Fifty Shades fatigue has been creeping up on us the past few weeks, so we decided to ask Amy Sohn, former sex columnist and New York Times bestselling author of Prospect Park West and this month’s equally delectable sequel Motherland for help coming up with some worthy alternatives. “If Fifty Shades has taught us anything it’s that American women are starved for hot lit,” she told us.
We asked Sohn, who we have come to appreciate over the years for her unapologetic depiction of intimacy (or lack thereof) from the female POV, what she believes constitutes a “good” sex scene in lit. “I like scenes that don’t begin at the beginning and end at the traditional end: the man’s orgasm,” she told us. “I prefer scenes that begin in the middle, or skip around like a record or end with the female orgasm. Maybe the woman comes and we don’t get to hear the rest of it.” So, how do you write “good” sex? She offered up this tip: “Sex in fiction should never read like the scene between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis in Top Gun, for a thousand different reasons. There is no blue light in real sex unless you live across from a neon sign, like the character in Fame.” So, dear readers, if you’re looking for some real, un-tinted sex, click through Sohn’s recommendations, and see what lies behind the seemingly perfect exteriors of Brooklyn’s most prized parenting demographic once more in Motherland (which, full disclosure, we weren’t able to put down).
Fear of Flying , Erica Jong
“Hot, funny, dirty, provocative, and feminist, it’s also a one-handed read. Special fun for those with a fetish for redheaded Australians.”
Little Birds , Anais Nin
“Though the title story might make moms of girls uncomfortable, this collection features a bunch of erotic vignettes that you can rely on for the rest of your life.”
My Secret Garden , edited by Nancy Friday
“First published in 1973, this book is not PC and includes ample rape and interracial fantasies. Each fantasy was submitted by a real woman so it’s a good portrait of where women’s minds were at that time period when my parents were busy babymaking. Will make you see Johnny Unitas and dogs in a whole new way.”
In the Palomar Arms , Hilma Wolitzer
“Wolitzer, one of my favorite writers, does sex from a female perspective extremely well. This book is about a young woman having an affair with a married man and though it was published more than a quarter century ago, it feels very contemporary.”
Family Happiness , Laurie Colwin
“About a married woman in an affair who realizes she must end it, not because she feels guilty but because it’s too difficult to be two people at once. For those turned on by hot painters, studio sex, and cutting boards with bread, wine, and cheese.”
Final Payments , Mary Gordon
“A 30-year-old, Isabel, who has spent most of her life caring for her father finally turns to her own needs after he dies. You won’t like the scene where Isabel gets an IUD but you’ll like what she does once it’s in.”
, Mary Gaitskill
One of these stories was made into the film Secretary . They are edgy and weird and dark but also hot and they will make you nostalgic for the ’90s.
Story of O , Pauline Reage
“First published in English in 1965, this was Fifty Shades before Fifty Shades. A portrait of the liberation inherent in masochism.”
The Surrender , Toni Bentley
“A memoir of anal sex, it will make you laugh, cough, and come at different points. Bentley, a former prima ballerina and book reviewer, is rhapsodic about her ass and the lover who introduced her to its many pleasures. She wants to convert you to anal and she just might succeed.”
For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality , Lonnie Barbach
“I love Lonnie. Chick breaks it down for you. Teaches you how to have an orgasm by yourself. When you’ve graduated from this one, you can read For Each Other , geared toward partners, but it can pretty much be summed up as ‘stimulate the clitoris with someone’s hand or mouth before and during sex and the woman will come.'”