Written by Flannery Dean
Smart erotica that accurately portrays women’s sexual fantasies is scarce. That may be because there’s no one-size-fits-all pattern for female desire. Keeping this in mind, here are five of the better-written options.
The Story of O, by Pauline Reage (1954)
Nearly 60 years before Fifty Shades of Grey made S&M mainstream, there was The Story of O by Pauline Reage (the pseudonym of French intellectual Dominique Aury).
O is a Paris-based fashion photographer who (happily) dons the literal chains of a submissive and endures all kinds of sadomasochistic abuse (riding crops, whips, etc.) out of love for her boyfriend. Though there are occasional mentions of O doing things like working and eating, Reage doesn’t waste time with reality. The book is one long S&M fantasy.
If the idea of being literally branded by a diffident lover/master quickens your pulse (rather than, say, triggering your gag reflex) then The Story of O is a must-read. If you consider pleasure and pain to be incongruous bedfellows, skip ahead to S.E.C.R.E.T.
Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong (1973)
Fear of Flying was a sensation when it was published in 1973, making its then 30-year-old author Erica Jong an instant star. The novel centres on Isadora Zelda White Stollerman Wing, a poet with a seemingly loving husband, who is nevertheless “itchy” for anonymous, mind-blowing sex.
Isadora calls this fantasy the ‘zipless fuck,’ which is code for the kind of dream encounter where your clothes and sexual inhibitions fall away as smoothly as a Japanese knife slices through a ripe melon.
You won’t find yourself dog-earing the sexy bits in Jong’s blockbuster—because there aren’t any, really. The lover she takes has performance issues, and she does more fantasizing about it than doing it. In the end it’s Isadora’s quest that’s enduringly erotic. You’ll find yourself returning to the idea of the zipless fuck and wondering, ah, if only…
The Sexual Life of Catherine M, by Catherine Millet (2001)
Erica Jong’s protagonist wanted to live a life of sexual freedom and abandon. French intellectual Catherine Millet lived that dream. Boy, did she ever.
In her 2001 memoir, Millet casually documents her hedonistic youth and adulthood for the reader, a span of years in which she made love randomly, lustily, even recklessly with so many people that she’s lost count.
One early reviewer summed up the appeal of Millet’s memoir simply: No woman has ever written a book like this. A sort of female Don Juan, minus all that icky poetic posturing, Millet’s carpe diem approach to sex offers an arousing escape for women who can count their partners on one hand.
S.E.C.R.E.T, by L. Marie Adeline (2013)
Fun, flirty and utterly implausible, S.E.C.R.E.T, written by Canadian author Lisa Gabriel using the pseudonym L. Marie Adeline, is the kind of book you devour in an hour, but digest slowly. Cassie, the novel’s protagonist, is 35, lonely, overworked and undersexed. But then she’s invited to join a secret society whose mandate is to liberate women sexually, through the completion of nine custom-fit sexual fantasies that get played out in real life and with real-life himbos who know how to make a woman go B.A.N.A.N.A.S.
I know what you’re thinking: Where do I sign up?
Alas, it’s all just fantasy. But fantasy wedded to a few interesting twists on the hot ’n’ heavy genre. Unlike some erotic heroines, Cassie doesn’t want to be tied up or tied down by a man. She just wants to have hawt sex. Her desire to experience sexual satisfaction on an even keel with her partner(s) arguably makes her one of the most grown-up heroines of the genre.
Vox, by Nicholson Baker (1993)
American author Nicholson Baker established himself as a literary smut-master with his 1993 novel, Vox. It’s one long chat between two adults on a 1-900 line. Jim and Abby talk about a lot of things during their epic phone call, and they also swap peculiar, elaborate and highly detailed sexual fantasies. In the end they collaborate, creating a joint fantasy where the convo becomes full-on phone sex.
The fantasies aren’t always dirty; some are borderline romantic, dreamy even. It’s a curiously compelling read that feels obscenely intimate—to paraphrase Jim, you’re not hearing Vox, you’re overhearing it.
The literary equivalent of a peephole, Vox broadens, or, depending on your view, narrows the definition of eroticism—it isn’t universal; it’s individual.
A reader cared to remind us at Flare has LGBT readers too, and duh! How silly of us to not include some erotic lit for the ladies who love ladies. We called up our good friends at Good for Her on Harbord Street in Toronto – they have a robust library of books on all kinds of topics – and got the scoop on best erotic literature in these genres:
Butch Femme Erotica
Sometimes She Lets Me edited by Tristan Taormino
The Harder She Comes edited by D.L. King
Twice the Pleasure edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Say Please edited by Sinclair Smith
And, a very popular last pick:
Best Lesbian Erotica edited by Kathleen Warnock