Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of spoilers. However, when it comes to romance books (or books with romantic elements), I prefer to know what I’m getting into. Will there be open door love scenes or will it fade to black? Is this book safe for work? Is it appropriate to hand this book to a twelve year old? To that end, I have developed my own ranking system for measuring how “steamy” a romance novel is. It’s not foolproof, but I find it works for me.
Level 1: Greenhouse
Minimal Romance. Physical relationships between characters are either nonexistent or are vaguely referred to on the page. There may be kissing, but it’s uncommon and rarely described in detail. Oftentimes, readers are only aware of a physical relationship because of a pregnancy or a child.
Examples: Think classics like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice or Persuaion. Lots of modern cozy mystery series are on this level as well as most middle grade books.
Level 2: Hot Cocoa
Warm and Cozy Romance. Physical relationships between characters may include detailed descriptions of kisses or make out sessions, but does not progress beyond that on the page.
Examples: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Beauty and the Clockwork Beast by Nancy Campbell Allen, and Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain all fit here. Y.A. books with romantic storylines often are on this level, as well as some romance or rom coms, and cozy mystery series.
Level 2.5: Gentle Simmer
Closed Door Romance. Physical relationships between characters include detailed descriptions of kisses or make out sessions. Love scenes take place within the narrative, but are presented as “closed door”, “fade to black”, or “blurred background”.
Examples: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London, The Bodyguard by Katherine Center, and Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mysteries series all fit here. Some Y.A. romance books are on this level, as well as some romance or rom coms, and most cozy mystery series.
Level 3: Full Boil
Conventional Romance. I feel like most modern mainstream adult romance novels are on this level. Physical relationships between characters include 1-3 descriptive open door love scenes. The intimate acts described in these books are usually what is considered conventional (a.k.a. second base, third base, home run, etc.)
Examples: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters, He’s a Keeper by Stacy Travis, and most books by Penny Reid.
Level 4: Sauna
Hot and Heavy Romance. These books push the envelope just a little past what is considered conventional. Physical relationships between characters include 3-5 descriptive open door love scenes. The intimate acts described in these books often veer toward creative or unconventional. Although these characters are often experimental in the bedroom, they typically don’t consider themselves part of the BDSM community or lifestyle.
Examples: Marriage and Murder by Penny Reid, most of the Ice Plant Barbarians series by Ruby Dixon, Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade, Dangerous by Minerva Spencer, and Don’t Hex and Drive by Juliette Cross.
Level 5: Locomotive
Hotter and Heavier Romance. Books on this level flirt with the line of socially acceptable vs deviant. Physical relationships between characters often include 5 or more descriptive open door love scenes. The intimate acts described in these books are often seen as taboo or unconventional. Books on this level usually stick to two-partner relationships rather than polyamory or open relationships. The main couple typically makes consent a top priority. It is common for at least one person in the main couple to be part of the BDSM community or lifestyle to some extent.
Examples: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, Dipped in Holly by Dana Islay, and Lumber Jacked by Annabeth Albert.
Level 6: Steamship
Enter at Your Own Risk Romance. Books in this category make Fifty Shades look vanilla and typically require trigger warnings. They often include storylines or intimate acts that are seen as taboo, deviant, or at least highly unconventional (bondage, power-exchange relationships, multiple partners, paranormal romance*, extraterrestrial romance*, kink, rape, dubious consent, etc.)
THESE BOOKS ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE. Check for content advisories. Consider yourself warned.
Examples: S.M. LaViolette’s Victorian Decadence series, The Innkeeper’s Daughter by Bianca M. Schwarz, A Lady of Rooksgrave Manor by Kathryn Moon, Carnage Island by Lexi C. Floss, Daddy P.I. by E.J. Frost, pretty much anything by Kelsey Soliz, The Empyrean Club series by Sappharia Mayer, the Honey series by Kristen Ashley, and Hard Limits by Suki Williams.
*Please note there is a full spectrum of paranormal and extraterrestrial romance. Many fit best in level 4 or 5 or maybe 3.