The sexiest books to steam up your decor this Valentine’s Day

From homoerotic illustrations by Andy Warhol to the exploration of Japanese bondage by Nobuyoshi Araki, these NSFW picks will instantly spice up your home.

Valentine’s Day is officially here, and with it comes a whole lot of obligatory rom-com programming on TV and pressure to be sent flowers, chocolates, giant plush animals, and every other age-old token of romantic love. If you’re not into celebrating through typical means, however, there are still ways to mark the occasion that aren’t quite so cliché; for example, spicing up your coffee table book selection with a number of arty-yet-raunchy offerings that’ll catch the eyes of any guest who lands on your sofa. Whether as a risqué gift for a loved one or just an excuse to spice up your own home, we’ve picked our favourite racy books that’ll surely get coffee tables far and wide all hot and bothered. 

Bettina Rheims – Self Titled

Since her first photographs in the late ’70s, Bettina Rheims has defied the predictable. From her series on Pigalle strippers to her Chanel adverts to Gender Studies (2011), her work has challenged the norms of representation. This Rheims retrospective showcases more than 300 photographs from 35 years of defiant photography, personally selected and assembled by the photographer herself. With equal attention to anonymous subjects cast in the street as to global celebrities, including Kate Moss, Madonna, Monica Bellucci, Claudia Schiffer, and Naomi Campbell, the book showcases Rheims’s particular interest in displaying the female form in its most natural and unfiltered.

Dian Hanson – The Art of Pin-Up

A lot of men are simple creatures: show them a picture of an attractive woman in a revealing outfit, and you can flog them pretty much anything, from magazines to toothpaste to joining the army. This straightforward insight was the foundation of ‘Pin-Ups’ – the American phenomenon which originated in late-19th century illustrated magazines like Life and then in the 1930s with Esquire covers and hugely successful calendars. The Art of Pin-Up focuses on ten of the most outstanding Pin-Up painters, each of whom had his (or in one case, her) unique style. The form fell completely out of fashion for a few decades, its superstar artists were forgotten, but then began to become collectible in the 1980s and has seen a rise in popularity since the 2010s.

David Leddock – The Male Nude

While the female nude has long played a conspicuous role in Western iconography – in which it has continuously been objectified throughout history – the male nude has not found itself in a similar vein of popularity. This collection provides a review of material that at one time could only be bought under the counter, beginning with the anonymous erotica of the 19th century and features the pioneer homoerotic nude photographs of Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, posing nude youths in classical postures at Taormina in Sicily. It also includes illustrations from groundbreaking magazines such as Physique Pictorial, the leading organ of the mid-50s gay scene, and it covers the entire range from classic male nude photographers, such as Herbert List, George Platt Lynes or Robert Mapplethorpe.

Nobuyoshi Araki – Araki. Bondage

Nobuyoshi Araki has produced over 500 books during his long career as a photographer, in which his work – that often features women in suggestive and sexual positions – has been labelled “vulgar”. However, no subject epitomises the controversy inherent in the Japanese artist quite like the photos included in this book. Meaning “the beauty of tight binding,” Araki captures the essence of Kinbaku-bi – the traditional Japanese art of erotic bondage – which has long fascinated the photographer, becoming one of his most important subjects. Araki once described his bondage photographs as “a collaboration between the subject and the photographer”; the artist constantly explored his subjects through the lens by emphasising the role of spoken conversation between himself and the model. Out of all our recommendations on this list, this is a book you should probably cover up if the grandparents are paying a visit.

Andy Warhol – Love, Sex, and Desire

A number of previously unpublished Andy Warhol drawings touching on the theme of love, sex and desire were unveiled to the public for the first time following this book’s release in 2020. They date from the 1950s, when Warhol was a successful commercial illustrator but struggling to find recognition as a fine artist, long before he created paintings and prints of movie stars, soup cans and soap-pad boxes that turned him into one of the world’s most famous artists. When he tried to exhibit his drawings in 1950s New York, Warhol encountered homophobic rejection from gallery owners due to his drawings portraying mainly nude young men kissing, posing or engaging in sexual acts such as fellatio. Michael Dayton Hermann of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts told The Arts Newspaper that there is a distinct way in which Warhol tried to replicate the workings of a machine, with the images being akin to machine-like. “When you have a drawing of someone, the artist’s hand is there. There isn’t a barrier between the artist and the subject… It’s a much more personal and intimate way to capture someone, and it tells you a lot about the artist as much as the subject.”

WriterChris Saunders
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