Up Close & (un)Conventional Bookish Babble #3

Posted 12 June, 2019 by Brandee @ (un)Conventional Bookworms in Discussion Posts / 12 Comments

Up Close and (un)Conventional Bookish Babble

Welcome to this week’s Up Close and (un)Conventional Bookish Babble. This is where we discuss whatever we feel like. It can be something about books or the bookish community, or it can be about something else entirely!

In the last few years I’ve been noticing a distinction in the romance world. I think I get what the classification is supposed to be accomplishing but it’s having a negative effect on me. So I thought I’d get y’all’s take on it.

I’m talking about the distinction or labeling of books as “clean” romance. When it comes to romance, I don’t steer away from anything. While I do like a story with the steam, I don’t shy away from any steam level. That means I’m happy with everything from simple sexual tension to graphic depictions of sex. However, seeing a novel distinguished as “clean”…well, it makes me feel dirty. It makes me feel as though there’s something wrong with me not having an issue with any degree of steam level. And I’m therefore much less likely to purchase something labeled as “clean” because I feel as though I’m being shamed.

I think a friendlier way to market romances to those readers who prefer no steam or just a little steam without offending other readers would be to label novels by their steam level. But maybe it’s just me? How do y’all feel about this labeling? Does it bother you? Does it affect your desire to purchase a book? I’m really very curious. 🙂


Brandee @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

About Brandee @ (un)Conventional Bookworms

Brandee is a mom of 3 and a soon-to-be empty nester. She is also an avid reader, a genre omnivore, and a compulsive one-clicker - but she's in recovery. Besides being a reader, she's also a writer and hopes to divide the vast quantities of spare time she'll soon have between reading and finally publishing her first book.

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12 responses to “Up Close & (un)Conventional Bookish Babble #3

  1. I can definitely see where that would bother you- I mean yeah by definition labeling something “clean” kinda implies that steamier stuff is “dirty”, which seems off. I mean some people like sex in books and some don’t, but there’s no reason to judge one or another. I think your idea is a good one- steam level or whatever. then people know. And I don’t even read romance so why am I commenting? lol

  2. I feel like it definitely needs to be labelled (I basically can’t read a book with sex. Just can’t.) But yeah, the word ‘clean’ itself is the problem. I guess it just needs to be renamed! And actually, levels of steam could be so much more useful – cause I can probably tolerate steam level 2 but not steam level 5, as an example 😀 I mean, there can be so many levels to this! I’m still fine with characters being intimate and “going behind the curtain”, so to say, but some readers will not be. ‘Clean’ kind of doesn’t help here. So levels would be infinitely more helpful and kind to all kinds of readers 🙂

  3. I’ve been on my soapbox about this for some time. The term is offensive and author’s using it should take heed. As soon as I see it, I’m turned off and the book (and author) isn’t considered. It feels judgy and sanctimonious.

    I’ve seen the term “sweet” used, which is fine. Most authors just make it clear that the romance is behind closed doors.

    Thanks for raising the issue!

  4. I hate labels. They’re meant to put things in the box and I like things that are out of the box. That being said, things would be chaotic without them. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’ve ever read a “clean” romance. I’ve read romances that don’t have a lot of sex in them, if any. I don’t really pay attention to how much sex is in a book (I do occasionally notice that there isn’t much plot outside of sex in some books). But putting a label of “clean” wouldn’t entice me to read it. It might even make me pass it up for another book. Interesting topic.

    Melanie @ Hot Listens & Books of My Heart

  5. Oh how I agree with you, wifey! The term ‘clean’ does imply that anything else is dirty, and that kind of pisses me off! There’s nothing dirty about sex in my opinion – and so, I don’t enjoy the implication of those ‘clean’ romances either.
    I also agree with Evelina, though, it would be nice if it was possible to have steam levels, or to have something about sex being behind closed doors – because I understand completely if people don’t want to read the detailed sex scenes I sometimes really love 😉
    Like Jonetta and Melanie, I also shy away from books (and authors) who use the term ‘clean’ when it comes to romance – I don’t need to feel like I’m being passive-aggressively judged by that term.

