Sweet Savage Flame’s 6 Heat Levels in Romances


In romance novels, heat levels can range from as tepid as room temperature to as hot as the sun.

However, while some may enjoy their–ahem–peppers to be spicy jalapeno, others prefer the sweet mildness of a red bell, while another may enjoy the fieriness of a Carolina Reaper. Tastes are relative. Each individual has his or her own definition of what is “sexy.”

We appreciate the wide scope of sensuality that exists in the romance genre. Many book blogs provide sensuality grades for their reviews. As our analyses are fairly detailed, our reviewers at Sweet Savage Flame typically don’t give these ratings.

For that reason, we created a chart listing 6 different levels of heat in romances.

If you’d like to see heat levels in future reviews, please, let us know in the comments.



Clean doesn’t indicate a level of goodness or purity. It is simply a designation for love-centered stories devoid of any hint of eroticism.

Think of teen romances from the 1970s to 1990s, like those written by Ellen Conford, Francine Pascal, or Caroline Cooney.


Romances that we label sweet have kissing and perhaps closed-door sex scenes. There are no other sexual partners for either hero or heroine.

A declaration of love is essential, as it is that action which is the culmination of the story.

These books include those by Georgette Heyer, Barbara Cartland, or vintage Harlequin Romances by authors such as Betty Neels.


The reader is privy to the sexual desires of the characters in a warm romance.

Romantic & sexual passages can be euphemistic, brief, and/or not extremely graphic. Nevertheless, the emotional experience is prominent.

The warm heat level is typical in many category romances such as the Harlequin Presents line.

Historical romance authors like Laurie McBain, Jude Deveraux, and Julie Garwood wrote love scenes with this style.

4. SENSUAL (aka HOT)

Love scenes in sensual romances are descriptive of both action and emotion. Open-door sex scenes are an absolute must.

Metaphoric language is common in books from the genre’s early years.

But as the 20th century came to a close, authors began to use more accurate terms for body parts. Still, coarse or “vulgar” language is kept to a minimum.

Sex is designed both to thrill the reader and demonstrate the evolution of the love story. If the reader feels the need to fan oneself after reading a passage, the book qualifies as hot.

Dell Candlelight Ecstasy, Dell Ecstasy Supreme, Harlequin Temptation, and Silhouette Desire lines ushered these kinds of love scenes into contemporary romance.

Authors such as diverse in their writings as Johanna Lindsey, Lisa Kleypas, Cassie Edwards, and Miranda Lee created romances that qualify as hot or sensual.


Erotic romances place heavy emphasis on sexual activities. Not just the main characters, but side characters also can engage in love play.

The scenes are rather explicit. Flowery euphemisms are relegated to older works. Tthe more contemporary erotic romances don’t hold back with raunchy or smutty words.

It’s possible for the hero or heroine to have multiple partners. Still, in the end, monogamous love wins out.

Significant authors of vintage erotic romances include Bertrice Small and Susan Johnson in earlier years, and by the 1990s, Thea Devine and Robin Schone.

Coincidentally, those four authors would be chosen by Kensington Books to write erotic novellas for two anthologies, Captivated (1999) and Fascinated (2000). The books highlighted the growing trend of more sexualized stories in the romance genre as the 20th century came to a close.


Note: Sweet Savage Flame uses the term “pornographic” with no negative or positive connations. We employ it as a neutral term for a type of novel.

Sex is the primary theme of pornographic works. Any romance found in a book with this heat level is a byproduct of the tale.

These novels do not typically focus on plots. Instead, a series of sexual escapades is designed to arouse the reader.

There is no overarching love story, even if there is a happy ending for a couple. Or throuple. Or more.

Anne Rice’s erotic novels, written under the names Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure, such as Belinda or Exit to Eden, and Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus are romantic pornographic books.

Your Opinion

One person’s idea of kinky may be another’s other-day usual. So, as noted, these are relative terms.

What do you think of our six levels of heat in romance? Do you agree with our rankings?

Let us know what you think. Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Please Drop a Comment and Let's Talk Romance!

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