16 erotic books hotter and better than Fifty Shades of Grey

Looking for steamy scenes and excellent writing? Skip E.L. James’s sex-filled trilogy, and take these books to bed instead.

Though E.L. James’s erotic books about BDSM and sex continue to captivate the world, meriting a 2015 movie, a musical parody and the Marlon Wayans sarcastic send-up Fifty Shades of Black, we’re still not sure why. The book series itself is filled with awkward metaphors and unconvincing melodrama, and there are movies with more innovative and groundbreaking sex scenes—and real-life dominatrixes, of course. But sexy books can be smart, too, and these 16 deliciously naughty alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey are both better and riskier. You’ll be inspired to start planning a romantic night out yourself. 

Do you want more great stories about things to do, where to eat, what to watch, and where to party? Obviously you do, follow Time Out New York on Facebook for the good stuff.

RECOMMENDED: Our list of the 100 best movie sex scenes ever made

The 16 best erotic books

The intercontinental erotic romp

The intercontinental erotic romp

Beautiful Secret by Christina Lauren (2015)

“Christina Lauren” is the combined pen name of longtime writing partners Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, whose best-selling Beautiful series installments each center on an unlikely but kinetic couple—and each features a strong female lead. In this one, bright London-based engineer Ruby Miller is sent on an extended business trip to the Big Apple for work that’s up close and personal with a hunky—and recently divorced—urban planner, Niall Stella. The pair wind up blowing off steam in some intriguing ways.

Buy Beautiful Secret

The "horny" story collection

The "horny" story collection

Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer (2014)

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.

Buy Inside Madeleine

The novella

The novella

Women by Chloe Caldwell (2014)

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.

Buy Women

The examination of promiscuity

The examination of promiscuity

Little Cat by Tamara Faith Berger (2013)

This book combines two previously out-of-print novellas by Berger. In Lie With Me, a woman embarks on a sexual escapade, picking up random men in bars in a series of escalating encounters in the hopes of understanding the nature of love. In The Way of the Whore, protagonist Mira, a Jean Genet-obsessed introvert, unpredictably joins the sex industry in an effort to unravel her pattern of masochistic relationships.

Buy Little Cat

The modern Lolita

The modern Lolita

Tampa by Alissa Nutting (2013)

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.

Buy Tampa

The sexy story without any sex

The sexy story without any sex

The Virgins by Pamela Erens (2013)

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.

Buy The Virgins

The steamy anchor of a YA trilogy

The steamy anchor of a YA trilogy

Crash by Nicole Williams (2012)

Just as coloring books aimed at adults are now a thing (they’re stress-reducing!), so too is the widespread popularity of young-adult books (and not just among the 12-to-18 set they’re supposedly written for). In Crash, Williams introduces Lucy Larson, a high school senior and aspiring ballerina whose straight-and-narrow path is about to be majorly upset by local bad boy Jude Ryder. As rumors fly, things get complicated—and hot.

Buy Crash

The exploration of the pre-Tinder era

The exploration of the pre-Tinder era

The Sluts by Dennis Cooper (2005)

Released way back in 2005, author Dennis Cooper’s dark, disturbing and transgressive pretzel-plot novel brilliantly anticipates our contemporary milieu, where online dating and hookups are widely discussed and everyone’s a critic. Set largely on a message board where clients review their gay male escorts, the darkly comic tale turns thrilling—and ominous—as it explores whether one of the site’s star johns is in fact a serial killer.

Buy The Sluts

The Blue Is the Warmest Color of the 1960s

The Blue Is the Warmest Color of the 1960s

Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc (2000)

A provocateur admired by contemporaries including Albert Camus, Leduc has been called France’s greatest unknown writer. Her explicit tale of two boarding school girls in love, originally published in 1954, made waves for its frank depiction of female adolescent sexuality. The work still titillates, crackling with erotic energy.

