My wonderful connections at RWA and other romance writer’s groups on Facebook have been very helpful with this question, which spun into a debate about the difference in using the word “clean” vs “sweet” to explain romance that ends with a kiss and nothing else.
That being said, I’m clearly more interested in the difference between what’s considered a tried, true, sexy, spicy romance and what’s erotica. The best way it was explained was that erotica = sex is the main reason the book exists…the author tries to get their characters in situations so they can just…have all kinds of interesting sex. So…it’s a book about sex.
Romance runs the gauntlet, with varying degrees of “steam”. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that my romances are certainly spicy and hot. But there’s a plot. My characters exist within a real, historical backdrop, and are usually dealing with more than sex. If I took out the sex, we could still have a book that carries itself. It wouldn’t be as fun to read, and I’d certainly miss the passion, but it would work.
So I’m putting myself squarely in the romance category. But I still use words to describe body parts. There is sex. And different kinds of sex. And the women actually LIKE it. They’re not scared of it. Oh, and the characters are generally inexperienced. Romance has, in my opinion, enough virgin heroines. Let’s have real women. I mean, they had sex back then, as I keep reminding everyone. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here!