that have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. And so she's vowed to break the rules and live the life of pleasure she's been missing."
You will like this book if: You love a heroine who just says f*** it and does everything a lady isn’'t supposed to do, including having some naughty good fun with an absolute rake.
11. Command Me by Geneva Lee
Choice descriptor: "It should have ended there, since I had no idea who he was. Except that kiss was caught by someone's camera, and now the picture is splashed on tabloids all over the world. I should have recognized him: Prince Alexander of Cambridge. Royal bad boy. Exiled heir to the throne. He's controlling. He's demanding. He's dangerous."
You will like this book if: You're tired of the typical sweet royal romance tale and want one that's going to bring you some very hot and sexy dominance-fueled scenes.
12. The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory
Choice descriptor: "The one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the ambitious Robert Dudley. As the young couple falls back in love, a question hangs in the air: Can he really set aside his wife and marry the queen?"
You will like this book if: You love a royal romance with a touch of historical accuracy. Everything just seems so much hotter with corsets and court gowns.
Shake Things Up
13. Red White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Choice descriptor: "Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations."
You will like this book if: You're into the latest trends, boys kissing, and may/may not be obsessed with the royal family right now.
14. The Claiming Of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice
Choice descriptor: "Probes the unspoken implications of this lush, suggestive tale by exploring its undeniable connection to sexual desire."
You will like this book if: You're ready to throw out the rulebook on princesses for something sexier. Disney bounding? More like Disney bond-ing.
15. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Choice descriptor: "Henry and Clare's passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love."
You will like this book if: You missed the sexy (and lowkey supernatural) book and film back in the 00s. Maybe you're a fan of Outlander but not all the dull historical politics.
16. The Fit Trilogy by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Choice descriptor: "She may have to let Grant show her there's more than one way to get in shape…"
You will like this book if: You love Fifty Shades and watch a lot of cooking shows. Yes, really!
17. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole
Choice descriptor: "As the Civil War rages between the states, a courageous pair of spies plunge fearlessly into a maelstrom of ignorance, deceit, and danger, combining their unique skills to alter the course of history and break the chains of the past…"
You will like this book if: You're into historical romance that's like, actually suspenseful.
18. The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Choice descriptor: "Two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom."
You will like this book if: You're ready to confront the IRL modern-day horrors of getting ghosted in a sexy story that, of course, works everything out just fine.
19. Forever by Judy Blume
Choice descriptor: "When you build something up in your mind—really imagine it, wish for it—sometimes, when it actually happens, it doesn't live up to your expectations."
You will like this book if: Exploring the innocence of teenage sexuality and "the first time" turns you on, or if you're wondering what Blume wrote in a book, published in 1975, that got it banned from many school libraries.
20. Emmanuelle by Emmanuelle Arsan
Choice quote: "Suddenly dizzied by her half-nakedness, she took a deep breath. She turned to the stewardess and looked at her with candid jubilation. The stewardess bent down, picked up the rumpled blouse, and pressed it against her face. 'Oh, it smells so good!' she said, laughing mischievously."
You will enjoy this book if: You like your erotic scenes to unfold like a hazy dream, from the perspective of a young bisexual Frenchwoman in 1967. The language is literary, but the plot is minimal, not getting in the way of the many ways Emmanuelle explores her desire with women and men everywhere from her overnight flight to a squash court to an opium den.
21. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
Choice descriptor: "A sweeping family saga of dreams, titanic struggles, dark passions, and forbidden love in the Australian Outback returns to enthrall a new generation."
You will enjoy this book if: Sweeping, soap-opera-style romance turns you on, or you were wondering why this book, which was later adapted into one of the most highly rated TV miniseries of the '80s, had your moms and grandmothers all aflutter.
22. The MacGregor Brides by Nora Roberts
Choice descriptor: "The MacGregor clan's patriarch is determined to see his three career-minded granddaughters married. So he hand-picked three unsuspecting candidates as worthy consorts…Now all he has to do is set his plans in motion."
