Sexy, steamy, or downright raunchy — how do you rate THOSE scenes?

Has this happened to you?

You’re reading a pleasantly romantic book, eagerly turning pages, enjoying the building chemistry… and WHAM! Suddenly, you feel like you’re either in (a) an anatomy classroom or (b) the gynecologist’s office? So many body parts. So much fluid (ick). So many, many, many specifics.

Now, granted, tastes vary GREATLY by reader. The moaning and slipperiness that send me running for the hills are absolutely what other readers look for in their romance fiction. All tastes are valid! I’m body-positive, I swear!!

I just prefer my reading to leave certain things more to the imagination, ya know?

When I write reviews of romance fiction, I’ve struggled to find a clear way to let readers know what to expect. And that’s key for me actually — just tell me what to expect!! If I know a certain book has sex scenes that are way more graphic than I prefer, then I can decide for myself ahead of time if I want to read it. (And sometimes I will anyway, because the story or characters interest me enough to give it a try — but at least that way, I’m going into it fully aware of what I’m reading).

I did a bit of Googling, and haven’t found too many consistent approaches. Some of what I’ve found:

Open door/closed door: Pretty much what it sounds like. The door in question is the bedroom door, of course! Open door means the scene will show everything — the metaphorical door is wide open and we’re welcome to watch it all, in technicolor details. Closed door, on the other hand, means we may see some build-up, but once the action really kicks in, we’re left to imagine for ourselves what’s happening on the other side of the door.

Clean: When people talk about clean books, sometimes they’re talking about sex (i.e., nothing more than mild kissing at most), and sometimes the implication goes beyond that, to include everything from swearing to smoking to drinking. My spidey-senses tell me that readers looking for “clean” books often have a more religious standard in mind than I’m comfortable with, so this isn’t a descriptor I’d ever use on my own.

Movie ratings: I’ve seen some book reviews that use the MPAA rating systems as a guideline — G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17. In some ways, that’s fairly clear and easy to understand… but as a tool for distinguishing between different ways sex is portrayed in fiction, I’m not sure it’s all that helpful. X-rated or NC-17 makes it sound like porn, which isn’t what I’m talking about.

A few other variations I’ve come across:

All About Romance’s sensuality rating system — ranging from N/A to Burning.

Book Cave’s rating system — All Ages, Mild, Mild+, Moderate, Moderate+, Adult, and Adult+. (Interesting, but their system factors in alcohol, violence, profanity, and horror, as well as sexual content, and that’s well beyond the scope of what I care about)

Here’s a raunch rating scale I found on Reddit, which seems pretty practical.

I’m still unsure.

But… I’m thinking something along these lines:

Sweet: Kissing, cuddling, clothes on. Think Hallmark movie dating scene — cute, innocent, lightly flirty.

Suggestive: The flirtation becomes more physical — make-out scenes, caresses, breathlessness, mostly clothed action, driving each other crazy. Getting hot, but not seriously heavy.

Steamy: Bedroom scenes, but from a more zoomed out perspective. We know enough to know what’s going on — actions, positions, interactions, clothing removal — but no camera lens up close and personal.

Graphic: The aforementioned anatomy class / gynecologist’s office scenario. Everything is shown. Lots of fluids, lots of sounds, lots of swollen… well, everything.

What do you think? What am I missing? Would have a ratings scale for these type of scenes be helpful to you as a reader?

As I’ve said, I’m not a prude, I think sex is a good and positive thing when it’s between enthusiastically consenting people, and I believe strongly that people should read whatever appeals to them. I fervently oppose censorship! And I think “smutty” books and erotica are perfectly valid forms of expression, and I support people’s right to read whatever appeals to them.

And yet… I know my own tastes when it comes to what I do and do not want to read — and at this stage in my life, I’d rather know ahead of time that that cute-looking romance I was about to pick up is actually on the graphic end of the scale, thank you very much.

Do you have a scale you use or have come across to describe this kind of content? Do you see a value in it?

I’d love to hear other opinions on this!!