Buy Thérèse and Isabelle

The mythological novels-in-verse

The mythological novels-in-verse

Autobiography of Red (1998) and Red Doc> (2013) 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>

Show more


Nina R

VE Campudoni's The Masked Emotions Series is one that deserves a spotlight. Highly erotic, wonderful character development, and very emotional. 

Carl S

The seven Scott Arlen novels are among the best erotic novels ever written. My favorites are: Greedy Polly, The Fastest Pants In The West, Everybody Loves A Eunuch, and Panting For Oscar. In addition to turning you on, they are hilarious.

Miranda D

Sounds like Blue is the Warmest Colour is the one I need to read next! I never personally made it through 50 shades - writing was not so great.  I recently also found a company that sells short erotic stories in a box with sex toys.  Very cool, and I love the connection between erotica and living it out! (www.novelerotics.com)...

William W

I just finished reading a great trilogy titled "All Your Buttons" by a new author Rene Bouche'. I think the story is far better than 50 Shades and the author has a very strong style of writing since all 3 books are written in the first person. I recommend the trilogy for those who enjoy this type of reading. Sorry almost forgot...  the website is buttonbooks.org  

John S

Blue is the warmest colour <3 <3 <3 Beautiful.

That said, as far as suggestions go, I've been following this series of late: 


So far, so good! Really funny, pretty accurate, and I'm itching to continue!

Sarah Grace F

Why are tbere NO comments about the books on this list? Every comment is a link to another link or yet another "author" hawking thst stuff they give  away on Amazon

Jane C

Try introducing Charlotte it's a great read one of my fav, a new author and she has been tweeting for America reviewers to do some reviews for her... @CharlotteHains

Read the reviews she has got they are all very good not one negative got to be worth a shot don't you think? Also available on Amazon.com Ty for reading

Carry M

I just read Conquest by Steam Bijou and it got me all hot and bothered: www.steambijou.com

Amy F

A classic - Story of O by Pauline Reage.

lynn l

@Amy F Absolute garbage. Glad the author is dead. Promotes the abuse of women unto death.

Sarah Grace F

@lynn L @Amy F That book sounded horrible, I haven't read it all, but IIRC  lots of rape by lots of men. I don't know what "Unto death" means off the top of my head, buf my opinion of that wretched book won't change. 

I was looking for something more recent to read, i'm not sure if the books sdded here are being "advertised" here or if they are being truly recommended. I welcome and appreciate recs!

Lena P

You guys need to add 'Food Porn: an erotic memoir' to your list! It's written by a Sydneysider and juxtaposes food and sex in a totally naughty way. It's hot!

Mary Leckie

I read 50 Shades of Gray and it was ok I guess. But yesterday I happened to come across a "free" short story compilation on Amazon called Just the Juicy Parts by H.M. Christi and it is so much better! You have got to check it out! This author is going to go some where, you can bet on that! She's amazing with words!

Sarah Grace F

@Mary Leckie Hiw funny that someone just pulled out the "juicy bits"!  I didn't get that far, it is so beyond badly written!  So definitely something with a real story, written well, would be fabulous.


@Sarah Grace F I've just published a book of 3 shortish erotic novels on Kindle if you'd be interested. I'm a professional editor so I think they're well written. Only condition is, if you LOOOOVE them, you have to leave a review - share the sex around, you know? Book is called 'Anden and Other Erotic Stories' and I am C J Smith. If you're looking for something you haven't seen before that's hetero, doesn't involve pain, blood or animals turning into people and vice versa, but plenty of good, steamy sex, this is the book for you. (Um ... it's also my first time publishing *blush**cross legs*). ;-)


Hi Yvonne See Erotic Helen by Dale Quentin on Amazon.....what a hot read, let me know your thoughts? Mic


Hello I've just finished reading " Erotic Helen" written by Dale Quentin, what prompted me to contact you was this book by-passes 50 Shades of Grey this book leaves it standing, believe you me, personally reckon it will be the next bestseller, it's in most bookstores, but you can have a brief look on Amazon. Merry Christmas from Paula x


Having recently read "Erotic Helen" by Dale Quentin found it extremely sexually exhilarating, could have been longer, but what a story?


