How Hot Are You?
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
It turns out that the "heat level" in a novel is actually quite hard to define. There is no universally accepted unit of measure, and what one reader might consider tame can be very naughty for another.
For myself, as a reader, I don't really think about it. How much detail or how far an author goes with the "love" scenes is secondary to the story. Some authors can create a very steamy scene with little graphic description, while others go into all the gooey details without ever bringing the reader into the atmosphere.
As someone with a very active imagination, I don't mind when an author lets me fill in the blanks. I also don't mind just going along for the ride if they want to describe every detail. It's the same with any aspect of the story... you can tell me what the trees look and smell like, or just tell me there's some trees and I can see and smell them however I like.
Not all readers appreciate discovering the heat level as they go... some would be bored by a sweet romance where the hero and heroine barely hold hands. Other readers would be horrified to find themselves in a graphic scene with way too much information for their tastes.
Although there is no scale that is used by all authors and publishers, most have their own that you can reference if you want to know what you're signing up for... or want to avoid being caught by surprise.
The scale I liked the best was from All The Kissing. I tweaked it a little, and here's what I came up with as a guide for my own reference:
1. Sweet Romance: No sexual thoughts or themes. Maybe a crush, or even a kiss at most. This could be for a teen, young adult, or inspirational romance. The plot revolves around the main characters growing to love each other, not about the physical attraction they may or may not feel.
2. Sensual Romance: Sexy thoughts, temptations and desire. No descriptions of intimate body parts. Sex may be implied, but not described. The characters aren't necessarily avoiding sex, they aren't innocent, they usually just have other things happening that keep them from giving into their desires. Some of them think about it a lot, some don't. Some are actually pursuing a romantic encounter, some are more reserved. A sensual romance will get things started, then close the door and let you use your imagination.
3. Steamy Romance: Sex without the gooey details. This level won't close the door, but also won't take you through so much detail that you con't use your own imagination to make it more personal.
4. Explicit Romance: All the details. Nothing held back. At this level, the sex is graphic and often a central point of the story. The end result is still love, after all it is a Romance, but the story wouldn't be the same without the sex. Sometimes sex is what brings them together, sometimes it is what brings down their walls so they can love each other. However it happens, it's gonna be messy.
5. Erotic Romance: All the details. Nothing held back, and with all the kinky stuff you can imagine. It's still a love story, still a Romance, but the sex is extreme and there are no boundaries. If you took away the sex, you wouldn't be left with anything resembling a coherent plot. The sex is the backbone of the story.
Erotica, with an 'a', is something else entirely. It's erotic, without the Romance. If there is one thing a Romance novel needs, it's romance. Erotica is a different genre entirely.
So, that's the way I see the Romance world! Some stories blur the lines, but a scale is helpful to let you know what you're signing up for ;)