Should books have spice ratings?

Should books have spice ratings?

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. 

What do you think? What are some of the ways you tell if a book is spicy enough/too spicy for your tastes? Do you care about heat level at all? I’m curious to know!

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I believe that spice level ratings would be useful for readers seeking out books; but not every book needs to come with one (for example, if a book has no sexual content or sexual tension). It might be helpful if people submit their own spice rating, and the book is rated an average of those (like with ‘star’ ratings). In addition to spice ratings, I would love if books included tags. Not just for spice, but about the plot in general. (That is one thing Ao3 does well lol)


Maybe a review based ranking on a website like Goodreads where everybody can submit a spice ranking with their review and maybe add some tags like “vanilla”, “mild bdsm”, “non-con” and stuff like that. If enough people submit a rating it might balance the different perceptions and tags give people the opportunity to avoid certain triggers or topics they’re uncomfortable with.


I would like spice levels so that I am only reading “will distract me from mundanity of work” spice at the office and not “what are numbers now” level.

Misty Crawford

I am a spicy person who’s only limit is romanticized and/or normalized non-consensual spice. Nothing freaks me out more than books where there are literally r*pe scenes that nobody acknowledge -like not even the characters (they just feel bad and go on as it what happened was normal)

Sorry, had to get that rant off of my chest…

My point is that even as a person with a barely there limit I would love a standardized spice scale. Not only to protect people with a lower limit but also because even tho I have a high spice tolerance I don’t always want that. Sometimes I just want a slow enemies to lovers with fluff (Daindreths assassin was exactly that❤️)

I honestly belive that book publisher’s should take inspiration from the practices of a lot of the fanfic community (trigger warnings and spice ratings, AO3 is a great example of how these filters are applied and appreciated by readers all over the world).


‘If you die
before you die,
when you die,
you will never die’
● ●
Cya soon, miss gorgeous…

Czech Mate

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