One of the best parts about reading is discussing the book with a friend later, delving into the details of the prose and arguing about your favorite characters. But there are some books you'd rather stay quiet about, like erotic novels that are too steamy for public reading. Only you and your bookshelf need to know about those.
I'm a huge proponent of romance novels, particularly because female voices control many of the narratives, which isn't the case in other types of books. White men are heralded as the epitome of talent in most canonical fiction, as Vulture pointed out, and books written by and for women are often made to seem less important than those for men. Likewise, BBC reported that male desires are depicted more often than those of women in pornography, again stifling women and perpetuating misconceptions about what they like sexually. Women writers dominate the romance genre, which creates a space for female identifying readers to explore their sexuality on their terms and allows for a greater exploration of the female experience.
But that still doesn't mean you want the whole world knowing you're reading an erotic novel, especially the really steamy ones. These 21 romantic novels are definitely X-rated, so maybe save them for a bubble bath or for a night you have the house to yourself.
1. A Great Escape
Getaway Girl is basically the novel version of Taylor Swift's "Getaway Car," with a whole bunch of steaminess added in. Addison Potts has returned to Charleston after a six-year absence for her cousin's wedding, where by a twist of fate she ends up serving as the getaway driver for the groom after her cousin leaves him standing at the altar. Addison and Elijah Montgomery Du Pont (try saying that without a southern drawl) begin an improbable romance, fighting public disapproval as Elijah runs for mayor to be together. Forbidden love, family drama, and a sexy southern city as the backdrop? Sign me up.
2. Cold As Ice
Meet Georgie: she's just been abducted by aliens, gets abandoned by the aliens on an ice planet after they have trouble with their spaceship, and can't communicate with anyone because she doesn't speak the alien language. All in all, life seems pretty bleak. But then she meets Vektal, an alien she can't understand but to whom she has an undeniable connection. As she tries to help the other human women who were abducted, Georgie and Vektal give into their attraction, going against everything they know to be together. But once Georgie frees her friends, will she return to earth or stay with Vektal? Ice Planet Barbarians is the first of 20 books in Ruby Dixon's popular series, and sci-fi/romance lovers just keep coming back for more of this improbable romance.
3. A Chance Encounter
Alexa Nichols and Drew Nichols should never have met. But a chance power outage traps them in an elevator together just when Drew is in need of a plus one for his ex's wedding the following day. Alexa takes a risk by saying yes and agreeing to be Drew's fake girlfriend (a set up for love that never gets old), and the duo shock no one more than themselves by having a spectacular (and steamy) night together. They part ways after the wedding to different cities, but they can't forget the night they shared, falling into a long distance love affair they're willing to fight for. New York Times bestseller Jasmine Guillory is at her best in The Wedding Date, serving up a tantalizing romance that's undeniable in its authenticity.
4. Opposites Attract
If the title alone isn't enough to get you excited about this book, the romance will push you over the edge. Paige McBride is used to a life of luxury thanks to her father's success in the oil industry, but it all comes crashing down when he cuts her off and sends her from Dallas to Salt Lick, Texas so she can learn the value of hard work and reconnect with her love of horses by working on a ranch. Meanwhile, Spur Atwater has just moved to Salt Lick to become the new town veterinarian. The two get off on the wrong foot but are forced to work together because of their overlapping jobs, and it doesn't help that the town busybodies Debbie Sue Overstreet and Edwina Perkins-Martin are doing everything in their power to get the two together. Paige and Spur can't deny the chemistry between them, but will they give into their passion?
5. A Ghostly Affair
Lisa Kleypas is a powerhouse in the romance industry, beloved for her historical and fantasy-based tales of love. I'm partial to her Friday Harbor series, which focuses on three friends each struggling to find love. Dream Lake is the second book in the series, but you can read them out of order without getting confused. The book follows Alex, a cynic when it comes to love who is suddenly being haunted by a ghost who can't move onto the afterlife until he makes peace with his unhappy ending. Meanwhile, Zoë is a dreamy optimist who believes in true love. She's immediately taken with Alex, even though he tells her they'll never work. Despite his hesitation, he can't stay away from her, and they work together to solve his ghost problem and take a risk on love. Part ghost story and part opposites attract romance, Dream Lake is a page-turner in every sense of the word.
6. Summer Love
You're probably familiar with the movie adaptation of this story, starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, but the book is just as sexy and stirring, if not more so. The book follows Elio, a teenager in the eighties who finds himself totally enamored with a summer houseguest in his Italian villa, the older, American student Oliver. The two spend the summer months carefully avoiding each other, always on the brink of giving into their desires, until their secret connection finally comes to a head. Call Me By Your Name's genius lies in that Aciman embraces the decadent longing Elio and Oliver experience, conveying the all-consuming nature of first love.
7. Old Flames
Alisha Rai's Hate To Want You is like an modern Romeo & Juliet, minus the tragic ending. Livvy Kane and Nicholas Chandler shouldn't have anything to do with each other because of their families' longstanding feud, but they meet once a year for a night of passionate indulgence. But one night Livvy doesn't show up, breaking their secret agreement. Years later, Livvy reappears in their town, and try as they might, neither can forget the connection that tethers them together.
