Random Thoughts of a Romance Blogger: Clean Romance

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As an avid romance reader, I’m quite used to seeing books rated or categorized based on the level of heat or how descriptive the sex in the books is.  This is something that actually helps me figure out what I am in the mood to read.  Personally, over the years, I’ve stopped reading erotic romance and now like my books to fall somewhere in the middle of the heat scales.  But I understand that there’s a market for all of it.

However, I’ve seen a lot of talk about “clean romance” thrown around and every single time I see it the actual term just irks me to no end.  Why are books with no sex labeled clean?  Is this meant to tell us that somehow sex is dirty?  To be honest, I’ve only read some clean romances by pure accident because personally it’s not something that works for me.  This is not due to the fact that I think having sex in books is better or worst as a general rule.  Reading is such a personal thing and everyone has different tastes.  For me, sex in romance novels (when done the right way) usually deepens the connection between a couple in a way that can only be achieved by physical intimacy.  I also think for me there is such a thing as too much of it.  And that’s all personal tastes!  But at the end of the day, that doesn’t make it dirty and to have books labeled as clean romance because they don’t have casual or descriptive sex just makes me bitchy.

So where did this term come from and who decided that what they were writing was clean?  While I’m not trying to say that there isn’t a market for books that don’t casually throw in sex scenes or that don’t describe sexual acts, because frankly there is a huge market for that.  I do find myself annoyed at the term and the implications that if you read romance novels with sex in them it’s scandalous and just a quick jump to being labeled “mommy porn”.  I personally prefer the “sweet romance” label, which is used a lot less often.  It creates for a less judgy environment, in my opinion.

How do you feel about the term?
What other things about romance labels bother you?


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I love this post so much! I just had a discussion on twitter about this very subject. I have a big issue with the term “clean romance” for many of the reasons you have discussed but also because romances deemed clean are often marketed to religious or young audiences. As a YA librarian I find this especially troubling. I always try and find sex-positive romances for the kids I work with because I feel its still important to portray sex in these novels because guess what, teens have sex! Plus the term gives me the heebie jeebies and I avoid… Read more »

Under the Covers Book Blog

Yeah the term gives the wrong impression and especially for such a young audience. I’m ok with people having different levels of comfort on what they want to read, but we shouldn’t make anyone feel like one is the proper way and the other is for the “scandalous” people. Great to hear that from a librarian’s perspective as I’m sure you have this so much more in your face daily.


For sure! It may also be a way to delegitimize the genre in some ways. Again this not to say there isn’t a market for it I just think romance as a genre is far more than the “clean” or “dirty” labels that this term restricts it to.


I haven’t heard the phrase clean romance before but I don’t like its implication that if sex is involved it is dirty.

Amy R

I dislike the term “clean romance” and won’t read a book marketed that way. I’m good with closed door book as it’s the story I’m more interested in so the level of sex in the book isn’t that important to me.

Melanie Jayne

This is a topic that makes my blood boil. The first time that I saw the term “Clean Romance” it was in a submission call and I thought it meant that we should submit a manuscript that was error-free, formatted correctly and spell-checked. Wow was I wrong. I cannot believe that in 2018, we are still saddled with the stigma that sex and sexuality are somehow dirty with the implication that it is wrong. Why are we still allowing our wants and needs to be marginalized? We have stamped out Mommy-Porn and it has been years since I was described… Read more »


Well said!

Sophia Rose

I was just about to say that I use the term ‘sweet’ romance because I find the term ‘clean’ problematic for the same reason, but there it was in your last paragraph. LOL

Geralynn Ross

I completely agree with idea that clean sounds judgy. There is a segment of readers that call sexy books trashy. I seen reviews that were down right hostile that the book had a :dirty” scene in it.

Under the Covers Book Blog

The reviews are soooo hostile.


It goes both ways. I’ve seen some very hostile reviews on clean books because they DIDN’T have a sex scene it. Hence why I believe the labels should be more obvious for spice level. It comes down to what people’s expectations are. If you’re expecting sweet and get spicy or vice versa, that makes people feel tricked.

Monique D

I don’t like the term clean either, and sweet makes my teeth ache. Although I don’t know if both are the same thing as behind closed doors, or whatever. They’re not all the same, are they? Maybe they could be labeled as “non sexually explicit”, or revert to a 0 to 5 rating? Thanks for the always intelligent discussions.

Kathy Valentine

I totally agree with you Francesca,I hate labels of any kind! I also like sex in my books too because it is part of the characters bonding. I’ve read some really great writers who aren’t so discripted about the lovemaking,for instance Jude deveraux or Julie Garwood both who’s books aren’t very hot,but still write great romances. Could you imange 50 shades without the sex,it would just be a about a control freak who likes to dominate women,not so sexy with out the lovemaking and falling in love. Shared on all my socials!!


I couldn’t agree with you more Francesca!


As a fellow blogger, I’m the same way. I don’t read the erotic anymore. I got bored, actually. For me, I don’t like the term “clean” either. I prefer, sweet. As Megan Hart said one time, a long time ago…sex is messy, dirty and chaotic. That said, a sweet romance can have sex in it without all the verbiage and still be a good read. I don’t have to have sex in a book for me to read it. I still want characters development, a plausible plot and an HEA. Is that too much to ask for nowadays?



I agree and prefer the term “sweet.”


Totally agree. I refuse to buy books with this in the title or description. And it’s not like I require graphic sex in the books I buy or anything! I just find even the need to clarify the lack of it an insult. I feel the same way about books labeled “Christian romance”.


It’s not meant to be an insult. It’s to alert people like myself who don’t want to read any of the sex stuff. I specific look for those kinds of labels so I won’t be surprised halfway through a book to find a sex scene.


Random thought . . . if they are having sex in the shower is it “clean romance”? LOL


Well, I realize I’m a little late to this discussion, but since this turned up on an active google search, I’d like to offer a perspective that differs from the consensus here. Clean is typically used to describe non-graphic romances because “watching” others having sex is most people’s definition of porn. And even porn producers frequently describe their products as showing “dirty sex”. So it’s not exclusively religious. However, I do suspect that word choice was originally derived from traditional beliefs about sex that is as God intended (which is considered a beautiful, sacramental part of marriage by many,but incredibly… Read more »


Excellent points. I agree.


I couldn’t care less what it’s called as long as I know going in whether there’s going to be sex or not. I prefer not, personally, but I’ll tolerate a little bit of steam so long as it’s not too descriptive. I’m much more interested in the romance / emotional part of the romance, rather than the smut part, but that’s just me. I don’t care what people label it though. I couldn’t care less. As long as we all know what we’re talking about, the label is irrelevant.