Fifty Sexy Literary Alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey

I hate to be anti-book—any book, really, even awful ones—but Fifty Shades of Grey barely qualifies as a book, and it’s utterly dreadful to think that a Twilight knockoff that started as Twilight fanfiction (!) is now sold in bulk across the world when there are so many good books out there—salacious, sexy, erotic books at that. But, like I said, I hate to knock on something when it’s more productive to offer an alternative. So: a list.

This list is subjective, occasionally weird, and hardly complete (feel free to point out what I’ve left off). I’ve only included works that I’ve read in part or in whole. I’m clearly aware that certain stuff like D.H. Lawrence, much of Updike, and infamous classics like Walter’s My Secret Life are not on here—if it’s not on here, I haven’t read any of it. I vouch for everything else.

  1. Song of Songs (Old Testament)
  2. Juliette, Marquis de Sade
  3. Justine, Marquis de Sade
  4. The 120 Days of Sodom, Marquis de Sade
  5. The Pearl, William Lazenby (ed.)
  6. The Story of O, Pauline Réage
  7. Delta of Venus,  Anaïs Nin
  8. Little Birds, Anaïs Nin
  9. Lost Girls, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
  10. The Soft Machine, William Burroughs
  11. Story of the Eye, Georges Bataille
  12. The Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway
  13. Ada, or Ador, Vladimir Nabokov
  14. Fanny Hill, John Cleland
  15. Poems of Sappho
  16. Crash, J.G. Ballard
  17. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  18. House of Holes, Nicolson Baker
  19. Blood and Guts in High School, Kathy Acker
  20. Satyricon, Petronius Arbiter
  21. “Penelope”/Molly’s monologue from Ulysses, James Joyce
  22. “Nausicaa” from Ulysses, James Joyce
  23. “Circe” from Ulysses, James Joyce
  24. Boccaccio’s Decameron
  25. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
  26. Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller
  27. Women, Charles Bukowski
  28. Poems of Catullus
  29. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare
  30. Kama Sutra
  31. Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
  32. The Ways, Caracci and Aretino
  33. Vox, Nicholson Baker
  34. Ars Amatoria, Ovid
  35. A Feast of Snakes, Harry Crews
  36. Casanova’s letters and memoirs 
  37. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
  38. Snow White, Donald Barthelme
  39. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  40. Briar Rose, Robert Coover
  41. Frisk, Dennis Cooper
  42. Song of Myself, Walt Whitman
  43. Hotel Iris, Yoko Ogawa
  44. “Wild nights! Wild nights!”, Emily Dickinson
  45. Various selections of Robert Crumb
  46. Dream Story, Arthur Schnitzler
  47. A few choice passages from Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives
  48. Venus in Furs,  Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
  49. The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
  50. “I started Early – Took my Dog -“, Emily Dickinson

18 thoughts on “Fifty Sexy Literary Alternatives to Fifty Shades of Grey”

  1. Oh honey, you are in for a treat: Josephine Hart’s Damage, The Clearest Day, and everything else by her.

    When 50 was MOTU and free I read it. It’s a sex manual disguised as a story with characters stolen from another story. Can’t understand why Stephenie Meyer’s lawyers haven’t busted her. 50 just changed the names. The fanatic fans of robsessed and robsten made it with thousands of reviews as explicit sex became a part of the fantasy of robsten. Stewart has just dissolved it and from comments it has dissolved for those reading 50. Horrible to think there are so many crazed women out there. It makes me see paganism in a new way. I plan to write about 50 from a sex addiction/sex slavery POV. Pimps now have an arsenal of psychological and physical technology now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Philip Roth – Sabbath’s Theater
    Péter Nádas – Parrallel Stories
    Samuel Delaney – Dhalgren

    Roth has written about sex extensively, but Sabbath’s Theater may well be his high point in literary fuckery. It is his filthiest book. Nádas’s Parallel Stories features graphic and frequent descriptions of his characters’ sex lives. (Occasionally leaving out intercourse/masturbation altogether and just painting vivid portraits of the states of their genitals.) Dhalgren is the only Delaney I’ve read—from what I gather, he’s written books that are straight—or, in his case, not so straight—up porn, but hey, in Dhalgren the myriad possibilites of fucking are explored via man, woman, and child. (And possibly beast, too, but it’s been a few years since I’ve read it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could never get past the one Roth book I read in high school and hated so much . . . but I also disliked Faulkner, who is now one of my heroes, so maybe I should give Roth a shot again.

      Speaking of Faulkner: possibly the unsexiest sex-descriptions in all of literature. Queasy.

      Thanks for adding to the list.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Two works that I’ve read that would probably fit in this list: “Myra Breckinridge” by Gore Vidal for its outrageousness; and “The Rebel Angels” by Robertson Davies, if only for one of its characters, Maria Theotoky, who belongs to my list of sexy literary characters. Both books involve some degree of sadomasochism, though S&M is only a very slight tangent to the plot of Davies’s book.

    While I was reading “Myra Breckinridge” I kept thinking to myself that she sounds incredibly like Camille Paglia, only to find out later on that Vidal himself has remarked that Paglia’s “Sexual Personae” “sounds like Myra Breckinridge on a roll.”


  4. This list is especially timely with the death of Gore Vidal. Guy wrote most of the great cinematic fuck fest “Caligula” which is basically a hard core porno disguised as high art and historical fiction. And it’s still better than “50 Shades of Gray” which I hadn’t even heard of until people were making jokes about it.


  5. Houellebecq is the best. The most honest.

    And the worst is Auster. Even his invalid senior citizen protags induce multiple orgasms in the female characters.


    1. I almost put Houellebecq on the list, but then hesitated . . . because for whatever reason, his depictions of sex aren’t so sexy to me. Again, a subjective list (I’m aware that I put stuff like Burroughs and Ballard on here, which for many people is queasy stomach-turning stuff).

      Agree with Auster, who I think is a lesser writer in general (DeLillo lite, maybe?).


  6. Bravo! I wanted to say thanks for including “I started Early – Took my Dog -” by Emily Dickinson. I think it’s one of the sexiest things ever written. That is all!


  7. Thank you for these reading suggestions (Ulysses has been lying unread in my cupboard for quite some time now)! Even though I am not a Christian, I like Song of Songs, especially in the sexy – to me – Vulgate Latin.


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