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Clean/Sweet Romance

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

standard-ang3l asked: Mary Jo Putney for the ask thing!

Mary Jo Putney: Position on the “calling romances without sex ‘clean’ or ‘sweet’ is implicitly slut shaming romances with sex” discourse?

Ooooohhh you are totally getting right into my thoughts. 

So I hate the convention of calling romances without sex “Clean,” hate it with a passion. Because it implies that people who have sex are inherently dirty. That sex is dirty. That sex should be hidden and anyone who has sex is defiled. A leper.

Excuse me?

Do you think your mom is dirty? Unclean? Defiled? Because I’m here to tell you, your mom most likely had sex to have you (there are some very rare exceptions). What about guys? Do you (the general you) feel the same way about dudes who have sex?  No?

Congratulations you have a Double Standard.

It’s part of misogyny. It’s part of Rape Culture. And I hate the fuck out of the term “Clean romance”

Now “Sweet Romance” I hate less. But that’s because I’ve seen it applied to stories where there is sex in them. Including “The Language of Flowers. It has more to do with the storyline and less to do with sex.

However, the moment the term flips over from “feel good glurgy romance with or without sex” I start getting hot under the collar.

Because again by using that term, the implication is that sex can’t be sweet. And I’m here to tell you it absolutely can be.

There’s a sweet as fuck sex scene in Sarina Bowen’s “The Year We Fell Down.” The sex is absolutely part of the plot. It shows that the heroine is desirable and a sexual being despite being disabled and in a wheelchair. It’s one of my favorite things about the book. And it is sweet.

So what term would I use to indicate that the book doesn’t have sex?

How about Celibate Romance? Don’t like that? Okay.  Nonsexual Romance? Is that better?  Because that’s the term I use on my Goodreads to flag books that don’t have sex.

Hey let’s go literary! Vestal Romance…

Or let’s go back to my fanfic roots and go with citrus levels.

  • No Sex - Non-Citrus.

  • Zesty - Kissing, hugging, flirting.

  • Lime - Some over the clothes petting, heavy kissing, sex is implied but not shown.

  • Lemon-Lime - Nudity and possibly some genital touching

  • Lemon - Full on sex in all its glory. 

I mean we could add Grapefruit for Kink.  There’s a whole slew of untapped fruits. We can make it work.  ~_^

The problem is that we use the terms because the industry does and we know that people when they see “Sweet Romance” they know that they’re going to get a novel without sex. Which for some people is important. The industry is still very set in its ways because the booksellers are. I’m all for making a change.  But before we can, we need to come to a consensus on what the alternate term should be.

Thanks for the ask! 

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