Story of the Eye (1928)
A pair of teenagers explores their sexual perversions in a series of vignettes. Their exploration includes orgies, vague necrophilia, sticking soft-boiled eggs into various orifices, and exhibitionism. Not for the faint of heart or vagina.
Tropic of Cancer (1934)
First published in France, then later banned in the U.S. and finally declared not-obscene by the Supreme Court in the early ’60s, Miller’s erotic classic is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s sexual exploits in bohemian Paris. The narrator rendezvous with lots of prostitutes and other nameless women. The working title of Tropic of Cancer was “Crazy Cock,” which tells you pretty much everything you need to know.
The Story of O (1954)
If you want to read about female submission, Réage’s O makes Fifty Shades‘ Ana look like a Disney princess (more on them later). The masochistic acts O submits to are varied. Most notably she submits to an anus widening, so that her lover might penetrate her more easily.
Delta of Venus (1977)
This book was published after Nin’s death. It was mostly written in the 1940s, and its fantastical international tales of incestuous Hungarian adventurers, exotic Brazilian dancers, and dank Peruvian opium dens are still luscious and magical, and yes, transgressive, 70 years later.
Bad Behavior (1989)
I wouldn’t exactly classify Bad Behavior as erotica. It’s more literature with some extremely-well-written-yet-disturbing sexy bits. The short stories here deal with sexual humiliation, masochism, and the girlfriend experience—though they’re emotionally resonant first, erotic second.
Despentes, who has worked, variously, giving happy endings in massage joints, in a record store, and as a freelance porn critic, wrote Baise-Moi, which she later made into a film. It’s been described as a porny Thelma & Louise. Two young female friends go on a sex and murder spree. If you like your erotica ragey, this is the book for you.
The Sexual Life of Catherine M. (2002)
This is the female, totally autobiographical version of Tropic of Cancer. Millet describes her swinging Parisian sex life in incredibly graphic detail. Never have I read so many descriptions of the human penis in all its turgid glory! As Stephanie Zacharek put it in Salon: “To put it any other way would be coy: Millet likes to fuck.”
Lost Girls, Vols. 1-3 (2006)
If you’ve ever fantasized about fairy tale characters getting it on in every possible demented permutation, this series of graphic novels will delight you. It’s about the sexual awakenings of Alice (of Wonderland); Wendy (of Neverland), and Dorothy (of Oz). I won’t reveal too much except to say that beastiality is involved.
Slate‘s Troy Patterson called Wetlands “the two girls, one cup” of novels. Roche, a German television presenter, tells the story of Helen Memel, an 18-year-old obsessed with all of her body’s functions, both sexual and otherwise. If you’re turned off by extensive discussion of hemorrhoids, best to skip this one.
House of Holes (2011)
Baker’s novel is a rollicking, surrealist story about a fantasyland called the House of Holes, where all your erotic dreams can come true. People get to the House of Holes through golf holes and dryers at the Laundromat. Once there, they encounter pleasure-giving adult amusement park rides called “masturboats” and “groanrooms.” Who says erotica can’t be funny, too?
Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons)
If the idea of two nobles wreaking havoc with other people’s lives for sexy, sexy fun appeals to you, try this classic. The original fuccboi Vicomte de Valmont and his ex lover Marquise de Merteuil run rampant in this 18th century French novel, discussing their wicked plans gleefully in letters. If you still haven’t had enough, revisit Cruel Intentions—the 1999 teen film is loosely based on it.
If Lolita recounts the disturbing story of a man’s obsession with a young girl, The Lover is something like its opposite. In what was then called Indochina, a teenage girl wearing a threadbare dress, deep red lipstick, and gold lamé shoes meets a man 12 years her senior. She’s impoverished; he’s wealthy. It’s not an equal relationship, but it is one that sears the page, and memory.
Venus in Furs
The word “masochism” was coined thanks to this Austrian writer, and Venus in Furs is basically the ur-text for it. Our hero Severin von Kusiemski asks the formidable Wanda von Dunajew to “be cruel” to him. “I want to be maltreated and betrayed by the woman I love,” he says. Not for everyone, but catnip for some.
Call Me by Your Name
Destined for new interest thanks to a new film adaptation starring Armie Hammer, André Aciman’s coming-of-age novel is a tender portrayal of a summerlong passion on the Italian Riviera. 17-year-old Elio finds himself entranced by the American scholar visiting his parents, and a steep, almost obsessive desire follows.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
This might have been the one classic friends passed around at school, thanks to a passage of dialogue that uses a particularly naughty word (hint: rhymes with “punt”). Adolescent giggles aside, this novel is notable for how its female protagonist pursues her sexual wants after her husband returns from the war paralyzed from the waist down.