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?