5 of the Best Literary Sex Scenes

There are two main types of sex scenes in fiction — the smutty, Literotica kind and the true-to-life, if slightly embellished, good stuff. Literary sex scenes a la Fifty Shades of Grey aren’t remotely new. James Joyce’s letters to his wife, for example, packed some fire to shelves in 1909 with classy dirty language and “titillating fixations.”

Yet, authors walk a much finer line between tacky and truly great sex scenes. Groan-worthy sex scenes aren’t hard to find. With that in mind, we rounded up the top 5 literary sex scenes for your reading pleasure courtesy of John Fox, PanMacmillan, and Cosmopolitan.

(Note: We stuck strictly to the literature on this list, straying from your typical erotica. Otherwise, we’d be here all night.)

1. On a Saturday Afternoon, Aimee Bender

On a Saturday Afternoon follows a young, heartbroken woman on the rebound. She decides to enlist her two male friends as sexual partners who will help her fulfill some of her deepest fantasies. We’re intrigued.

Their hands grip the carpet hairs. Look at the initial swell of a bicep, that bump after the dip of the inner elbow.

When they switch, they’re laughing now. Everyone’s drunk. No one has come yet. They kiss in between switching, and their hands move all over, into inner thigh, rounded curve of the ass, sweaty necks. I feel the tide fading from my feet. They look up ? come with us, come join us, they say, but I’m over here, I say, for today ? and they are at once disappointed and also we all know the rhythm has been set as is. Tight calves and legs lifting. Brown curls and blond knees. When they’re kissing again, I could stare for hours. Men love to watch two women kiss, but how I love to watch two men. So clear in their focus. The amazing space created for me when there is nothing demanded or seen.?


2. Vox, Nicholson Baker (1992)

Nicholson Baker’s a great writer. With a cover page pull quote like “pure seam-up-the-stocking sexiness,” Vox is bound to be good. It’s executed with the fervent desire of a passionate sexcapade. (Take a shot every time the word “lick” pops up.)

… I run my fingers just down the long place where the insides of your thighs touch, all the way to your knees, and then I’d let go of your legs, and they’d fall slightly apart, and as my hands started to move up inside them, w ith my fingers splayed wide, they’d move farther and farther apart, and then I’d lift your knees and hook them over the arms of the armchair, so that you were wide open for me, and in the darkness your bush would still be indistinct, and I’d look up at you, and I’d move on my knees so I’m closer, so I could slide my c*ck in you if I wanted, and I touch your shoulders with my hands, and pass my fingertips all the way down over your breasts and over your stomach and just lightly over your bush, just to feel the hair, and then I say, ‘I’m going to lick you now,’ and I lick both your nipples once very briefly good-bye, and I breathe my way down, and I pass over your bush this time with my mouth, and I see where the tan stops, and where the hair begins, and I keep going, and your legs are spread wide, and so I kiss inside one knee, and then across to the other, and up, back and forth, and at the end of each kiss I give a little upward lick with my tongue, up lick, lick, lick, back and forth, moving closer and closer to where your thighs meet.

3. Bleeding EdgeThomas Pynchon

This one’s a more realistic, true-to-life depiction of BDSM. Check it out:

Inside the apartment, Windust doesn’t waste time. “Get down on the floor.” Seems to be in a sort of erotic snit. She gives him a look.


Shouldn’t she be saying, “You know what, fuck yourself, you’ll have more fun,” and walking out? No, instead, instant docility—she slides to her knees. Quickly, without further discussion, not that some bed would have been a better choice, she has joined months of unvacuumed debris on the rug, face on the floor, ass in the air, skirt pushed up, Windust’s not-exactly-manicured nails ripping methodically at sheer taupe pantyhose it took her easily twenty minutes in Saks not so long ago to decide on, and his cock is inside her with so little inconvenience that she must have been wet without knowing it.

4. A House Like a Lotus, Madeleine L’Engle (1984)

It’s important to note that A House Like A Lotus is a young adult novel. The scene where the protagonist Polly loses her virginity to a med school intern, however, is sweet, moving, and, most importantly, consensual.

He was slow, rhythmic, gentle, moving down my body, down …

and I was nothing but my body

there was a sharp brief pain


and then a sweet spasm went through me

and I seemed to rise into the air

no more pain

just the sweetness

the incredible

oh, the

and then Renny, panting

I pressed him hard against me.

5. Spartina, John Casey

This excerpt from John Casey’s Spartina is a little strange, granted, but some of the best sex is strange, man.

He turned his head so his cheek was flat against her. He could feel her muscles moving softly — her coming was more in her mind still; when she got closer she would become a single band of muscle, like a fish — all of her would move at once, flickering and curving, unified from jaw to tail.


His mind was half in hers. He felt her still loose-jointed drift — only an occasional little coil in the current tugging at her harder, moving her toward the flood.

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