As someone who grew up on the Twilight saga and its smuttier cousin, 50 Shades of Grey, witnessing the sexual revolution of the horny heroine has been nothing short of refreshing. In a world where folks are waiting with bated breath for queen of consensual smut, Irish writer Sally Rooney, to release her latest sexy novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You (which is now on bookstands), it makes us think about how far we've come to reach the age of Rooney. The age where sex, in novels, is awkward, real, beautiful, confusing, and sometimes gross.
Through a realistic lens, Rooney managed to coax spanning generations to unlearn their idea around "sexy" sex, to embrace the messiness that is inherently tied to the act, and in turn, left us all with the collective horn for novels that peel back the layers of fantasy - if just for a moment - to connect us back to the real side of sex while remaining infused with romance.
Writing about sex is hardly a modern phenomenon though, and while we'll credit Rooney for helping get the proverbial ball rolling, there is plenty to explore in the realm of smut pre-and-post the budding Irish writer. Below, is a round up of 10 of our favourite sexy novels that explore sex in varied and poignant ways throughout literary history.
Luster, Raven Leilani
Raven Leilani's triumphant debut follows Edie, an impulsive, sharp, and complicated woman in her twenties who enters into a messy relationship with a married man from New Jersey who is road-testing an open marriage. Biting distinctiveness is intercepted with Edie's impulsive actions, and uninhibited sex is the result. You'll find Leilani's words staying with you for months.
Nothing But My Body, Tilly Lawless
Not a romance novel, but one that explores sex in myriad of ways nonetheless, and acts as a love letter to friendship. Written from a semi non-fictional lens, Tilly Lawless traverses the boundaries between sex in her personal life and sex in her professional life and advances our access to texts that explore themes of queer sex, sex work, and platonic intimacy.
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
Hailed the period drama that walked so that Normal People could run, The Age of Innocence touches on morality, strict social codes and unlawful affairs when a man in the upper-echelon of society falls in love with a disgraced woman as he is engaged to another woman. Drama, lust, longing and love all under each other's petticoats!
Sula, Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison's 1973 novel tells the story of two childhood friends, Sula and Nel, whose friendship and bond evolves and is challenged over the years of their adolescence into adulthood. Sexuality, friendship, and morality are bound up together in this coming-of-age masterpiece that doesn't shy away from some of the most lyrical sexual excerpts of the era.
Enigma Variations, Andre Aciman
The story of the great loves of a man named Paul. In the beginning, a crush on his parents cabinetmaker as a young boy, set against the backdrop of Southern Italy, then, an enduring desire for a woman he will never quite be able to shake, intercepted with love of the burning desire kind of breed that blooms on the Central Park Tennis courts. As we know from Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman writes about love and desire in ways that makes you feel as though you've never experienced either, with words that will follow you indefinitely.
Kink, edited by R.O Kwon and Garth Greenwell
A collection of short stories that explore the realm of kink and the triumphs and pitfalls that come with it. Writing heavyweights like Roxane Gay and Brandon Taylor unpack themes of pleasure, pain, tension, and everything in the middle from a raw and unashamed viewpoint.
Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin
A classic in queer literature, Literary hero James Baldwin writes about the story of an American expat in 1950's Paris whose confounded sexual identity leads him on a path of love, passion, identity in desperate account of two queer men struggling with their sexuality within their society. Heartbreaking and stunningly articulated, Baldwin retraces the missteps that lead a fervent love away from the promise of happiness towards devastation.
Delta Of Venus, Anaïs Nin
The original queen of the horn. An anthology of 15 short, smutty stories that threw down the gauntlet for female writers everywhere, fearlessly traversing a male dominated terrain and offering up a collection of impassioned stories so visceral, that she created her own 'language of the senses'. If you're curious to know who paved the way for Rooney, Nin threw the first brick.
My Education, Susan Choi
What sounds on the surface like another horny novel about an affair between a college professor and a student, quickly morphs into the queer fantasy we've all actually wanted to read when the protagonist enters into a sexual relationship with her professors volatile - and exceedingly beautiful - wife. Wanting, yearning, and a chasm of desire that can never be filled are bound up with the protagonists catastrophic misadventures.
Insatiable, Daisy Buchanan
For those who want to cut to the chase and sink their teeth into a modern bonkbuster, Daisy Buchanan delivers with Insatiable. A salacious account of a young woman who becomes entangled with a high-flying married couple, and a poignant take on female desire in the modern age.