This is a list of the levels of heat found in modern romance novels. For purposes of the Here Come the Brides short story contest, stories should be aimed at levels 2, 3, or 4.
Heat Level 1: Sweet or Closed-Door Romance
- Maybe some hand-holding through the story and a kiss when they get together.
- Plenty of emotion, but no undressing on the page or detail to worry about
- The bedroom door is closed and anything that does happen, happens behind a closed door.
“Clean” romance (or wholesome romance) is the lowest level of heat, and that means no discussion of sex scenes or premarital sex at all.. Of course, it’s still a romance novel, so characters need to be interested in one another and have a happy ending.
Popular examples include “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion.
Heat Level 2: Subtle Sensuality
- More sensual than sweet with more sizzle.
- Lots of kissing and some touching.
- Sexy talk isn’t graphic
- Focus is on the feelings rather than the body parts.
- Lovemaking is implied not described – generally no unzipping, prodding, poking or bodice ripping.
- Feels sexy and full of heart
A step up from sweet romances, these books contain mild sensuality. Physical interactions might include kissing and hugging, but these scenes are described with restraint. The focus remains on the emotional connection and the build-up of the relationship. There is an acknowledgment of physical desire, but it’s not the story’s focus. Examples include “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” by Jenny Han and Nicholas Sparks’ novels.
Heat Level 3: Moderate Heat, Steamy
- Most contemporary romance falls into this category
- Some graphic sex scenes on the page with language to match but the focus on the relationship
- Body parts named and explored (so to speak)
The details are not explicit or prolonged. The physical aspects of the relationship are explored more deeply, with several scenes of intimacy that are sensually described, yet not graphically detailed. The balance between the emotional and physical aspects of the relationship starts to even out.
“Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon fall into this category.
Heat Level 4: Spicy
- Explicit sex and sex talk
- One level shy of erotica
- May involve sex toys, some mild BDSM
- Sex used to further the story – in intimate detail
Spicy romances turn up the heat considerably. These novels feature multiple explicit scenes, with sexual content being a significant part of the relationship and the story. The language used to describe these scenes is more graphic, leaving little to the imagination, yet the emotional connection remains integral to the plot. “The Darkest Temptation” by Danielle Lori and Sylvia Day’s “Crossfire” series are quintessential examples of this level.
Heat Level 5: Erotica
- The central plot is still the romance – sex is used to further the emotional journey
- Graphic language, explicit sex, may involve BDSM, sex toys, and multiple partners.
The hottest end of the spectrum is erotica. These stories focus primarily on sex, with the plot serving to frame and facilitate sexual encounters. The language is explicit, and the descriptions are graphic and detailed. These novels often explore various sexual fantasies and kinks. It’s important to note that while all erotica is high heat, not all high-heat novels are erotica— the narrative and emotional depth still play a crucial role in distinguishing the two. Classic examples include “Story of O” by Pauline Réage, “Delta of Venus” by Anaïs Nin, and “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James.