There is more to erotica than just sex. Often dismissed as simple pornography designed to titillate, erotica usually has a story where sex is one of the themes. Many writers have used erotica to explore the nuances of sex and relationships, love and lust, and even feminism. In this list, you’ll find erotica written as early as mid-18th Century, books which were banned for their ‘obscene’ nature as well as books which changed the conversation around sex. 


Delta Of Venus

Anaïs Nin

Delta Of Venus was originally written in the 1940s as erotica for a private collector but published after Nin’s death in 1977. It is a collection of 15 stories through which Nin expertly displays the difference in male and female sexuality. In The Veiled Woman, a woman picks up strangers at a chic restaurant for private trysts while in The Hungarian Adventurer, a man seduces wealthy women before disappearing with their money. Through this book, Nin demonstrates her mastery as a storyteller.

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Fear Of Flying

Erica Jong

In 1973, Erica Jong wrote a controversial and seminal novel with an uninhibited look at female sexuality. The story is narrated from the point of view of Isadora Wing, a 29-year-old erotic poet who decides to indulge in her sexual fantasies with another man, while on a trip to Vienna with her second husband. Along the way, Wing realises the importance of autonomy over her body and explores the nature of the “zipless fuck”. According to Jong, a zipless fuck is one where two people have sex for pleasure without any form of commitment or emotional involvement.

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Tropic Of Cancer

Henry Miller

First published in 1934 in Paris, Tropic of Cancer remained banned in the U.S. till 1961 as it was considered obscene. Part memoir and part fiction, the book chronicles the sexual adventures of a young expat writer, his friends, and the people he meets in Paris in the 1930s. Today, Tropic Of Cancer features on several lists as a must-read book along with Tropic Of Capricorn, which is a prequel of sorts chronicling Miller’s adventures in 1920s New York City. 

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Fanny Hill: Or Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure

John Cleland

Published in 1748, Fanny Hill is considered the first “pornographic” novel and is possibly one of the most prosecuted and banned books in history. It is an epistolary novel consisting of two long letters where Fanny Hill recounts her early life, from the age of 14 to when she marries her loving husband at 19. Writing with whimsy and wit, Hill shares her sexual adventures and her exploration of sex for the sake of pleasure. Fanny Hill broke the mould of 18th-Century literature by featuring a woman who unashamedly engages in sexual acts.

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The Story Of O

“Pauline Réage”

If you found Fifty Shades Of Grey disturbing, you should skip this one. Originally published in French in 1954, The Story Of O was originally written by Anne Desclos as a series of love letters to her lover. Published under the nom-de-plume Pauline Réage, it won the Prix des Deux Magots in 1955. Despite that, the French authorities tried to bring obscenity charge against the publisher but failed to do so. The novel deals with the theme of female submission and how far a woman is willing to go for love. Featuring BDSM themes, and very rough sex,  this book is not for the faint-hearted.

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A Handbook For My Lover

Rosalyn D’Mello

An erotic memoir, A Handbook For My Lover is written as an instructive manual and chronicles a six-year relationship between the author and her older lover, a photographer. While the book has its erotic elements, it is more than that- it is a reflection on the nature of a relationship between lovers and the ensuing complications. This book will also make you wonder how it can often be difficult to hold on to feminist ideals while in the throes of a relationship, especially an unconventional one.

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The Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica

Amrita Narayanan (ed.)

This anthology of erotica traces India’s erotic tradition over the last 3,000 years. Besides consisting of extracts from obvious books like the Kama Sutra, it also features extracts from the Rig Veda and Upanishads, the work of Tamil Sangam poets, Bhakti poets, and out-of-print short stories by Kamala Das, as well as the work of contemporary writers like Mridula Garg, Tarun Tejpal and Sudhir Kakar. This book explores every aspect of erotic love and is divided into sections like “Why Bother With Sex”, “Ennui In Marriage” and “Anger, Punishment and Make Up.”

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The Pleasure Principle – The Amaryllis Book of Erotic Stories

G. Sampath (ed.)

Edited by G. Sampath, The Pleasure Principle is a collection of 15 erotic stories written by some of the best contemporary authors. While Taslima Nasrin talks about what happens when online lust is taken offline, Meena Kandasamy weaves a fascinating tale about the sex tapes of our gods and Jaishree Misra explores the yearnings of an elderly widower. However, this collection is more than just erotica- it is also about how eroticism is perceived by different people at different stages of their lives.

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The Proof Of The Honey

Salwa al-Neimi

The Proof Of The Honey is written as a collection of personal essays by an anonymous Syrian woman living in Paris. When she is invited to contribute to a conference on classic erotic literature in Arabic, she reminisces about her own sexuality. Through these essays, the narrator discusses her thoughts on love and lust, on her sexual fantasies and exploits, and on the suppression of female sexuality in the Arab world. We also get a delightful glimpse of the history of Arabic literature.

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John Berger

1972 Booker Prize winner, G. is set during the early years of the 20th century against the backdrop of Garibaldi and the failed revolution of Milanese workers in 1898, the Boer War, and the first flight across the Alps. G. is a young man whose sexual initiation began at an early age and he ends up becoming a womaniser. Over the course of this novel, “Berger explores the hearts and minds of both men and woman, and what happens during sex”, to reveal what makes G. so successful at capturing women’s hearts. This is a postmodern rendering of Don Juan with an unconventional structure told from the perspective of the women involved.

Buy it here.