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  • Writer's pictureD.S. Ritter

Sweet? Spicy? Heat Level? What?

A flaming chili pepper

I know, sounds like you're sitting down at a restaurant, right? Well, for hungry bookworms, all these terms also describe romance novels! Let's break them down.

Sweet v Spicy Romance

"Is it spicy?" is a question I feel like I'm seeing more and more these days. Readers, particularly women, seem to be in search of a certain flavor and that flavor is hot. But, in book terms what the heck does that mean?

Spicy Romance, as I understand the term being used today, denotes on-the-page sex.

Sweet Romance, on the other hand, is the opposite.

There's some debate about the ranges of sweet and spicy (like, is there kissing in a sweet romance? Heavy petting?) and I think there are always going to be opinions on this. There probably always have been, we just didn't talk so openly about it.


I don't use the word "clean" to denote the same thing as sweet, because generally I don't consider sex to be a dirty thing.

Some might use clean and sweet interchangeably, but I've found "clean" more often denotes Christian or Amish romance rather than what most would probably consider sweet.

Heat Level

Now, because spiciness can be a spectrum, and while some people are down for a little nookie, not everyone is looking for flat-out erotica, readers have come up with "heat level" ratings. These are not standardized, but I think most people agree that low-spice is going to be less explicit than a very spicy or "high heat" book. BTW, some sites do have standardized heat ratings that you can consult.

It's all about personal preference...

I really don't mind that there aren't hard and fast rules for these gauges, namely because these things can be a question of taste, and also because an agreed-upon standard can be a double-edged sword. The more solid the ratings become the easier it is for some to use them toward censorship. Obviously, I don't think kids should be reading spicy books, but I also think it's totally fine for adults to read pretty much whatever they want when it comes to that.

What's my preference? I usually prefer my sex-scenes closed-door or vague, rather than explicit, though I have on occasion enjoyed that kind of thing. The work of Jay Kristoff has been surprisingly enjoyable, even though the scenes in those books are a bit spicier than I normally go for. My books have been (and will probably continue to be) pretty tame. See The Frozen Embrace, for example.

Now You Know...

So, now you're brushed up on today's romance novel lingo! Go forth and read wisely.


If you're interested in a sweet, cozy romantic fantasy novel, please come check out Falling for Felldown Farm, which is going to go live over on Kickstarter in June!

eBook and paperback of Falling for Felldown Farm

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