When Fifty Shades of Grey burst onto worldwide bestseller lists in 2012, it made erotica a household word—but there’s a lot more to the racy genre than Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele (and who could forget Fabio!?). Not only can naughty books entertain and arouse you, they just might do your relationship a world of good.
Author and relationship coach Krista Haapala has recommended erotica to her clients, who mainly come to her seeking coaching in improving their relationship skills and having more fulfilling sex. “Erotica can be useful for entertainment, stoking desire, and introducing clients to a broader range of the continuum of sexual pleasures,” says Haapala. “Often, well-written erotica is an entrée into discussion about sex and sexuality; it's the catalyst lovers can use to start the conversation.” This can lead to what Haapala calls "shared erotic language," meaning “the words that resonate in the sexiest way for each lover.” They can then use those words to more clearly communicate with each other about what they truly want.
Haapala also sees written erotica as a wonderful step for those who may not be quite ready to spend their Saturday night watching an X-rated movie together. “Watching porn or erotic films together can be too much stimulation to meaningfully process without practice,” she explains. “While it can be useful, it often overshoots the mark for those looking to just get a conversation started. Erotica can be an elegant way to ease into a meaningful discussion. Lovers can exchange passages, highlight what turns them on, and take things at their own pace.” She advises couples to get started by browsing titles online or in a local erotic boutique. Even starting that discussion, whether you’re giggling over book covers or your heart starts pounding over a particularly sexy scenario, can be the perfect icebreaker for a couple who’s never tried reading such risqué words to each other.
Anne Mauro, a licensed couples and family therapist associate and clinical sexologist, says that two of the biggest reasons couples come to her are mismatched levels of desire, and when one person is vanilla (non-kinky) and the other is kinky (into BDSM). Erotica can help these individuals articulate their desires—both to themselves, and to their partner(s). “With the vanilla/kinky couples, I’ve seen the vanilla partner have an ‘aha’ moment when they finally get the gist of what their partner had been trying to explain to them but could not,” says Mauro.
She sometimes suggests clients write their own erotic stories, which you can try yourself as fiction or in the form of a love letter. Even if you never actually show it to your partner, the act of writing things down can help you tap into your fantasies, without the pressure of coming up with a dirty-talk scenario on the spot in the bedroom. Plus, there’s a freedom to reading erotica—you get to visualize the action in your mind, rather than having it all laid out in front of you. Maybe you’re reading about a man and a woman having wild hotel sex—but in your mind, you’re the guy.
Erotica isn’t only for couples who are having problems, but for anyone looking for new ideas to try in the bedroom or new ways to become aroused. When I attended a luncheon where Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James was speaking, I met many women who said simply dipping a toe into the waters of erotica by reading made their love lives better—they were more aroused and open to trying new things in bed, and their partners knew it. Plus, there’s as much variety in erotica as there is in personalities, so you can find the type that’s right for you, whether that’s dinosaur erotica, spanking erotica, couple’s erotica, or anything else.
Here are some suggestions for erotica and erotic romance titles to help get you started; many erotic books are available in print, ebook or audiobook form. For free erotica you can listen to with your partner, check out The Kiss Me Quick’s Podcast.
If Mom’s Happy: Stories of Erotic Mothers edited by Brandy Fox
Morning, Noon and Night: Erotica for Couples edited by Alison Tyler
For The Love of a Soldier: Military Erotic Romance edited by Kristina Wright
S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline
A Gentleman in the Street by Alisha Rai
Rachel Kramer Bussel is a writer, editor, and event organizer. Her 60+ anthologies include the Best Women’s Erotica of the Year series. She tweets @raquelita.