  6. This is quite an interesting and timely post for me, as I just finished my discussion post, and it’s about how I am a romance reader. I wouldn’t say I seek graphic sex in my books, but I also am ok with it. I do lean away from erotica, because I like more story than sex, and I guess I am a prude, because BDSM is not for me – essentially, I can take it or leave it. With that said, I do understand, that some people do not appreciate graphic sex in their books or any other entertainment outlets, and I understand the need for the label, and steamier romance novels have become more of the norm. I can see how the use of the word “clean” could make you feel like you are reading the opposite (“dirty”), but that label has been used for other media, and I suppose, I just accept it as a normal way to distinguish less steamier romances.

  7. I am soooooooooo with you on this. I hate the term clean romance. HATE IT. I will read books with varying amounts of steamy scenes but I hate the labeling of certain books as clean because they don’t contain graphic sex scenes. I completely understand that not everyone wants to read books with graphic scenes, but the lack of them in a book does not make your romance clean. I mean the romance could have no sex and still contain a very toxic hero and I would not consider that to be a clean romance. So yeah… I hate the term and I wish it would die in a fire because by calling sexless books clean you are implying that books containing sex are dirty and should be shamed and that just feels like a shaming tactic especially in a genre that is heavily read by women who are already shamed by the rest of the world for anything that slightly touches on sex. *end rant*

  8. Sophia Rose

    No steam up to levels to lots of steam. Sweet to spicy. Flame levels, etc Those work for me.

    Admittedly, I’ve never been particularly upset about the clean-dirty designation though I don’t use it in reviews (see above ways I designate level of sex in books).
    I think its because years ago in jr high and high school when I started reading and watching romance, friends and I ask each other if the book or movie gets dirty and if I say yes, they are all over it, or yeah, some backed away with a shutter because they don’t do sex in books (I admit, there were some pretty cringe-worthy ones a few decades ago). LOL Just how we used to talk about books back then. We liked showing off our kickbutt reading/viewing tastes, I guess. Lots of gals and guys my age and older that are in my circle still do ask ‘is it dirty?’ ‘Is it clean?’ and its not meant as an insult because they aren’t giving it a bad connotation and are simply asking to know what to expect and if they need to give it a pass (okay and some ask sometimes to tease).
    But I can see how its insulting if it feels its directed at the reader in an accusing or moral judgment way and maybe the book, too. Sorry you were made to feel condemned. Hopefully, we’ll keep making advancements in the romance book world.

  9. Lindy@ A Bookish Escape

    I agree! I don’t like the “clean” label. I think it should be labeled something like: mild, moderate, or explicit sex scenes. The clean label feels like sex shaming.

  10. One thing I find interesting about the term “clean” or “sweet” to describe romance novels is what that actually means to people. For example, I have seen discussions of these terms in various groups. For some people, clean or sweet means nothing physical, other than maybe hand holding or “sweet kisses” (I guess as opposed to hot and heavy making out?). For others clean or sweet means no descriptive sex on the page. I personally have always thought anything that has no sex or closed door sex or what I think of as “fade to black” sex (as in the movie would fade to black at this point then pick up the next day) as clean/sweet. So….I say all that to say I don’t really like the term either but mainly because I think it is so subjective. I’ve seen reviews where authors have gotten low star ratings because the book did not fit an individual’s idea of “clean,” and I don’t think that is fair. I wish there was some universal steam rating, too!

  11. I hate it. I hate it because it implies that anything not ‘clean’ is somehow deviant.
    Plus, the few ‘clean’ romances I’ve read have been hallmark sweet but completely freaking passionless.
    Passionless, to me, does not equate to ‘clean’. Unless that’s what those authors were aiming for in which case they’re basically saying passion/heat = dirty.

    I don’t particularly care whether a book has overly descriptive, down and dirty filthy raw sex every time the topic comes up or whether they artfully fade to black (thus keep the ‘smut’/heat level down). I just care that the story is good and that the romance between the couple makes me feel something… The ‘clean’ romances I’ve read have somehow missed this point.

    I’m now at a point if someone describes something to me as ‘clean’ romance, I’m out.

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