before fifty shades of grey: top 5 erotic novels

In celebration of the recently released Fifty Shades of Grey film trailer, we have delved into the erotica archives to uncover the classics that paved the way for this pop culture hit. While Fifty Shades was certainly the first mainstream, mass-consumed, widely adored novel of its genre, here we list some of the other great erotic reads you should have on your bookshelf.

1. Delta of Venus, Anais Nin (1977)

This collection of erotic short stories was written in the 1940s for a private collector, but not published until after Nin’s death. The tales cover a rainbow of sexual expressions and fantasies, across a range of nations and experiences. Nin also managed to address explicit sexual scenarios in language that she considered friendly to both male and female readers, and low and high art forms.

2. The Story of O, Pauline Reague, aka Anne Desclos (1954)

This novel makes the S&M of Fifty Shades look almost embarrassingly soft core. The Story of O was written as a series of letters to the author’s lover, who originally told her that a woman could not write erotica. It tells the tale of a young fashion photographer, who is trained to submit to the sadistic whims of her master.

3. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong (1973)

Jong’s novel was extremely controversial for its portrayal of female sexuality, and thus became a great influence on second-wave feminism. It follows a woman on a trip to Vienna with her husband, where she indulges her sexual fantasies with another man.

4. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller (1934)

This controversial, semi-autobiographical classic was initially banned in America for nearly 30 years since it was first published in France. The book tells of Miller’s numerous sexual exploits in bohemian Paris. Fun fact: Anais Nin helped edit the book.

5. The Sexual Life of Catherine M, Catherine Millet (2002)

Some call it the female, totally autobiographical version of Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Set in Paris and translated from French, Millet’s memoir offers us insight into her wild sex life, taking us to peep shows, orgies and beyond. Unlike the other novels on this list, Catherine M is a more modern protagonist who simply enjoys having sex with multiple partners.

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