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Erotic Literature

Erotic literature refers to accounts of passionate and sexual relationships. These could be fiction or non-fiction. 

An author might choose to write about sexuality to explore the changes in a couples’ relationship, arouse the same feelings in the reader, create satire, or even social criticism. Many examples of erotic literature have been banned throughout history. But, the genre perseveres as more writers find themselves drawn to the specific genre, and it continues to have a wide readership.

The first recorded erotic poem dates back to Istanbul in 2461. It was written in the guise of a female speaker and directed to the king. There are examples throughout history, such as in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Greece and Roman. For instance, from poets like Sappho, Ovid, Catullus, and more. In the 17th and 18th centuries, authors like John Wilmot were well-known and often looked down on for their erotic verse. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was far more common to find examples of erotic poetry in the notebooks of poets and novelists. 

Authors like D.H. Lawrence, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and more were known to write erotic verse and sexual love poems. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was regarded as overtly erotic at the time it was published, leading it to be banned in some instances (and it is still banned in some schools to this day). 

Erotic Literature definition and examples

Erotic Literature Definition

Erotic literature is a genre of writing that focuses on sexual and romantic relationships. Writers in this genre attempt to make their depictions of sex realistic enough to arouse the same sexual feelings in the reader.

Erotic literature is not the same thing as erotica. The latter is entirely focused on sex, while the former is more nuanced. It will spend more time on romantic relationships and their development.

Examples of Erotic Literature

The Mysteries of Verbena House by Etonensis 

The Mysteries of Verbena House, which is also known by the full title: The Mysteries of Verbena House; or Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving, was truly written by George Augustus Sala, who, well-aware of the scandalous nature of his novel, wrote under the pseudonym “Etonensis.” The book was published in 1882, with only 150 copies printed.

It is set in a girl’s school and focuses on the flogging of the young girls and the excitement of the headmistress who eventually sleeps with a clergyman. The book has been regarded as highly entertaining. It can be found categorized under the genres of erotica and pornographic novel as well. 

Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue by The Marquis de Sade 

The Marquis de Sade is a famed author of erotic literature who wrote in French in the 18th century. This novel is set before the French Revolution and tells the story of a young girl, as do many erotic novels. She spends the novel explaining her history and how she ended up where she is today. Here is a quote: 

I am a libertine, but I am not a criminal nor a murderer, and since I am compelled to set my apology alongside my vindication, I shall therefore say that it might well be possible that those who condemn me as unjustly as I have been might themselves be unable to offset the infamies by good works as clearly established as those I can contrast to my errors […] 

The novel has since been adapted in films and used as inspiration for another story, this is despite the Marquis’ controversial legacy.

Ars Amatoria by Ovid

This well-known series of elegies, translated to “The Art of Love,” was published in three books. The collection was written in 2 A.D. by Ovid. The first book was written with the intention of exploring a man’s pursuit of a female partner. It included instructions on what this was going to take. The second book moves the relationship forward, instructing the man in how to keep the woman. The final book is directed at women, informing them on how to keep a man’s love. Examples of advice that Ovid gave in these books include: 

  • Letting the other person miss you but not for too long. 
  • Not forgetting important occasions. 
  • Trying lovers of various ages. 

The various topics that Ovid touches on are intentionally entertaining, scholars believe. The three books are sometimes sexual in nature but never explicitly pornographic. For example, at the end of the third book, he discusses sexual positions that women might choose from. They should, he notes, take their body shapes into consideration. Here is a quote from the books:

Let your mistress’s birthday be one of great terror to you:

that’s a black day when anything has to be given.

However much you avoid it, she’ll still win: it’s

a woman’s skill, to strip wealth from an ardent lover.

A loose-robed pedlar comes to your lady: she likes to buy:

and explains his prices while you’re sitting there.


Why do authors write erotic literature? 

Authors write erotic literature to entertain. It is written for the same reason as almost every other genre, to please a specific readership. Men and women from countries all over the world and throughout time have been drawn to the genre of erotic literature. As long as readers are interested, writers are going to pen erotic fiction.

What are the characteristics of erotic literature?

Characteristics of this genre include the discussion of sex, the desire to arouse the reader, an explanation of passionate relationships, and more. The genre can include novels, essays, prose poems, elegies, or any other form an author is interested in.

What are the best erotic novels of all time? 

They include: What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell, Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth, the works of The Marquis de Sade, and Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson. There are many more contemporary and historical examples. 

  • Chick Lit: a genre of literature that focuses on female protagonists. These stories are usually targeted at younger women and are described as “popular fiction.”
  • Romance:  a narrative genre of literature. It can feature elements that include mystery, adventure, bravery, and more.
  • Fantasy:  a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.
  • Historical Fiction: a genre that fictionalizes real places, people, and events. It takes place in the past with accurate historical details in regard to customs, technologies, people, and events.

Other Resources 

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