She trained as a flamenco dancer in bohemian Paris, she had hundreds of affairs (one being with the famous beat generation author Henry Miller- and his wife). In her later years, she was married to two men at once; one on the west coast of the US and one on the east. You can’t deny that Anaïs Nin really lived her best life.

Anaïs Nin was more than a sexual rebel; she was an incredible writer, whose skill was disregarded because she was a woman who wasn’t afraid to admit her passion for the sensual. International Women’s Week obviously calls a celebration of Nin, the trailblazing icon and her groundbreaking erotic literature.

Anaïs Nin

Anais Nin: The Writer Who Courted the World
Anaïs Nin, photo from Charles Marlow.

Anaïs Nin began writing aged eleven. Through most of her life as an author, she was dismissed- her work categorised as lowbrow smut of little academic importance.  She wrote about her own life; her extramarital affairs, her illegal abortions and even her late sexual affair with her own father, who had abandoned her as a child.

The critics of course  homed in on this provocative content whilst ignoring the way that Nin had written about it. Nin saw sex as a transformative experience. She was very involved with many psychoanalysts in her life, and her work deeply observes the female sexual psyche, as well as the differences between how men and women view sex.

Nin was the woman who discovered the widely-celebrated author Henry Miller. She funded his writing and eventually his masterpiece ‘Tropic of Cancer’ made it big. Miller’s writing was also sexually explicit by nature, but his name survives today, very much untarnished.

It can even be argued that the way that Nin wrote about sex was a lot more sensitive than Miller’s approach which boarded on an objectifying tone. This also didn’t go unnoticed by Nin:

‘‘the great disparity between Henry Miller’s explicitness and my ambiguities—between his humorous, Rabelaisian view of sex and my poetic descriptions of sexual relationships.”

By the 1960s with the trends of free love and woman’s rights on the rise, Nin finally started to get the recognition she deserved, attracting a huge feminist fanbase. Her work became more widely known, and majorly contributed to the sexual liberation of an entire generation of women. However, disaster struck in the 1990s, twenty years after Nin’s death, where newer publications of her work were found to contradict her previous supposedly autobiographical tales.

This new stuff was ‘expurgated’ versions of the old works, describing in more explicit detail her controversial affairs and adultery.This led to a new wave of Nin-hate. People deemed her a liar, narcissistic,  grotesque and again reduced her work to having little value. To put it simply, Nin was slut-shamed (again)!

Ultimately, people were scared of Anis Nin’s shamelessness. No matter what excuses people hide behind, the truth is that when a woman shows sexual autonomy, society freaks out.

It still happens today, sometimes overtly and all the time covertly. The subtle judgement is sometimes even worse than the outright hate. Today, Nin’s sex-positivity is more in fashion than ever before, however a little like D.H. Lawrence, her work hasn’t received too much recent attention, possibly forgotten in the sea of erotica now widely available. Let’s look at some of her best stuff.

Read: The novels of D.H. Lawrence: the pioneer of sex-positive British Literature.


The journals: a female voice for the literary bohemian

Anaïs Nin was a hardcore writer above all else. She began her first diary aged eleven and continued them until her death. She never let romance take away the space for her writing and despite pressure from her lovers to become less dependant on writing, she carried on. Recording and reflecting her life was seemingly something that she felt a strong need to do. The autobiographical journals are Nin’s most famous work. The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin is the go-to as it is the most recent and consequently most explicit version of her journals.

Volumes 1 and 2 are particularly famous, spanning the years  of 1931-1939 covering her various affairs with famous friends like Miller, Antonin Artaud and Gore Vidal. Nin’s writing stands out as a female voice within the male-saturated literary lifestyle at the time.

She especially focuses on her bohemian life in Paris with Miller and his femme fatale wife June, whom she was also beguiled by. These volumes also delve into Nin’s in depth discussions with her psychoanalyst friends, proving Nin’s writing to be highly introspective (and totally worthy of academic praise). The more infamous volume of the diaries is number 3. Titled ‘Incest’, This details Nin’s consensual affair with her own father, after not having seen him since her early childhood.

At the time of the affair she was thirty, he in his fifties, and also an apparent sex fiend. In the diary, Nin speaks of her fears and drawbacks regarding the affair, but also talks of it as something thrilling, erotic and romantic. This of course sparked plenty of controversy, the disgust aimed entirely towards Nin with little attention focused on her father’s willingness in the affair.

Defenders of Nin justify her behaviour by explaining that she was deeply traumatised from her childhood during which she was likely abused by him. We will never know how much this played a part in her willingness to partake in the affair.  Rather than constantly deliberating this, perhaps we should acknowledge Nin’s bravery to be completely honest about a very, very risqué topic. 


The short stories: custom-made erotica

Nin’s collections of erotic short stories were commissioned by a private collector. Miller and other known authors also contributed- it was a quick way to make money.  The most famous collections are Under a Glass Bell, Delta of Venus, and Little Birds. The commissioner instructed them to ‘Leave out the poetry and description of anything but sex. Concentrate on sex.’ However, Nin found it difficult to write erotica that omitted the poetic element and also couldn’t completely erase her female perspective from her narration, later saying:

‘I finally decided to release the erotica for publication because it shows the beginning efforts of a woman in a world that had been the domain of men.’

The stories describe many sexual encounters between a number of characters from Normandy to New Orleans, whom each yearn for sensual and romantic connection. Topics include lesbianism, BDSM and more. We love to see it.


Surrealist novels & more

Nin wrote a number of novels which were noted for their surrealist style, the most famous being House of Incest. She also wrote some nonfiction works, one of the first being an essay in favour of erotica auteur, D.H. Lawrence. She starred in a few short films, one being ‘Ritual in Transfigured Time’ by much-loved female filmmaker, Maya Deren. 


A Provocative Powerhouse

Anais Nin: The Writer Who Courted the World
Anaïs Nin.


Nin once described herself as someone who was ‘courting the world’. Sex was her drive, her currency. It was how she approached life. She didn’t let the morals of her day take that away from her. She also ploughed through and fought against constant disregard for the entirety of her career.

When no one else would print her work, Nin even set up her own printing press and hand printed every single letter of her novels herself.

Nin showcased herself as a sex-lover before it was cool to showcase yourself as a sex-lover, and proved that a woman could be that as well as an academic, an artist and a romantic.

Raise a glass to Anaïs Nin, and all the other shamelessly sex-loving femmes who helped get us to where we are today. 


Interested in exploring the meld between erotica and creativity? Explore erotic artists today on Sensuali.

Erotic Literature



Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.

Discover related Experiences

erotic literature

erotic literature

You have a book collection, I have a smut collection.

Explore similar articles

Meet all round Sensualist, Belle Lauralei

Meet all round Sensualist, Belle Lauralei

Posted by Iso

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Sensuali chatted with Belle Lauralei, the all round sensualist and lover of erotica. We spoke about how supporting men and the masculine is integral to achieving a harmonious society, the struggle of living in a mind-led world that disconnects us from our bodies, and how more women need to view femininity as a power rather than a weakness.