Panarello grew up in the small Sicilian town of Aci Castello, near Catania in Italy. In 2003 she became famous for authoring the erotic novel, 100 colpi di spazzola prima di andare a dormire (translated into English by Lawrence Venuti as One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, 2004). The novel, written in diary form, focuses on the narrator's extreme sexual life during her teenage years and is loosely based on the author's own experiences. The book was distributed in forty countries and translated into over thirty languages. Coming from Sicily, one of the most traditional and old-fashioned parts of Italy, Panarello's book created a scandal because she writes about penetration, sperm, and orgasm in a very matter-of-fact fashion.
Panarello currently resides in Rome with her partner, Thomas Fazi, the son of her publisher. She published her second novel, L'odore del tuo respiro (The Scent of Your Breath), in 2005. In that same year a film was also made about her first novel, titled Melissa P., produced by Francesca Neri and directed by Luca Guadagnino. Panarello, however, did not back the film, claiming a lack of faithfulness to her novel. In April 2006, she published a third book, titled In nome dell'amore (In the Name of Love), presented as an open letter to Camillo Ruini in which she accuses the Catholic Church of interfering in the Italian political scene and advocates secularism in the country.