You’ve got to hand it to the French. They have a way of making things sexy. From their language, accent, to their way of life, they do things more sensually than others.
For a long time, France was considered the sexual capital of Europe. People flocked Paris for their “sexducation,” with its high-class brothels and gender-tolerant underground.
So it’s really no wonder why the French have produced the sexiest (and best) erotic books of all time.
And want to know something fun? Older French people are more likely to read erotic fiction than the younger generations. Yes, 65% of the Silent Generation have read an erotic book vs. only 42% of Millenials.
The French sure know how to age with style.
Consider the following list your true initiation to French culture. If you can’t walk by the Seine and bask under the Eiffel Tower’s lights, this might be the next best thing. After all, what better way to understand a culture than by exploring its literature?
From gender-bending novellas to unconventional love stories, we’ve curated the top 10 sexy French books of all time. Grab a glass of wine and dig in.
10. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond de Rostand
If you like a hefty dose of angst in your romance, then you should read Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rosland. Be warned: it will break your heart. This is a sweeping tale about a romantic, poetic, and chivalrous knight, who pines for the love of his beautiful cousin. All while struggling with the insecurity of having an unusually big nose. It’s sexy in an endearing way—funny, tender, lively, and beautifully written. Cyrano de Bergerac is not the sexiest book on this list, but it’s still a damn good read.
9. The Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
“He was now in that state of fire that she loved. She wanted to be burnt.”
Delta of Venus is a compilation of 15 short erotic stories that are more than just sexy. Anaïs Nin writes erotica with a flourish—deep and provocative. This was written for a private collector and wasn’t published until Nin’s death.
Every story more than meets the eye. It’s sensual, yes. But some stories are unapologetic, disarming, and downright kinky. This is real erotica. Delta of Venus might not be for everyone, but it will definitely challenge what you perceive “erotica” to be.
8. I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere by Anna Gavalda
I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere is erotica that does not try too hard. This is a collection of short stories set in the romantic glimmer of Paris. But unlike most books on this list, Anna Gavalda doesn’t write in a stunningly-woven language most French writers do. Instead, she lets the voices of her characters speak for themselves. Some might argue that it’s not entirely erotic, but we believe the proof is between the lines.
The most sensual story: The Courting Rituals of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Two strangers meet, drinks follow, with the palpable promise of more.
7. Emmanuelle by Emmanuelle Arsan
Emmanuelle was once the most famous French underground novel of the 20th century. It may or may not be about the sexual exploits of Emmanuelle Arsan, as she explores her sensuality in the arms of strangers, acquaintances, and her diplomat husband. Okay, that’s not a lot of plot. But sometimes, that’s not really a priority.
Raunchy and vivid, it’s basically a staple for any erotic fiction fan. The popular 1974 film based on this novel actually paved the way for softcore films. Emmanuelle is classic smut that explores themes of hedonism and bisexuality. It’s “bad” in a good way. It could be your next guilty pleasure.
6. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
Dangerous Liaisons is a decadent embodiment of the moral tug-and-pull surrounding sex and seduction of the 18th century. Follow two French noblemen as they play a dirty game, seducing people for social control and pure narcissistic enjoyment. The epistolary format and philosophical undertone will satisfy more heavy readers.
And don’t count this book out just because it’s old. There’s plenty of debaucheries to keep you entertained. The more recent translations give the characters a modern voice. So you can decide for yourself just how much “wickedness” you can take.
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without Madam Bovary in it. If you think about French erotica, this is likely the novel that first comes to mind.
Interesting fact: It was deemed so obscene at the time that Gustave Flaubert was sued for it.
Madame Bovary is a story about desire and what happens when you let it consume you. It’s a good-old cautionary tale of using love to escape the banalities of normal life. There are hot trysts in the forest, hotel rooms, and on a horse-drawn carriage. That should be good enough to convince you to read it.
4. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
Here’s another erotica about hedonism and amorality. Only this time, it’s set in postwar Europe amongst well-heeled French intellectuals.
Bonjour Tristesse is full of sensual exploration, fueled by the neverending boredom of the privileged. It will irritate but intrigue you. And that’s exactly the point. This book captures the sentiment that young or old, we are all victims of our passions. If you want to read French erotica and do it right, go for Bonjour Tristesse.
3. The Ravishing of Lol Stein by Marguerite Duras
If you don’t want to pull out any stops, The Ravishing of Lol Stein is certainly the book you need to read. Marguerite Duras brings the goods; adultery, voyeurism, some girl-on-girl action, and stealing your married best friend’s lover. It’s sexy and messy French-style.
But it’s not melodrama. This novel is deeper than you’ll realize. It’s also haunting and incredibly poignant. The Ravishing of Lol Stein is a worthy read, with its sensuality only icing to the cake.
2. Madame de by Louise de Vilmorin
An indebted society woman sells her jewelry. They were given by her husband. The buyer snitches and tells her husband. The husband buys them back and gives them to his mistress. The mistress sells them. The jewelry then ends up back to the wife via an admirer. What a good mess Madame de ____ is.
Louise de Vilmorin’s novella captures the snooty intricacies of Parisian high society’s dirty affairs. You can’t go wrong with this one.
1. Chéri by Colette
Paris, 1900s. A famous, aging courtesan. A dashing, wealthy man half her age. He’s getting married and she thinks she doesn’t care. What follows is a heart-wrenching tale of two deeply-attached people who just can’t let each other go. And, well, their palpable physical chemistry. Colette’s Chéri is a literary masterpiece. Nevermind that it’s incredibly sensual and gripping. It’s a downright must-read. And while you’re at it, go and read more of her work. Every one of Collette’s books is worthy to be on this list.
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