Sweet or Spicy or None of the Above?

First, this post is NOT about the relative merits of romances called “sweet” versus romances called “spicy”. It’s about how the terms themselves. I’ve disliked the designations of “sweet” versus “spicy” (or sometimes “hot”) for a long time. Somewhere online I recently saw “sweet” equated to “clean” and decided I wanted to blog about it.

I realize the industry needs an easy way to describe the level of sexuality in a romance, especially since some readers (unlike me) have strong preferences one way or the other.

But I still don’t like the terms.

“Sweet” can translate to “cute” or “safe”. It doesn’t do justice to the fiercely clever characterizations and witty dialogue in a Jane Austen or a Georgette Heyer. Or to romances that have dark themes but don’t happen to take the characters to the bedroom.

“Spicy” or “hot” makes me think of Buffalo chicken wings but my bigger concern is this: that I’ve seen “sweet” romance defined as romance that focuses on the emotional development of the relationship–implying others focus on the sex alone. “Spicy” or “hot” just don’t do justice to the body/mind/soul sort of lovemaking you find in a Laura Kinsale or Julia Ross.

It’s hard to think of better terms though. I can come up with definitions but it’s hard to come up with single words that don’t either imply “sweet” romances are uptight or “hot” romances are trashy. “Clean” vs “dirty”? “Chaste” vs “sexy”? See what I mean? At least both “sweet” and “spicy” can be thought of as good things.

But two terms aren’t enough anymore.

All About Romance has a Sensuality Ratings Guide that defines levels from “Kisses”, “Subtle”, “Warm”, “Hot and “Burning”. Their definitions look useful and pretty optimal to me, despite the lingering chicken wing connotations.

So what do you think? Are you content with the old definitions of “sweet” vs “spicy”? Do you have other ideas to suggest?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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