If you've ever spent some time in a grocery store checkout line, you're probably familiar with romance novels, their covers emblazoned with muscle-bound hunks clinging to women nearly busting out of their bodices. What you may not realize is that erotic literature is a separate genre from romance, one where things get a lot more hot and heavy - not to mention explicit.

Whereas romance is more like a fairy tale love story that may include some racy scenes, erotica is all about the sex. It's not quite as graphic as pornography; sometimes, it's not that graphic at all, but it does focus on the characters' sexual lives. Most see it as an art form that exists somewhere in-between romance and pornography. Most importantly, however, erotica is fun to read. Here are five reasons to read erotic literature, as well as a few hot-off-the-press erotica books that are sure to please - and inspire.

The Sex Is Hot

All too often, books brush over, allude to or completely ignore the sex that characters have with each other. This could not be more different from erotic literature. Erotica is all about the topics that are found to be sexually stimulating. In most cases, erotica aims to hit that sweet spot between explicit and artistic: It has just enough sensual detail to get your pulse racing, with plenty of room left for your imagination to roam. (For a great list of hot erotica classics, check out 5 Books That Will Make You Forget About "Fifty Shades.")

You Get to Learn About Relationships

If there is one moment in which a relationship is at its most exposed, it’s during a sex scene. This is when a relationship’s dynamics, expectations, assumptions and fantasies come out to play. Writing about the climax, plateau and aftermath of sexual scenes is like looking at people’s lives through a magnifying glass and seeing just what makes them tick. From seeing what your own ideal relationship dynamic looks like to reading about other couplings, getting an inside look at other relationships can be very enlightening.

You Get to Live Vicariously

Erotica is literary fiction. Sometimes it's based on real life, but even then writers often paint it as fantasy. Many of these sexy tales would never - or could never - happen in real life. These are books about characters with specific personalities and sexualities that experience things in their literary lives that simply won’t happen outside of that book. That's the beauty of fiction; it allows us to experience these adventures vicariously rather than never experiencing them at all. Books have fewer restrictions and limits than real people do. And while you may not want a sex life that's as wild and wonderful as the characters you read about, fantasy is a great way to go there.

It's Inspirational

Erotica may not, in many cases, be realistic, but it can be a learning tool for people looking for inspiration in their sex lives. Perhaps reading erotica helps you realize you have a few more fetishes than you realized, or that you're interested in trying things you hadn't even imagined yet. Reading about these things is a safe way to see how they can play out and to experiment with them in your mind before you decide to bring them to the bedroom. (Find out what "Fifty Shades" had to offer in 5 Extraordinary Sex Tips You Can Learn from "Fifty Shades of Grey.")

If you do com up with some things you'd like to try with a partner, just be sure to discuss these first and get consent before you go clamping nipples or seducing butlers. And who knows? Erotica's saucy dialog may come in handy someday too.

It's Fun

Above all, erotica is entertainment. Use these books as a way to escape reality a few sensual pages at a time. Another perk is that erotica often comes in anthology form, allowing readers to enjoy short stories in break-sized portions. This genre is full of surprises, and while it isn't always intended to provide a quick climax, the best books hit more often than they miss.

Our Sexy Sampling Plate

There is so much to read in the world of erotica. These are a few books that offer a range of stories and authors that might hit the mark. Consider it a bit of a sampling plate. You can also hit up a local bookstore or surf online to find the books and authors that beguile you.

"Down and Dirty: 69 Super Sexy Short-Shorts," edited by Alison Tyler



"Smokin’ Hot Firemen: Erotic Romance Stories for Women," edited by Delilah Devlin



"Between the Cheeks: Anal Erotica," edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel



For Your Reading Pleasure

Erotica is a slow, sexy form of art. It may be more explicit than romance novels, but unlike pornography, it isn't designed for a quick hit of stimulation. It's more like a slow burning love affair, that slowly and steadily gets sexier with every page, all for your reading pleasure. So, what will you be reading tonight? (Try a few from 10 Must-Read Erotic Novels: Classic and Kink Gems.)