Though E.L. James’s story of BDSM continues to captivate the world (there’s even a Fifty Shades of Fitness workout), we’re still not sure why. There are movies with more innovative and groundbreaking movie sex scenes, and the book series itself is filled with awkward metaphors and unconvincing melodrama. But sexy books can be smart too—and these 10 deliciously naughty alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey are riskier and, simply, better.
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The one that won over Clinton
Vox by Nicholson Baker
Need a little sexting inspiration? Look no further than the book Monica Lewinsky famously gifted to President Clinton. This instant classic of eroticism contains only two characters, who spend the book’s pages describing their sexual fantasies to each other.
Women by Chloe Caldwell
Nothing’s sexier than first love and first intimacies, and Caldwell’s brave autobiographical tale twists the trope into a powerful story about unexpectedly falling in love with a woman and the discoveries, sexual and otherwise, that ensue.
The mythological novels-in-verse
Autobiography of Red and Red Doc> by Anne Carson
Carson, one of the most inventive poets writing today, transforms the Greek myth of Geryon—a red, winged creature slain by Heracles—into two erotically charged books about these notorious characters finding great passion in each other.
Buy Autobiography of Red and Red Doc>
The modern Lolita
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Okay, Nutting’s controversial book is, in fact, about a teacher seducing a young student. But what’s so engaging about Tampa isn’t this scandal: It’s how, with keen details, the author portrays the intensity of obsession from a female perspective, a brilliant twist on Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert.
The poetry collection to read aloud
The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
The French poet’s volume of verse shocked the 19th-century world with its modernity and undisguised sensual imagery. But one century’s banned book is another century’s nighttime indulgence; as Baudelaire wrote, “Nothing equals the abyss of your bed.”
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The sexy story without any sex
The Virgins by Pamela Erens
As in many budding relationships, the best part of Erens’s recent novel is simply the suggestion of sex. In The Virgins, we join the author’s two college characters for their early explorations of one another and watch them through the voyeuristic perspective of another student.
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The "horny" story collection
Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer
Horny is just one of the words used to summarize Bomer’s stories—honest, fearless and sweaty also appear in descriptions. From sexual kink to the power of menstruation, the author delves deeply into the human body and all the pleasures and pains it holds.
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The picture book
The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort, M.B., Ph.D.
No, we don’t expect you to read the words—the graphic illustrations prove evocative enough and are the prime reason this timeless guide has sold over 12 million copies.
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The science-fiction romance-turned-television hit
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Sure, the TV show has Scottish accents and men in kilts, but Gabaldon’s cult novel has been winning fans for more than 20 years with its decadent, time-hopping story of a woman torn between desire for two men—one in 1945 and the other in 1743.
The tried-and-true classic
Delta of Venus by Anais Nin
In short, Nin paved the way for all the erotica that followed in her influential wake. Her enduring set of lurid and gaspworthy stories is basically guaranteed to seduce anyone. Use this power wisely.
Buy Delta of Venus