Beyond Coming Out6 Lesbian Novels That Bring the Romance, and Sex

Her Best Friend's Sister by Meghan O’Brien (Photo credit: Bold Strokes Books)

Increasingly, lesbian novels and their authors are putting in work to shift the way that lesbians—and queer women overall—exist on the page. New queer coming-of-age novels are challenging stereotypes and deepening our understanding of coming out as a concept; young-adult literature has become a massive hub for LGBTQ representation with writers like Mason Deaver and Gabby Rivera furthering the representation of queer people beyond white, gay men; and queer women are continuing to reshape their space in horror, especially as they slowly gain the power to shift the landscape. But queer women readers deserve a bit of levity, too, as well as a break from narratives that center pain and struggle (as with the important but well-trod territory of coming-out narratives); we deserve books that actively center our pleasure, too.

In creating space for just that, lesbian romance novels are essential, radical, and also just a fun break from the heaviness that so often coexists alongside our queerness. While some lesbian romance novels respect and recognize that heaviness in their plots, other lesbian romance novels choose to sidestep homophobia and sexism entirely, preferring to offer up a utopia in which their readers can luxuriate, if only briefly.

Below, you’ll find a mixture of books that do both—and that give us thoughtful, queer pleasure—freed of the male gaze and written with queer readers in mind.

Sarah Waters
{ Riverhead Books }
Released: October 1, 2002
$8.50

Sarah Waters is an undeniable favorite of readers of lesbian romance, and for good reason. Fingersmith, which won a Lambda Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, makes clear that a novel can be both extremely hot and extremely well-written. Fingersmith engages with larger cultural concepts like classism and sexism while proffering gripping sex scenes between Sue, an orphan, and Maud, the women for whom she works—and plots against. It’s both a romance and a thriller (and a very good one at that).

Rebecca S. Buck
{ Bold Strokes Books }
Released: May 8, 2012
$16.95

Though I tend to be lukewarm on historical romance, Rebecca S. Buck’s The Locket and the Flintlock was fast-paced and engaging enough to hold my interest. Alongside a complex plot—Lucia comes to meet Len when her locket is stolen, and Len is essentially always in danger as she seeks revenge and justice—we’re given several very satisfying sex scenes. It’s good choice for those who like their romance novels to have a detailed plot, rather than just endless sex.

Meghan O'Brien
{ Bold Strokes Books }
Released: July 17, 2012
$9.99

Emily keeps tight control of her life, and rarely does anything fun or indulgent. Enter Nat, the sex worker she hires to help her give up some of that control and explore her sexuality. The book plays into some stereotypes about sex workers, but overall the respect each feels for the other is refreshing. The sex scenes themselves are extremely detailed without feeling heavy-handed, and the focus on and awareness of women’s pleasure is something I always enjoy about O’Brien’s work.

Sarah Waters
{ Riverhead Books }
Released: September 16, 2014
$10.95

Set in early-1920s England, The Paying Guests follows Frances, a young woman who lives with her mother. When Frances’s father and brothers die, they have to find a way to make ends meet, and choose to open their home to a young married couple, Lilian and Lenoard. There’s immediately a sort of soft, buzzing energy between Frances and Lilian, and, slowly, a romance begins to bloom. Frances has loved women before, so there’s an extra pressure for her to keep her mother from realizing what’s happening between her and her guest. Another tense, hot read from Waters.

Rebekah Weatherspoon
{ Bold Strokes Books }
Released: October 13, 2014
$4.99

Notably, this lesbian romance novel features two women of color, which is hugely refreshing considering that it can be difficult to find queer romance novels that—despite the diversity of the romance genre—aren’t full of white people. College students Alexis and Trisha are immediately attracted to each other, but Trisha’s job as a stripper and Alexis’s newfound commitment to focusing on her mental health make it difficult to find time for love. But when they do find time, the romance is boundless. This is less of an erotic romance and more of a steamy read, but the sex itself is well-written and realistic.

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Meghan O'Brien
{ Bold Strokes Books }
Released: May 16, 2017
$16.95

With Her Best Friend’s Sister, Meghan O’Brien continues to be a driving force of the genre. Wow, I have read this one so many times. Claire has had a crush on her best friend’s older sister, Alex, for ages. When their paths cross as adults, they immediately hit it off and have an explosive, chemistry-filled encounter, which then becomes a relationship. This is a good pick if you like a bit of gender play, and I was also just impressed with how this book discusses strap-on sex without making it seem either required or strange— in the world of these characters, it’s just what they’re into.

There’s more…

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by Rachel Charlene Lewis
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Rachel Charlene Lewis is the Senior Editor at Bitch. She has written about culture, identity, and the internet for publications including i-D, Teen Vogue, Refinery29, Glamour, Autostraddle, Ravishly, SELF, StyleCaster, The Frisky (RIP), The Mary Sue, and elsewhere. Her literary work, reviews, and interviews have been published in Catapult, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Normal School, Publisher’s Weekly, The Offing, and in several other magazines. She is on Twitter and Instagram, always.