Sensuality Ratings: It’s Time for an Update

AAR has always provided sensuality ratings for the books we review and our guess is that readers want to keep them.  But, based on feedback from those who visit our site (the message boards speak loud and clear) and our own gut feelings, we think it’s time to update and streamline the explanation of our ratings to make them clearer and less ambiguous.  

So, with that perspective in mind, how do these float your boat?  

Kisses:  Kisses only.  There may be moderate sexual tension, but it is never described in specific terms.

Subtle:  No explicit sensuality.  Sex is described in general terms and the emphasis will likely be more on the emotions of the characters rather than physical sensation.

Warm:  Moderately explicit sensuality.  Sex is described, but often with the use of euphemisms.

Hot:  Very explicit sensuality.  Sex is described in graphic terms.

Burning:  Extremely explicit sensuality.  Books in this category are generally considered erotica and will feature the graphic depiction of sex as a main focus of the book.  These sexual acts may include those outside the sexual mainstream.

One of the challenges in defining ratings guidelines is that in essence we’re attempting to quantify the unquantifiable.  By keeping the ratings general, we think reviewers and readers will have a better shot at knowing they’re on the same page sensuality-wise.

So, what do you think?  Do you find sensuality ratings helpful?  Would a listing of a few writers falling into each category help make the definitions clearer? Do you have any suggestions about any ways we might make the definitions clearer?  Or, on the other hand, do you think we should leave well enough alone and keep them as they are now?

-Sandy AAR

13 thoughts on “Sensuality Ratings: It’s Time for an Update

  1. “Books in this category are generally considered erotica”

    Are they? I mean, would they be considered erotic romance? The erotic romance chapter of RWA gives the following definitions:

    Erotica: stories written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Emotion and character growth are important facets of a true erotic story. However, erotica is NOT designed to show the development of a romantic relationship, although it’s not prohibited if the author chooses to explore romance. Happily Ever Afters are NOT an intrinsic part of erotica, though they can be included.

    Erotic Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT to be an erotic romance.

    Since a lot of people think erotica is a different genre from erotic romance, and AAR is a romance site, maybe it would be better not to include the word “erotica” in one of the AAR definitions? If you changed the sentence to “Books in this category feature the graphic depiction of sex as a main focus of the book” you’d sidestep problems with defining erotica or erotic romance, which might be simpler.

    I also wonder if “These sexual acts may include those outside the sexual mainstream” isn’t really very clear. You can have subtle, warm and hot lesbian and gay romances but some people might think that all depictions of gay and lesbian sex are “outside the sexual mainstream” and would therefore automatically put any gay or lesbian romance in the “burning” category. So again, I wonder if this is a part of the definition which, rather than making things clearer, opens up more areas for discussion and/or may lead to readers making incorrect assumptions. Maybe it would be clearer if you specified the kinds of sexual activity AAR considers to be “outside the sexual mainstream”? Even if you did, it could still get a bit tricky. For example, would you distinguish between a couple who try out bondage using silk scarves and a couple who are depicted as living a BDSM lifestyle or would both of those count as acts which are “outside the sexual mainstream” and propel the book into the “burning” classification?

  2. I’d love to say they’re helpful to me, but I rarely even glance at the ratings when I read a review. I see them, but usually pay no mind. I don’t know why, except that they really don’t matter to me in the book. It’s the actual story, and not a high or low sensuality rating that’ll make or break a novel for me.

    But I can see the importance for those who feel that’s an important element to have in a book. I guess you would have to be familiar with the reviewer and how they rate those things. Someone’s “burning” may only be “mediocre” to others.

  3. I like ratings, but only if there’s a ready link to figure out what that person’s ratings are, since — as Tee says — everybody has their own definitions.

    For some reason, though, when you said ‘burning,’ my mind went to unpleasant STDs. I obviously read too much Dan Savage :)

  4. Laura: You make some excellent points.

    I think that deleting erotica would side step the issues you’ve pointed out, so thanks for the suggestion!

    As for the whole mainstream thing, this is an area I s-o-o-o-o do not want to get into, so, again, thanks for pointing out the issues. What we want to avoid is getting into detail in these descriptions – the previous ones were overly bogged down – and just want to give people a general sense of where we are, so I really don’t want to start listing sexual acts. I’m not sure how we’ll solve this one.

    Tee: Thanks for posting. I’m not sure what you mean by somebody’s “mediocre” being someone else’s “burning” because the ratings are referring to specifics that are – or aren’t – present in a book. If her “mounds of pleasure” are the terms used in a book, it’s probably warm. If the male appendage is described with…well, that word we all know for the male appendage, then it’s probably hot.

