Sex Positivity in publishing: Explicit books aren’t ‘dirty’ and they can still be sweet.

We have an ongoing problem in the romance genre about how to classify books based on sexual content.

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When people talk about the relative heat ratings of books, some authors/publishers/booksellers/promo sites like to use the word ‘clean’ to describe romances that don’t have explicit sex scenes in.

Clearly this is problematic, because by implication that makes explicit books ‘dirty,’ and when you think about it, that’s not a very sex positive way of describing erotic books.

Some people try to get around that by using the descriptor ‘sweet romance’ for books that don’t have explicit sex in them.

But where does that leave an author like me?

Reviews frequently describe my books as sweet (and I’m not denying it), but I’m also known for writing explicit sex scenes – because that’s how I roll. The sex is usually an integral part of the relationship development in my stories, so it tends to be on page and great (and hopefully glorious) detail. So I would definitely describe my books as sweet and sexy.

I come from a fanfiction background, where stories are rated in a similar way to movies. Some sites (Fanfiction.net) use X, NC-17, R etc to give an indication of sexual content, and others (Archive of Our Own) use a rating system of Explicit, Mature, Teen and General. This seems to be an obvious and simple solution for rating original romantic fiction as well. It clearly indicates what level of sex scenes to expect between the pages, while not having any judgemental or negative connotations.

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About Jay Northcote

Author of LGBT romance. Trans (he/him), Parent, cat herder, professional procrastinator.
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