8. Time Warp
One part time travel, one part historical fiction, and all parts passionate love triangle, Outlander is a romance reader's dream. Claire Randall is transported from 1945 to 1743 after walking through a stone in the British isles, thrown into a time she has no idea how to navigate. She latches onto Jaime Fraser, a Scottish soldier who can keep her safe from the dangerous world she has fallen into, and they soon form a passionate bond. Claire is torn between Jaime and her husband waiting for her in the future, unsure of which time allows her to be her true self.
9. Workplace Romance
There are layers to Tiffany Reisz's The Siren, as it takes readers behind the scenes of the romance industry through a story about an erotic fiction writer who falls for her controlling editor. Their passion blossoms during their long hours writing together, with their lives coming to imitate her art.
10. Well, Obviously
Arguably the most notorious romance book of all time, Fifty Shades of Grey lives up to the hype in terms of non-stop, riveting sex scenes. Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey meet in a chance encounter, and their instant chemistry throws them both for a loop. Inexperienced Ana has never felt a pull to someone like she does Christian, and his normally firm grasp on control in all things breaks as soon as he lays eyes on her. Their relationship grows complicated by Christian's very "specific" desires as he calls them, which Ana isn't sure she can get on board with. But neither can ignore their connection, leading both to make compromises as they try to find a way to bring their very different lives together. Even just a snippet of the first book will have you clamoring to read the whole series.
11. Mystery Man
Madelyn Taggart is sharp, independent, and has proven what she's made of through her professional success as an engineer at an oil company, besting her majority male, white peers. Love isn't on her radar, until she sees a photo of one of her brother's friends and knows she has to meet the mystery man. When she does meet Daniel, he finds himself smitten with her too, leaning into their spark despite his hesitations about getting involved with anyone. Their connection forms after one moment of passion, leading to oodles of steamy encounters.
12. Steamy Submission
Story of O laid the groundwork for modern romance books that feature BDSM, exploring dominance, submission, and the roles they can play in romantic relationships. The protagonist, "O," is a Parisian fashion photographer on a mission to show her lover how far she will go for their love, leading her deep into the sexual underground of Paris. She proves a willingness to do whatever he wishes, letting him dominate her in whatever way she sees fit. The book is known to shock readers with its eroticism, giving even the most avid romance readers a start with its subject material.
13. High School Sweetheart
Molly Jennings has had major success as an erotic fiction writer, but there's just one little problem: no one in her traditional hometown knows about her career. She comes home after years away and falls back into a relationship with her former high school boyfriend, Ben, the current chief of police. He can keep her safe from the stalker following her, but what will happen when he finds out about her secret career?
14. Historically Hot
NACCP nominee and bestselling author Beverly Jenkins delivers a riveting historical romance with Indigo, full of intensity and spark. Hester Wyatt escaped slavery when she was a child and has dedicated her adulthood to helping others through the Underground Railroad. She meets Galen Vachon, the son of a wealthy black family who left his life of comfort to fight for freedom, after he's injured and needs a place to hide. (Two attractive strangers trapped in a small space together? Got it.) Hester finds Galen's charms arrogant when they first meet, but he grows on her, culminating in their romance that will change the way you look at love.
15. The Best Laid Plans
Kate has a life plan laid out for her: become a partner in her family's law firm, and get married. But when she meets Chris Brent, known for her reputation as a generous sexual partner, Kate finds herself on a path of sexual awakening. And Chris, who has kept emotions out of her sex life for as long as she can remember, finds herself falling for Kate. Their love is inevitable with an attraction like that.
16. Crime & Punishment
Nora Roberts's first book under her pen name, Naked in Death starts the wildly popular In Death series, introducing readers to Eve Dallas, a tough New York police officer who finds the most evil criminals. She's looking for a brutal serial killer, and Roarke, an Irish billionare, is one of her suspects, who she also happens to be wildly attracted to. It's an invigorating will they, won't they romance, where the only thing Eve is sure of is that she wants Roarke.
17. Secrets From The Past
Brenda Jackson is prolific in the romance genre to say the least; she's written over 100 books in her career. Tonight & Forever is the first in her Madaris Family series, where readers meet Lorren and Justin, two people who thought they'd never find love after troublesome pasts. Heads up: the Madaris series has over twenty installments, so get ready to fall hard for this family.
18. A Haunting Twist
Charley Davidson has two jobs: part time private investigator, and full time Grim Reaper. (Literally.) She sees dead people and is responsible for helping them cross over to the other side...and bringing their murderers to justice if they've been killed. When she starts having dreams of an "Entity," she thinks its another spirit, but it turns out to be someone (or something) that makes her feel alive like nothing else.
19. Pirate Passion
It's the oldest romance novel plot in the book: an American aristocrat and a British pirate fall in love at sea, defying the forces that work against them as they give into their passion. Pro-tip: this book rolls in at over 500 pages, so it's a good choice if you have a long plane ride coming up. (Assuming you're down to read it in front of strangers.)
20. Moving On
Lia has been on a three-year boy break after her stifling, ten-year marriage came to a close. She's totally focused on her career and happy to be single, until she meets her new neighbor Lukas while she's completely naked. It's sexy fun from the start.
21. Romantic Royals
Former foster kid Naledi Smith doesn't know anything about her origins, so of course she laughs off the emails she gets claiming she's betrothed to an African prince. But it turns out she really is promised to Prince Thabiso, who comes to find her. But Naledi believes him to be a commoner, and Thabiso takes the opportunity to experience life outside of the palace. They quickly fall into a hot romance, full of night after night of passionate lovemaking, but what will happen when Naledi learns the truth?