You will enjoy this book if: You're a sucker for contemporary romantic movies or rom-coms, you like the idea of a charming/meddling grandfather, and want to read/root for female protagonists who are independent and intelligent.
Choice quote: "The men arrived one, two, and three at a time. Some knew each other already, if they were 'picked up' together. All of them were taken off guard when they entered the chalet. In every room throughout the hose, there were butt-naked women strategically positioned in front of a checkerboard, including myself.
You will enjoy this book if: You're longing to see that old sorority sisters porn trope turned on its head by some powerful black women. The Alpha Phi Fuckem sorority is both a private investment club for professionals who also happen to really like sex and throw wild secret parties like the one above. While there's a lot of talk about the dating life of innocent South Dakota transplant and first-year law student Mary Ann, interestingly this book also totally passes the Bechdel test.
24. Best Women's Erotica Of The Year, Vol. 4 edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Choice quote: "Steve helped her into her harness, checking the clips. The intensity of his brown eyes raised her heart rate further, Maybe the increasing adrenaline was pulling her arousal with it, but she basked in the attention he gave her, enjoying the straps rubbing against her crotch when grabbed them roughly at her shoulders to check they were tight." — from "The Jump," by Rebecca Chase
You will enjoy this book if: You find yourself skipping through the boring parts of longer erotic romance novels (you can read about their awesome jobs and supportive parents later!) to get to the sexy scenes. The latest of this anthology series includes stories of hetero, gay, and multiple-partner sex in all sorts of exciting scenarios, under the vague theme of "outsiders" and "risk." This means everything from a Fifty Shades-ish BDSM story to the above skydiving short to a wild Halloween orgy on a yacht — no skipping ahead required.
25. The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
Choice quote: "A question was in his eyes, and a smile hovered over his lips. His thumb drew slow circles on her hip and then moved up her side to her ribs. His other hand moved up to her face and traced the outline of her lips with his fingers. She shivered. He waited."
You will enjoy this book if: You want the froth of chick lit, the thought provocation of a story about an interracial relationship, and also some hot sex scenes.
26. Night Shift: A Choose-Your-Own Erotic Fantasy by Joanna Angel
Choice quote: "A short skinny girl dressed like Betty Boop from the wrong side of the tracks interrupted this awkward reunion by plopping down a tiny, precious Swarovski crystal butt plug on the counter. 'I want this too,' she said, batting her eyes at Jimmy. I was still new there and not entirely sure how to converse with the customers. Was I supposed to act as though I was ringing up laundry detergent at Walgreens, totally nonchalant?"
You will enjoy this book if: You want a Choose Your Own Adventure story like Bandersnatch, but with "sexploration." Adult film actress, director, and author Joanna Angel dreamed up this witty tale of college grad Taryn, the new employee working the titular shift at a sex shop in central Florida.
27. The Cocktail Series: Wallbanger by Alice Clayton
Choice quote: "Sweet Lord, there were out-of-control pussies on both sides of this wall tonight. The woman had an accent, although I couldn't quite place it. Eastern European for sure. Czech? Polish? Was I seriously awake at, let's see, one sixteen a.m. and attempting to discern the national origin of the woman getting plowed next door?"
You will enjoy this book if: You like your voyeurism with a side of humor and meet-cute romance. In the first of Clayton's four-book series, we listen along with Caroline as she hears her new next-door neighbor bang his way through a series of ladies. Sexually frustrated since her ex-boyfriend, Caroline doesn't quite enjoy this second-hand experience. Of course, you know she'll get her satisfaction eventually.
28. Dance Off Series: Take The Lead by Alexis Daria
Choice quote: "She'd known he was packing. It was impossible to miss it in rehearsal. She'd even touched it a few times by accident during tango practice—and not always in a good way. Seeing it up close was a whole different story."
