What’s the Difference between Sweet, Sensual, and Erotic?

How do you define the differences between sweet, sensual, and erotic romance? I noticed an app that supposedly can clean up an ebook of language a reader may find unacceptable, not that I’ve downloaded or tried it. I wish, as a writer, that you’d tell me what elements make a book one or the other for as a reader.

I’ve written and sold sweet (only one), sensual (many), and erotic (even more) romances by my own definitions. Here they come!

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Sweet Romance

No consummated sex if the TWO partners only (a man and a woman) aren’t married to each other. (I suppose one could write a sweet romance between same-sex couples, but I never would.)

Four-letter words limited to the occasional “damn” or “hell” when warranted in context of characters and scene. (“Inspirational” would probably nix these mild curse words too.)

No detailed description of sex acts. “Close the bedroom door,” as some would say. I’d say to limit sex acts to the bedroom and describe them vaguely if at all. No kink allowed.

As with all romance, the story focuses on developing a relationship between hero and heroine, solving conflicts and reaching a happy ending that’s forever or at least happy for now.

Sensual Romance


By my way of thinking, there are different lines between sensual and erotic romance based on whether the stories take place in a real world (contemporary or historical) or fantasy (fantasy, futuristic, urban fantasy—a/k/a vampire and werewolf tales in contemporary settings). My rule is that the more realistic the story setting, the more careful I need to be in deciding whether I should call a novel or novella sensual or erotic.

Other authors may use other definitions—it’s not only a marketing ploy, but also a result of my personally defined standards.I like reading all kinds of romances, but my favorites to write are sensual romances as I define them. I’m currently rewriting many of my reverted Ellora’s Cave titles so I can define them as sensual but not erotic.

If my reverted EC books are contemporary without major paranormal elements, they can usually meet my primary definition for sensual contemporary romance, with some significant revisions. Here are the things I always need to do.

No consummated sexual acts except between the hero and heroine, but no limit on what they can do as long as both of them derive pleasure from it

No excessive use of four letter words—use in dialogue only when it fits the character of the person using it, in internal dialogue (thinking instead of saying) only when the language fits the character of the person thinking the word AND the situation

No excessive (repetitive) description of body parts

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Sensual paranormal romances, I believe, have a little more leeway in that the world the author has built can have shapeshifters, vampires, aliens, and other otherworldly inhabitants whose behaviors are very different from human morals on Earth, now or in history. I wrote some erotic futuristics and contemporary BDSM stories that will always be erotic romances, because they portray lifestyles that most readers do not consider everyday activities for themselves and their significant others. My d’Argent Honor urban fantasy (vampire) series has been reborn and will be released over the next few months as sensual but not erotic romance, because its stories have been stripped of the qualities that would have kept them erotic for me, while retaining the vampire orgies and one vampire ménage relationship with light domination and submission because these are accepted—even approved—in the story world.

Erotic Romance

I’m not giving up on erotic romances—just pausing to take a break from a nonstop diet of hardcore BDSM, way-out kink, and being strongly encouraged to write characters who use nonstop vulgarities when I’m frankly tired of reading them!


This boxed set of three former EC novellas has always been one of my favorites. I like it even better now that I’ve toned down the gratuitous profanity (Did I really write or approve the edits-in of as many as a dozen four-letter words in a single paragraph?) I also deleted excessive and repetitious descriptions of body parts, which I probably wrote myself. (I have to watch for describing important pieces of the pie more than once.)

Each novella has one hero and one heroine. Check. This is one of the first BDSM-themed series that I wrote, though, and there are the mandatory club scenes, etc. Because they’re integral to the stories, I didn’t want to delete them—so Roped, Hitched, and Lassoed the EC novellas remain erotic romances in this new, improved boxed set.

For those of you who’ve waded through this long post, I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on the differences between sweet, sensual and erotic romance! Post a comment and I’ll pick the three replies I like best to send a gift copy of the winner’s choice of all of the covers illustrating this blog entry.

Happy reading! I hope all you readers enjoy the new directions my writing is starting to take.

Love, Ann

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