As with most of Lawrence's works, Women in Love caused controversy over its sexual subject matter. One early reviewer said of it, "I do not claim to be a literary critic, but I know dirt when I smell it, and here is dirt in heaps—festering, putrid heaps which smell to high Heaven." It also later stirred criticism for its portrayal of love, denounced as chauvinistic and centred upon the phallus by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1949). Camille Paglia has praised Women in Love, writing that while she initially reacted negatively to the book, it became a "profound influence" on her as she was working on Sexual Personae (1990). Paglia compared it to Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590).
It has been suggested that Lawrence's fascination with the theme of homosexuality is manifested in Women in Love, and that this could be related to his own sexual orientation. Paglia observes that while Women in Love has "bisexual implications", she is skeptical that Lawrence would have endorsed "full sexual relations" between men.