This is not at all intended to be a comprehensive list — there are hundreds of erotic films and novels out there, many of which are really good. These are, in my opinion, some of the best that I’ve ever watched and read. And because I’m queer as a three dollar bill, my suggestions tend to be pretty queer, too. If there’s a hetero-oriented book or film on here, it’s because it’s particularly good.
If I missed your personal favorite film or novel, please leave them in the comments!
Ten of the Best Erotic Films
1. Mercy, Mistress
Mercy, Mistress is a short video series of just ten episodes released on YouTube in 2018 that follows a Chinese American dominatrix Mistress Yin through some of her sessions with her clients, dating, and navigating her family. I really loved the nuance they showed with coming to terms with sexual desires and fantasies. Easy to watch, just ten quick episodes that are less than 10 minutes each. Watch all the episodes here.
Before The Matrix, The Wachowskis made Bound, an amazing queer noir thriller featuring masculine of center Corky (Gina Gershon) and femme Violet (Jennifer Tilly). Susie Bright consulted on the sex scenes, which means that they actually look like sex real lesbians would have. It’s sometimes violent, very erotic, the cinematography is fantastic, and the lust on screen is just perfect.
3. The Duke of Burgundy
A few years ago, a friend texted me: drop everything you’re doing and watch this movie. I don’t get suggestions like that often, so I eagerly did — and, wow. This film is a masterpiece. It’s set in a slightly alternative reality where there are no men, only sexy, buttoned-up women who like to do all kinds of kinky things, and apparently are also all entomologists. The dominance and submission depicted gets quite complicated as the film goes on, with nuance I have never seen in a major release film.
A New York City love story, with a complicated cast of characters who are in a wide range of situations. The film Shortbus is so intimate in its truth and honest depiction of a variety of types of sexuality. I think it’s John Cameron Mitchell’s masterpiece — you may have seen other work by him, such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
(I just realized that James Spader is in three of the films on this list — I guess I must think he’s sexy!? Either that, or he is just in a lot of deeply erotic films that don’t center the male gaze. Probably the latter.) Featuring Holly Hunt and James Spader, this film is dark, exploring people who are extremely turned on by car crashes. Yes, there is another film with the same name about race after September 11th in the US — but they are very different. The car-crash Crash features explicit sex scenes (the whispered bisexual dirty talk has always stuck with me), violent car crashes, psychological drama, and examinations of fetishes — it is not a film you’ll easily forget.
6. Tom of Finland
Icon of masculinity and gay male culture in general, Tom of Finland is recognizable to leather queers everywhere. This film details his life, sharing lots of his art, his life and struggles, and the complicated restrictions on sexuality in the 1950s and beyond. Gorgeously filmed, at times very erotic, and I love seeing the drawings come to life.
7. Sex, Lies, & Videotape
I love this film. When I watched it recently, it surprisingly held up quite well over the years — full of sexual tension, sexy confessions, and real, vulnerable insights about human sexuality. It was one of the first sexy films I ever saw when I was in my early teens, so it will probably always be a root.
8. Brokeback Mountain
There aren’t very many actual sex scenes in this film, but the slow sweetness of the landscape and the sparse soundtrack makes the whole thing so spacious and erotic, and I just love it. Of course, being a gay erotic love story between cowboys, it has some homophobic violence, so be warned. The heartbreak is worth it though, for the tender masculinity and brave connection that is this film.
9. Mommy is Coming
Hilarious, brilliant, sexy! This is Cheryl Dunye’s film set in Berlin, starring Papi Coxxx (of Crash Pad Series fame, among other places) and Lil Harlow. It’s very clear that this is made for queers and by queers, and explores erotic taboos, spicing things up in long term relationships, and the gritty erotic world of Berlin to make this whole thing delightful.
There’s a reason it’s on ALL of the lists of erotic films — Secretary changed the whole erotic film game. While I do take issue with some things in the film (Lee using kink as a substitute for self-harm, for example, and the lack of growth on Mr. Edward Grey’s part), I still really love it, and it’s a must see for anyone interested in erotic films.
For a few years now, rife and I have had a double date night with a few friends with the intention of watching through a bunch of erotic films. It’s been a blast! We’ve seen many more than we would have otherwise, and it’s given us a chance to revisit some of the classics (like Basic Instinct and 9 1/2 Weeks) that we are never really “in the mood” for, but appreciate having seen. We also watch films that were erotic awakenings for us (like Braveheart and Set It Off) which aren’t exactly erotic in the typical way, but contain an exciting scene or some kink. If you’re into this kind of thing, I highly recommend setting up an erotic film ongoing date night with some friends!
Need more? Here’s a big list of the sexist movies over on Rotton Tomatoes.