You will enjoy this book if: You've watched those real-life Dancing With The Stars romances unfold and wondered just how the sexual chemistry between dancing partners went from the rehearsal room into the bedroom (or maybe remained in the rehearsal room? We don't know!). Beginning with Bronx-raised Puerto Rican professional dancer Gina, who tries to fight her lust for her "Dance Off" show partner, a wilderness survival show star from Alaska, this series also gives us some very amusing, stereotype-free Latinx heroines.
29. Montana Sky by Nora Roberts
Choice descriptor: "When Jack Mercy died, he left behind a ranch worth nearly twenty million dollars. Now his three daughters—each born of a different marriage, and each unknown by the others—are shocked to learn that before any of them can inherit, they must live together on the ranch for one year."
You will enjoy this book if: You've ever fantasized about rolling around in the hay with a real-life cowboy, discovering sisters and/or an inheritance you never expected, exploring Big Sky Country. Bonus: It all revolves around a murder mystery and was made into a Lifetime movie starring John Corbett.
30. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Choice quote: "She held her bowl toward him, but he didn't put his spoon in it. He trailed his fingers over her jaw as he tipped her head back and sealed his lips over hers. His tongue speared into her mouth, and the salt of him mixed with the flavor of the ice cream. She didn't know if she was mortified, shocked, aroused, or all three."
You will enjoy this book if: You're looking for a heroine like you've never read about before, as Stella is an econometrician on the Autism spectrum. Or you're looking for a hero you've never read about before, as Michael is a Vietnamese-Swedish-American escort whom Stella hires to figure out what she's doing wrong with her dating life. They keep everything completely professional and part ways without complications. Just kidding.
Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance
31. The Black Dagger Brotherhood Series by J.R. Ward
Choice descriptor: "Beth Randall is helpless against the dangerously sexy man who comes to her at night with shadows in his eyes. His tales of the Brotherhood and blood frighten her. Yet his touch ignites a dawning new hunger—one that threatens to consume them both..."
You will enjoy this series if: You have a thing for muscle-bound, demon-fighting, take-no-prisoners-type men who fall hard for smart, sassy, self-sufficient significant others. Bestselling author Angela Knight put it this way: "Utterly absorbing and deliciously erotic … The Brotherhood is the hottest collection of studs in romance."
32. The Sookie Stackhouse Novels/The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris (the inspiration for HBO's vampire soap True Blood)
Choice descriptor: "Sookie Stackhouse is a small-town cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana where not everyone appreciates her gift—she can read minds. Not exactly every man's date bait. Unless they're undead."
You will enjoy this series if: You're mourning the end of True Blood, you never watched True Blood but meant to, or you'd like to be introduced to/potentially seduced by supernatural beings like werepanthers and weretigers. Next, check out Harris' spin-off series Midnight, Texas!
33. Lords of the Underworld by Gena Showalter
Choice descriptor: "In a remote fortress in Budapest, six immortal warriors—each more dangerously seductive than the last—are bound by an ancient curse none has been able to break."
You will enjoy this series if: You have a thing for Greek and Roman mythology, would be interested in a hot, heavy fling with a Greek God, and don't require much substance in order to do so.
34. Face The Fire, Three Sisters Island Trilogy Book #3 by Nora Roberts
Choice descriptor: "The new owner of the island's only hotel, Sam Logan has returned to Three Sisters with hopes of winning back the affections of Mia Devlin, the woman he scorned when he left the island years ago. He is puzzled when she greets him with icy indifference for the chemistry between them is still sizzling and true. Angry, hurt and deeply confused, Mia refuses to admit that a passion for Sam still burns up her heart. But she'll need his help—and his powers—to face her greatest, most terrifying challenge."
You will enjoy this series if: You're into witches and warlocks and actual magical sex.
35. I Am A Woman by Ann Banon
Choice descriptor: "Legendary novels from the 1950s and '60s set in the gay mecca, Greenwich Village."
You will enjoy this book if: You want to experience all things erotic fiction has to offer and want to discover how author Ann Bannon earned the title, "Queen Of Lesbian Pulp Fiction."