Hello everyone, I am a big fan of erotica books and I have come across one on Amazon.com by a new unknown author that I found to be very steamy and exciting. If you like reading books by new upcoming authors and well-seasoned authors, take a look at Society of Secret Pleasures by Yevette. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat squirming.

Sarah Grace F

@Yvonne Hmm.  You wrote the book, didn't you? 

I give, this is indeed just a bunch of self-published junk, oui?

Dave Allan

See "Erotic Helen" on Amazon.....By Dale Quentin......Wow

D. Weston

Sometimes it amazes how media and marketing collide. Here it is I'm a real retired military policeman (U.S. Air Force - security police) with an erotic novel book called (Abducted...101) on Amazon Kindle, and I can't get many readers because it is just one of hundreds of thousands of books hidden in the haystack of Kindle...yet the minute the 'media' spreads the story J.K. is the author she gets a 500,000% increase in sales. Marketing is the real engine that drives sales, not claiming to be a Vet--otherwise, perhaps I'd have a few more readers. Just saying... Oh' well, it is still fun writing stories.

Kytherea Tahari

How about Laura Antoniou's Marketplace series... MUCH better and hotter than 50 Shades... although I did love the books... And OUTLANDER... well listen to me.. this is an AWESOME book and even better if you listen to the audiobook narrated by Davina Porter who brings all the characters to life. WARNING.. there are five books after this one and they are like smoking crack.... Don't say I didn't warn you!

Juliet F

@Kytherea Tahari  7 books after Outlander.....every one of them as enticing as the first


I've read four of these, and um, no, these are not erotica. They may be good books, but the author is missing the point.


hmm... i was looking for Anne Rice's Sleeping Beauty Trilogy but it's obviously not here. Great novels, as some of them I've already read, but oops, wrong list (or rather wrong list title).

Thomas S. Roche

This is an offensive and sex-negative list. I hope other professional erotic writers find it as insulting as I do. I and other writers like me have spent the last twenty years reinventing the erotica genre. Now Fifty Shades of Grey stumbles along into its ill-deserved limelight, and you trot out ten books that have nothing to do with erotica in...what? An attempt to make yourselves feel classier than the "mommies" consuming Fifty Shades of Grey? These may be great books (in the case of Broyard's memoir and Neruda's poetry, I know they are), and they may be highly significant in the history of sex writing (Vox, The Joy of Sex) but their treatment here shows that you haven't the foggiest idea what constitutes the genre of erotica. Fifty Shades of Grey is romantic, erotic entertainment intended to produce arousal. These are works of literature that concern themselves with sex -- or in the case of the inexplicably included of Comfort's book, a sex guide. These books CANNOT credibly be compared to Fifty Shades of Grey -- except by someone who hasn't the slightest knowledge of the genre. What's more, I submit that if you are trying to claim you use these books for the same thing most readers use Fifty Shades for, then, well, you're either lying or truly, truly weird. Next time, please do a little research before you place your ignorance on display. There are many books of erotica that ARE more erotic than Fifty Shades of Grey. But if you're the kind of juvenile who believes that "you don't so much read" the Joy of Sex as sneak peeks at the illustrations when you're twelve, then how would you know? Five minutes on Google or Amazon would tell a savvy buyer more about how to find quality erotica than this offensive, sex-negative, and brutally uninformed article.


@Thomas S. Roche

Dear Tom,

How do you know that the books mentioned by both the commentors and the authors of the article have not been read? Before you cast the first stone--ooh, that's hot --you might want to ascertain if these are real recommendations by folks who have already put their money where their mouth is. 

Sex and erotica is like almost anything else, Tommy. One woman's cigar is another woman's--well, never mind. I understand that zucchini is not only a vegetable, and in that case, The Joy of Cooking might be right up there. Or anything else. 

Light up a doobie, put on something silky,pour your favorite drink and chill, brother.