We’d never be caught dead reading Fifty Shades of Grey — let alone well-written erotica — in public. There’s just something unseemly about it, like PDA with too much tongue. But there are plenty of books that can satisfy your craving for smut while making you appear erudite to your neighbors on the beach or the subway.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
The original edition of the book, published in France in 1934, was banned here in the U.S. for its sexual explicitness. Not until 1961 did we get a U.S. version — and that led to obscenity trials going all the way to the Supreme Court, which declared it non-obscene in 1964, a whopping thirty years after its publication. Be warned: it will probably offend your modern sensibilities with its misogyny. (And if it doesn’t, then there’s probably something wrong with you.)
Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
For a more female-positive sex book from the same era, check out this 1928 classic, which was also banned for a time. It elevates sex as something sacred and soul-saving. If Lawrence were alive today, he’d totally be into Tantra.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Some people have called this 1955 classic an “erotic novel.” But don’t get too excited. It’s dirty in what it doesn’t show. Its rightness is in its darkly funny wrongness. This is, after all, at its most basic, the story of a hebephile. One you’ll love to hate.
Collected Poems 1947-1997 by Allen Ginsberg
Ginsberg’s openness about his homosexuality didn’t just make him controversial, it made him politically significant during the second half of the 20th century. Just go straight to “Please Master” to see just how open he could be. It’s an ode to BDSM that proves the dirtiest sex requires love.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Promiscuity, sexual manipulation, adultery, public sex, deflowerings, and, of course, rimming. And this collection of stories was a 14th century bestseller! Do yourself a favor and get a version written in modern English (otherwise, some of the tasteless dirty jokes might get lost in the Middle English).