Should books have spice ratings?
“Spice” is the generally accepted term for sexual content in books, particularly Romance books. People say something has “no spice” if it’s clean or that it’s “super spicy” if it’s erotica, polyamory, or in that vein.
It would probably be helpful to everyone to know what we’re in for when we pick up a book. Readers usually know what they want, whether they’re looking for no spice, lots of spice, or something in between.
Most people I’ve asked agree that books should have spice ratings. (I can’t remember one who disagreed, actually.) It would be helpful to know at a glance if something will have a single chaste kiss or an on-the-page polyamorous sex scene.
So why don’t books have spice ratings? I do know of some indie publishers that have tried to do it. I’ve wished a objective third-party organization (that doesn’t publish books) would do it, but it seems that so far no one has.
The problem with spice ratings for books
The main issue I encounter is the differences in opinion when it comes to spice.
I read the original ACOTAR (A Court of Thorns and Roses) trilogy a few years ago and that was at the upper level of my spice limit. I also skipped quite a few scenes that made me uncomfortable. At the time, I thought it was super spicy. (I have laughed many times over this now.) Yes, I was well into my 20’s at that time.
I have since learned that ACOTAR is considered moderate spice by some readers or even low spice. Clearly, I was just a sheltered reader.
What is spicy content?
I write PG-13 Romance for the most part and that is considered “clean” by most of the denizens of BookTok. I don’t know that I consider my books “clean” (hard to say that with all the demons, vengeful gods, blood sacrifice, etc.), but I do write pretty tame bedroom content (for now, at least).
On the flip side, I once had a reviewer say my books contained sexuality not suitable for readers under 16. The review was positive, but in that particular series, the Argetallam Saga, the characters don’t even kiss until book #4. It left me a little confused, to be honest.
What a homeschool Baptist mom considers to be a spicy book likely isn’t what a SmutTok influencer considers to be a spicy book. Vice versa goes for clean books. A lot of times, I have to check what someone has thought of other books to get a feel for what their thresholds are.
Learning the lingo of book spice
Like most seasoned readers, I can usually navigate my way pretty well through a bookstore. Shirtless men on covers usually indicate more spice, though not always. Things like “steamy,” “sizzling,” “dark desires,” “torrid passion,” and similar words in the blurb are also indicators of a more sexually charged story. If I am really suspicious that day, quick scroll through reviews will usually let us know what kind of readers are reading a particular kind of book.
Despite my practice, I’m not always sure what to expect, especially with a new-to-me author. Thankfully though, most authors do remain close to a particular heat level. It helps to just find an author I like and let the binging commence.
I have most often run into issues when asking for recommendations, though. I seem to have accumulated friends all along the gamut of spice consumption. What’s “spicy” to my clean friends is often clean to my spicy friends. I often think about how easy a standardized spice scale would make all of our lives.