Today I’m talking about something that has been on my mind recently and that’s sex in romance books. The push to write this comes from a discussion I had with a few authors. They all have been told at one time or another by some readers that they should consider writing “clean” books. Because they won’t read any more of their books otherwise.

Now one of these authors is one I read all the time and her covers clearly indicate that there are sex scenes. They are not erotic or erotica or even close to it. This author and many others I read actually write all different heat levels. I include heat level in my reviews so that readers know if it’s their preferred heat level.

Sex isn’t Dirty

Sex is one of the most natural things in the world and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Now I’m not saying you’re wrong if you don’t want to read sex scenes. There are a million reasons to not want to read them from having kids around and not wanting them to read it to just not liking them. To each their own and what they like. I personally don’t like to read hardcore BDSM or threesomes, but I’m not going to tell an author not to write it or bash those that read it.

Readers that say things like this to authors tend to say it in a way that makes it sound like they should be ashamed. It also adds to the stigma that romance novels are porn and shames other readers. This is why so many romance readers hide what they read.

Call it Sweet, Chaste, or Closed Door

I personally call anything with no mention of sex “sweet” because they usually tend to also have a Hallmark movie or fairytale feel. If they still have some grit to them like Lynda Cox’s Brokken Road books do. Then I call them “chaste” like she does because they aren’t all sunshine and roses, but still no sex scenes. “closed door” is another great way to refer to any book that doesn’t have sex scenes in it. Any of those terms take away the shameful undertone that “clean” can have.

I get that sometimes a cover and/or blurb doesn’t indicate if there are sex scenes or not. When you aren’t expecting a sex scene it can be shocking. I’ve been shocked both ways, but not in a bad way. But if you buy a book that has a half-dressed person or couple on it, there is a pretty good chance there is sex in it. Don’t get mad at the author for writing it.

If you’re ever not sure if there is sex or not in a book, you can look at the reviews on the site you are on or Google reviews of the book. Many bloggers include heat levels in their reviews.

Why is Sex Even in Romances?

The short answer is sex sells, but that is not the only reason. Again sex is a natural thing and you expect that a healthy couple in a relationship will have sex (the pre-marital sex in books debate is for another day). Everyone has their reasons for wanting to read sex scenes and they aren’t all the same. With authors, they don’t always start out planning to write sex scenes, but the story leads to it naturally and sometimes it’s the other way around.

Sex scenes aren’t just filler and usually add to the story. You can tell the difference in most cases. I know many readers that don’t like sex scenes so they just skim over them for anything that might be mentioned later. They don’t have a problem with sex being in the book, but just don’t like to read them.

Sex isn’t just in Romance

A funny thing is that when you attach romance to a book is when people tend to change how they feel about it. For example, my dad loves westerns, but won’t touch the westerns I have because they are romance. Guess what is the westerns he’s read? Yep, sex. Many men (not all) will read fiction that has sex scenes and romance, but don’t have a problem until romance is attached to the book. Outlander is another example of this. Romance didn’t really get attached to it until the show started. Before then many men would talk about it like it was sci-fi or fantasy only.

There are tons of fiction books that aren’t marketed as romance and have graphic sex scenes. My brother reads sci-fi and fantasy books and just about every single one has sex in it. I’ve read historical fiction that isn’t marketed as romance, but romance is a huge part of the story.

I end with saying authors can’t please everyone and readers can’t expect authors to change for them. There is always a book out there that fits your needs.

If you are ever looking for books with specific heat levels while here on my blog. You can hover (or click if on a phone) over the word “Reviews” on my menu and hover over “By Spice Level”. All you have to do is click on whatever level you are looking for and it will take you to a page of only reviews that match that level.

On my blog, I read from 1 kiss to 5 kisses.

1 – means there are little to no kisses in the book and not even a whisper of sex. You can’t get any more “sweet” than that.

2 – means that sex is behind closed doors. It can be lead up to as in going into a room or kissing, but clothes are still on. Or it’s just referenced as happening without details.

3 – means there are sex scenes, but they aren’t graphic as in not every little detail and the language is pretty tame for the most part. There aren’t usually more than 2 sex scenes.

4 – means the sex scenes are more graphic and the language is a bit more explicit. There are usually more sex scenes and they are longer.

5 – means the doors are wide open and things are getting more on the BDSM (I don’t consider blindfolds and light restraints to be on this level) side of things. Sex scenes tend to happen a lot (as in over 5) or there are just scenes that aren’t fitting for other levels.

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4 thoughts on “Sex in Romance Books: We Need to Stop Using the Term “Clean” Because it’s Not “Dirty”

  1. I’m a 1-Kiss author, and I totally agree with you. Sex isn’t dirty. It’s fun, natural, an important part of a relationship. A lot of the so-called “clean” author market would agree. Our problem is that the people who run the websites and stores have designated a name for it. I’m also not about to tell other authors what to write – we all have things we love, things our readers love, and there’s zero judgement from me. The “clean & wholesome” market IS growing by leaps and bounds, though, so there’s a market for that, too. I’ve been told by authors of steamier books that I’m not a real romance writer because there isn’t sex in my books. My personal opinion is that we all need to stick together, as authors, and stop belittling each other’s steam/heat/kiss levels. Thank you for a great blog post. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sally, any author who tells you that you’re not a “real” romance author because you don’t include sex in your books is full of it. We both know romance isn’t sex and sex doesn’t equal romance. Romance is about the relationship between the characters and how those characters find healing, love, acceptance, and wholeness in one another. However, that denigration of what certain authors write cuts both ways. I’ve had sweet and clean authors as well as readers who won’t read anything but sweet and clean tell me I’m writing porn/erotica because some of my books include open-door sex scenes. I’m very emotionally invested in my characters (as authors, we have to be or the readers won’t be) and comments like that belittle and degrade those characters I created and love. As romance authors, you are so very correct that we have to stand together. We all work hard to craft stories our readers want to read.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Kelly, thank you for the shout out and thank you for writing what I’ve been thinking and saying for over a year now. I whole-heartedly agree all romance authors need to stand together and stop belittling one another for what one author choses to write or not write. As for myself, I’ll write as the story dictates. Frankly, there is a scene missing from *Brokken Knight*. It will never see the light of day and was pulled out before publication because of the terms of writing within the Brokken Road Romances required “no open door sex” and “no more than a kiss or two”, yet while crafting the rough draft, the characters themselves and the trajectory of the plot line dictated a bit more than “a kiss or two.”

    Liked by 1 person

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