If you’re like me, maybe you didn’t realize that clean romance was such a huge category. Or maybe you’ve heard people talking about sweet romance and weren’t sure what that means. We’ve all been familiar with steamy romance–the kinds of books my grandma used to read (REALLY, Grandma???)–with the bare-chested men and women in various states of bodice-ripping.
But what is clean romance? Let’s get into the definitions and where to find some great books!
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Your Clean Romance Reading Guide
Let’s start with the definition of clean romance. Which is actually a little harder to pin down than you might think!
There are a few terms that people often use interchangeably in this niche. Let me break down some of the wide categories of romance as this can be confusing! (Author Kristin Holt talks more about the potential confusion between clean and sweet romance!)
Clean Romance – Generally means no on-page sex, limited amounts of kissing/arousal. May also mean no alcohol (or limited use by adults) and no swearing or violence.
Sweet Romance – Sometimes used interchangeably with clean romance, but may mean that the book has a bit more leeway when it comes to language, might have more descriptive kissing, and has a focus on the developing emotional intimacy.
Inspirational Romance – Clean or sweet romance with Christian themes as a central part.
Steamy Romance – Novels that have storylines and at least a few detailed sex scenes.
Why Clean Romance Can Be a Confusing Title
The confusion is that for some readers, clean may mean different things. Some readers are fine with sex happening off-the-page. As in, a couple may live together or engage in sexual activity that’s implied, but it’s behind closed doors.
Other readers expect something more wholesome– the couples do not have sex before marriage or the idea of sex isn’t even implied.
There can also be some subtle distinction between the inspirational and clean romances. I’ll sometimes see varying levels of faith being a part of books that aren’t necessarily in the Christian or inspirational categories, or books that ARE in those categories are clean, but don’t really contain themes or elements of faith.
THIS CAN BE SO CONFUSING!!
Readers can be really disappointed and share that in the comments when the book doesn’t meet their expectations of what a clean romance is. I had negative comments once about a character compromising her morals because she didn’t wear a sweater over a somewhat revealing top. Even though I made no mention of faith or her morals in the book at all.
Authors don’t always agree on definitions. Neither do readers. And Amazon? Sometimes they’ll stick a book in the completely wrong category, which causes more confusion.
(More on this debate about clean and sweet romance from Cathy McDavid!)
Where to Find Clean Romance Novels on Amazon
Amazon has a category for clean romance called Clean & Wholesome. You’ll find a mix of clean, sweet, and even inspirational titles in this big category.
You can also find some clean romance books with more of an inspirational bent in the Inspirational Romance category. But again, these will have varying degrees of faith included in the storylines. Some are primarily about faith, while others might mention God or church or praying, but not much more than that.
Common Tropes in Romance Novels
If you aren’t a writer or English nerd, you may be wondering what a trope is. (And no, it’s not to be confused with the Scottish dish tripe…) Tropes are common themes or elements within a story. A novel might be based on one particular trope OR have multiple tropes throughout.
Here are some examples of tropes:
- best friends that fall for each other
- fake marriage/fake relationship that turns real
- second chance at love
- enemies who fall in love
- marriage of convenience
You can find a great list of tropes from Victorine Lieske of the Writing Gals that covers wayyyy more. These are the common themes or storylines or devices that readers expect when it comes to romance. Tropes in clean romance often have a lot of crossover to the tropes in steamy romance– just without the steam, of course.
How to Tell a Clean Romance by Its Cover
Unlike the bodice-ripping covers from my grandma’s steamy romance novels, clean romance novels are typically a lot less about hinting at sexual tension and a lot more about romance. And depending on the tropes, you’ll find some variations in what you’ll see.
For example, here are a few billionaire covers, which typically feature a male alone.
CHECK OUT MY FAVORITE CLEAN BILLIONAIRE ROMANCE NOVELS!
Here are a few covers in the fake marriage covers, which often have a female alone.
In the inspirational category, you might see more couples that look very happy and romantic.
There will be some outliers, where books may not look like they fit in a certain category. There is definitely diversity!
I’m a huge fan of NOT having faces on the covers (except in the billionaire books) because I personally love imagining the main characters myself. Sometimes I find the cover images very distracting!!
I didn’t even touch on the clean historical or regency romances! (I’m a more contemporary girl…) If you had any questions about clean and sweet romance, I hope that this helped give you a good idea of what you might find in the category!