What exactly does “steamy” mean when it comes to romance?

When a reader says they want a “steamy” book, what does that mean? What does “sweet” or “clean” mean? Well, these often means a lot of different things to different people.

When trying to find the line between steam levels in different romance subgenres, it’s helpful to break down what each level means and which subgenres use each most often. Of course, there are books that cross, blur, or nudge the lines, but it’s good to have a firm basis to start with.

Hands Holding HeartsSweet

Low-level sexual tension, focused more on emotional elements than physical, limited to kissing and embraces. Stories often end with a proposal or strong HEA. Think G-rated movie.

Most often used in Regencies and some historicals, middle and younger YA, religious/spiritual/inspirational fiction, and sweet/clean contemporary romances.

Subtle

8a7998ee-211a-4316-9e7f-999a6df97905No explicit sensuality, kissing and touching is okay but physical descriptions are limited to general terms or are only implied. Physical acts should be focused on the emotional elements rather than explicit description. Off-screen sex is alluded to and left to the reader’s imagination. Think PG-rated movie.

Most often used in YA, mild contemporary romance, some historical romances, and spiritual/religious/inspirational.

Warm/Medium

sunset-691995_1920Moderate explicit content and sensuality. Sex is described, but not in graphic detail. The emphasis stays on the “lovemaking” and emotions, not the act. Euphemisms are more common and many details are left to the reader’s imagination. Sexual tension is used throughout, with more touching and some undressing involved, and there are usually only one or two sexual scenes in the whole book. Think PG-13 rated movie.

Common in single-title romances, upper YA, mild NA, some historicals, milder/teen paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi, and some romantic suspense/thriller/mysteries where the focus is more on the crime than the relationship.

Hot

Romantic couple in a hotel roomVery explicit sensuality and a deeper focus on sexual feelings, desire, and physical sensations. Sex scenes are longer and may have 2-3 in the book. Character thoughts are focused more on sexual urges and desires and sex is graphically described with specific body part words used and strong euphamisms. There may be light exploration of less-traditional sexual activities. The emotional aspect of sex is still important and should be balanced with the physical sensations. Sex scenes should further the story, not overtake it. Think R-rated movie.

Includes the majority of contemporary romances today, romantic suspense, most NA, some Apha/mafia subgenres, and most paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi.

Erotic

Marriage couple in the hotelExtremely explicit sensuality and descriptions with a strong focus on sexual thoughts, desires, and needs. Sex may be the primary focus of the story, but it still has a full-arc storyline and strong emotional elements. Sex often includes non-traditional elements such as light BDSM, use of sex toys, ménage or other forms of “kink.” Profanity is more common and graphic language is used in descriptions. There are usually multiple sex scenes throughout the book. These stories can’t be told adequately without the sexual content. Think NC-17-rated movies.

Erotic romance

***Always consider consent and the line between abuse and dominance. Characters must retain a choice on whether to participate and there needs to be a minimum level of respect between partners to keep it out of the realm of an abusive relationship.

Pre-Order: Valentine, Pets & Kisses Box Set

VPK PreOrder 99 3DAvailable for Pre-order now! Release date February 2nd. FOURTEEN ALL-NEW, SWEET VALENTINE ROMANCES

Candy and canines. Flowers and felines. Celebrate this Valentine’s Day with your sweethearts of the human and fuzzy varieties!

Nothing is more heart-warming than kisses from the pet who adores you and the man who loves you, so snuggle up with VALENTINE PETS & KISSES — an anthology of fourteen sweet romances from USA Today bestselling and award-winning authors — and strike the perfect mood for moonlit walks and candlelight dinners with your pet and sweetheart.

Valentine Hound Dog — Rachelle Ayala
A fashion designer and her basset hound puppy convince a burned ex-firefighter that beauty is never skin deep and neither is love.VPK PreOrder 7

The Crazy Girl’s Handbook — DelSheree Gladden
Watching her nephews was supposed to be a fun and relaxing weekend for Greenly, not a never ending disaster all witnessed by the best blind date she ever stood up.

The Vet’s Valentine Gift — J.L. Campbell
A veterinarian is caught between his job, an ex, a menagerie and love. Can a little Cupid fix things by Valentine’s Day?

Her Perfect Catch — K.L. Brady
Years of faithful dog-sitting pays sweet dividends when a struggling sports writer scores tickets to the Super Bowl and encounters her favorite football player.

Inflamed — Jade Kerrion
A firefighter running from his past convinces a hard-luck single mother to believe in happy endings.VPK PreOrder 6

Remember When — Hope Welsh
Laura and Brent really tried to make their marriage work, but in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be—or was it?

Your Biggest Fan? — Sydney Aaliyah Michelle
Snowed in with the man of her dreams, a football fan and her dog find love.

The Feline Fix — Caroline Bell Foster
A scientist questions her cat’s loyalty when it comes to love and a hunky policeman.

Trembling Hearts — Suzette Riddick
A daring young woman crashes into the life of a disfigured recluse and his pooch. Can love be far behind?

Valentino, Be Mine — Tina D.C. Hayes
Sparks fly when two people who can’t stand each other wind up dog-sitting a rambunctious little Yorkie that needs a new home. VPK PreOrder 4

Lost and Found — Jeanne Bannon
Stuck with her ex’s puppy, a high school English teacher meets a new man but will a series of unfortunate events keep them apart?

Surviving San Francisco — Susan Oloier
A small town girl survives San Francisco after she hits a cat and falls for a handsome veterinarian.

19 Ivy Lane — Aubrey Wynne
A mysterious woman and her cat befriend a postman and set tongues wagging on Ivy Lane. But when he delivers a long-awaited letter, will his heart be “returned to sender?”

Three Plus Three — Cindy Flores Martinez
A grieving widow and her beloved doggie meet a handsome widower the day before Valentine’s Day.
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Reviews: Goodreads VPK Box Set 3D NAMES trimmed