36. Try by Ella Frank
Choice descriptor: "Try—verb: to make an attempt or effort to do something or in this case …someone…Logan Mitchell wants to try Tate Morrison."
You will enjoy this book if: You are interested in steamy steamy sex scenes and the M/M genre, one that revolves around an intimate relationship between two (or more) men.
37. Lover At Last by J.R. Ward
Choice descriptor: "Fate seems to have taken these vampire soldiers in different directions. ...but as the battle over the race's throne intensifies, and new players on the scene in Caldwell create mortal danger for the Brotherhood, Qhuinn finally learns the true definition of courage, and two hearts who are meant to be together...finally become one."
You will enjoy this book if: You've become attached to the men of the Black Dagger Brotherhood and have been waiting 10 books for the steamy, unrequited love story of Blay and Qhuinn to have a satisfying payoff.
38. Beautiful Bastard by Christina Lauren
Choice descriptor: "An ambitious intern. A perfectionist executive. And a whole lot of name-calling."
You will enjoy this book if: You can't get enough of Fifty Shades Of Grey and Twilight fanfic. Yes, this too began as fan fiction originally titled The Office.
39. The Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day
Choice descriptor: "Gideon Cross came into my life like lightning in the darkness…The bonds of his love transformed me, even as I prayed that the torment of our pasts didn't tear us apart…"
You will enjoy this book if: You wish that Fifty Shades Of Grey were better-written, with more developed, empathetic characters and hotter sex scenes.
40. The Siren by Tiffany Reisz
Choice descriptor: "Notorious erotica author Nora Sutherlin thought she knew everything about being pushed to your limits until she began to work with demanding and controlling British editor Zachary Easton...In a world where passion is pain, nothing is ever that simple."
You will enjoy this book if: You're looking for a challenging, non-traditional love story that is intensely sexual and features an exploration of BDSM but also a very strong emotional component. To quote author Courtney Milan, "This is the kind of erotica that punches you in the stomach and then kisses you on the cheek."
You will enjoy all of the following if: You love witty repartee, intelligent women, roguish men, Jane Austen, Downton Abbey, and the inner-workings of the English class system.
41. Compromised by Kate Noble
Choice descriptor: "A delectable and delightful debut about a pair of mismatched lovers who unwillingly find themselves engaged in a most scandalous position"
42. Dreaming Of You by Lisa Kleypas
Choice descriptor: "When shy and secluded author Sara Fielding ventures from her country cottage to research a novel, she inadvertently witnesses a crime in progress—and manages to save the life of the most dangerous man in London."
43. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Choice descriptor: "Penelope Featherington has secretly adored her best friend's brother for...well, it feels like forever. After half a lifetime of watching Colin Bridgerton from afar, she thinks she knows everything about him, until she stumbles across his deepest secret...and fears she doesn't know him at all."
44. Follow My Lead by Kate Noble
Choice descriptor: "Being the most sought-after bachelor in London can be trying. Jason Cummings, Duke of Rayne, should know. But when he winds up an unwilling escort to the headstrong Winnifred Crane on a trip across Europe, he realizes he'll do anything to keep this independent beauty safe-even if it means marrying her."
45. The Rough Riders Series: Long Hard Ride by Lorelei James
Choice quote: "So, for some unknown reason, Trevor and Colby courted her shamelessly at every opportunity. Sometimes separately. Sometimes double-teaming her with hefty doses of good ol' boy charm. It made her wonder what it'd be like to have them double-teaming her in private. Whoo-ee. With as hard as they rode livestock? They'd probably break the damn bed frame. Or her."
You will enjoy this book if: You're as curious about this ubiquitous cowboy subgenre as you are aroused by a good menage. Channing is an educated woman from the East Coast who's run away from expectations and taken up with one rodeo cowboy. When she dumps him for being a married jerk, she agrees to travel with not one but three other rodeo stars.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story listed Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. After hearing feedback and consideration, we decided to remove it from the list.
This story originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.