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Heat Indexes in Historical Romance

The other day I picked up an older historical romance book by a well-known traditionally published author and started reading it. The book was published in 2015. When I got to page forty, the hero of the book unbuttoned his breeches and exposed himself to the heroine as a shock tactic. Frankly, she was a lot calmer than I was reading the passage, because I was horrified. I don’t consider myself a prude by any means, and have written my own fair share of steamy scenes when it comes to romance. Nevertheless, the act turned me cold as stone, and obviously, I didn’t finish the book. It’s something that I personally do not think belongs in a historical romance book. However, other readers were not as offended, by evidence of the five-star reviews.

I suppose readers of historical romance have all sorts of tolerance levels when it comes to sex scenes in a novel. You will notice that we try to indicate in our author promotions, how warm and cozy or steaming hot these scenes are by rating them as follows:

  • One – Kisses and hugs
  • Two – Passionate kissing
  • Three – Sex behind closed doors
  • Four – Steamy sex with a few descriptive words
  • Five – Sex with graphic description short of erotica

Level five, of course, is the over-the-top sex with graphic descriptions that are blazing hot, making the reader go wide-eyed, blush, and grab a fan. Some like it hot – others do not. It’s a matter of preference.

Posting these heat indexes hopefully help readers make decisions when purchasing a book. Unfortunately, we don’t get those insights on Amazon or other retailers what level of sexual activity is in the story we are about to read. Once in a while, you may see an author put a warning at the end of the synopsis if it’s close to erotica. You can usually tell, too, by comments in reviews if a reader thinks there is too much sex and not enough story.

Things have come a long way since the bodice-ripping days. The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss has its fair share of shock in the beginning of the book with rape of a virgin and subsequent captivity. Twenty years ago when The Duke and I was written by Julia Quinn, I don’t think much was said about Daphne’s ploy of having sex with drunk Simon without his consent, which would be definitely coined as rape in the eyes of many today. You can see that complaint being raised in more recent reviews.

Many of us love Jane Austen, who wrote the beautiful love stories we admire. Naturally, she’s a great example of historical romance in the kisses and hugs rating. They are proof that wonderful romances can be written without graphic sex. They are more character driven stories than sexually driven.

In historical romance, intercourse can occur out of wedlock or after the wedding vows. Morals are not a central theme in most books unless it’s a religious-based historical romance. I’ve written books with no sex and plenty of sex — it just depends on the story, characters, and theme.

There is no right or wrong answer on how cozy or steamy historical romance books need to be, but there are definitely preferences among readers. Frankly, I don’t like books with rape scenes, aggressive men who take liberties without asking first, or shocking vulgarity like the first example I gave. However, for other readers, it may not be a problem. After all, in the early bodice-ripping days, historical romance had its share of rogues who seduced women. The proliferation of such tropes gave the genre its reputation. With the increasing awareness in the twenty-first century about the importance of consent, these scenes of forced seduction may not be acceptable to some readers. But let’s be honest here. To some women, it’s a turn-on. Each to their own.

Authors, however, are listening to the masses, or at least should be, on how to write a hot steamy sex scene that doesn’t cross boundaries. There is a great article on a website named Jezebel entitled, “The Romance Novelist’s Guide to Hot Consent.” It’s worth the read, especially for authors, and delves into how some of the bestselling authors approach this delicate subject when writing sex scenes. A few authors interviewed in the article are of the historical romance genre.

So, let’s be honest.

  • Some prefer cozy sweet hugs and kisses.
  • Some prefer hot and steamy love scenes with no questions asked.
  • Others require slow paced scenes that include vocal consent to remove bras and panties.

My parting thoughts are that I only wish that authors would be more proactive and add the heat level at the end of their synopsis of the book itself. It would help readers immensely in choosing the level of sexual content in a book they purchase. If it’s not listed in the “Sweet Romance Category,” it’s pretty hard to determine how hot it gets between the pages. You can sometimes make a determination based on the heat level of the cover, but that still doesn’t tell you how far the lovers will take it with or without consent between the sheets.

Do you have a preference? Feel free to chime in on the subject. You are always welcome to express opinions.

Articles · Press This

Shonda Rhimes’s Bridgerton Rape Scene (Press This! Vox)

Another must read that discusses the reception of the book version in 2003, and how comments have changed in 2020.  As reported, “The rape scene is brief and disturbing, but it’s not treated as a rape.”


Bridgerton wants to explore consent while it ignores its own glaring consent issue.

Source: Shonda Rhimes’s Bridgerton has a rape scene, but it’s not treated like one – Vox