    Jessica: Thanks for the comment! What we’re trying to accomplish with sensuality ratings is to avoid everybody using their own definitions and to quantify it as much as possible without going into specific details. Our goal is to avoid confusion, though maybe that’s not possible.

  5. I guess I don’t really see the difference between what you are proposing, and what is already in place. I went back and reviewed the current ratings and couldn’t tell much of a difference, except the existing definitions are more extensive, and contain examples (which I definitely think is necessary). I like the ratings, because I like to start off romance newbies with books in the more “warm” area, a “hot” book is a bit much for someone new to the genre, and I don’t want to reinforce stereotypes about romances and their readers!

    I do agree with Laura about the difference in your proposed definition of “burning”. I definitely think there is a difference between erotica and romantica/erotic romance, and there is a quantifiable gap between the “hot” of a romance and the “burning” of erotica. You can’t just jump from a “hot” romance to “burning” erotica, there must be a definition for all the romantica/really really hot hot paranormals, etc. that fall in between these two types of books. If that makes sense??

  6. I also like ratings. And IMO, even when you describe the ratings as proposed, there will always be some ‘grey’ areas causing people to rate according to personal taste – but never more than 1 step (or should I say ‘pepper’) higher or lower on the scale, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem or cause confusion, I think.
    It might be helpful to include examples of authors or even well-known books.

  7. AAR Sandy wrote: Tee: I’m not sure what you mean by somebody’s “mediocre” being someone else’s “burning” because the ratings are referring to specifics that are – or aren’t – present in a book. If her “mounds of pleasure” are the terms used in a book, it’s probably warm. If the male appendage is described with…well, that word we all know for the male appendage, then it’s probably hot.

    My response: Sandy, I’m embarrassed to say that I scanned over the definitions of the classifications, which just goes to show that I think I “knew it all.” Sorry. Each separate division appears to be clearly defined which should mean the ratings would work most of the time. But in my own mind, those words could take on a different meaning occasionally. For instance, some authors could write a really hot book and maybe not necessarily be very explicitly graphic. It’s all in the way they make me feel while reading it and that could be very hot.

    So what you really need here is feedback more from people who use the ratings a lot to choose their reading material and not readers such as I who tend to bypass that particular field to head straight to the review.

  8. I rely on your current rating system to figure out the books that will appeal to me and overall think it works pretty good. The one area I’ve not had good experiences with is burning. As I look back thru the last 2000 books I’ve read, I realize very few of the truly erotic or erotica type had ratings on this site. Most of those are Ellora’s Cave, Brava, Kensington, Samhain or Avon Red, that I still consider to be HEA style erotic romance. AAR’s burning rating very rarely translated to “erotic” the way Ellora’s Cave would rate books. I’d love to see a distinction between the heat style typical in the hotter Lora Leigh and Emma Holly books (such as Wicked Pleasure, Menage and Fairyville) versus that in most books by Shannon McKenna, Robin Schone, Sylvia Day, Jaid Black or Beth Williamson. I hate to pay extra for a supposed erotic book that turns out to be on a heat par with a novel by Stephanie Lauren.

  9. Tee, for me your comment about bypassing the sensuality rating is interesting. Before I became a reviewer at AAR, I really ignored the sensuality ratings as well. I would look at the grade assigned, the reviewer (to figure out if I usually agreed or disagreed with them), and then head straight to the review itself.

    Now, one of the hardest things for me in writing a review is assigning a sensuality rating, and it’s usually a difference between the current “warm” and “hot” ratings.

  10. LinnieGayl wrote: Now, one of the hardest things for me in writing a review is assigning a sensuality rating, and it’s usually a difference between the current “warm” and “hot” ratings.

    My response: I can see how that could be a problem at times, LinnieGayl, especially since you say that the sensuality rating is/was less important to you than the actual review. Maybe the best way to describe what the ratings could mean to me if I paid more attention to them is a “feeling” I would get from the entire story rather than a definition of whether certain scenes were very graphic or body parts were mentioned in a more nitty-gritty fashion compared to flowery words. So the book would be warm to me because the whole story gave me that feeling, or it could be hot because I felt it was intense. But obviously we’re talking about actual degrees of sexual tension here in the ratings, so then I think I’m out of the game.

  11. I’d love to see a distinction between the heat style typical in the hotter Lora Leigh and Emma Holly books (such as Wicked Pleasure, Menage and Fairyville) versus that in most books by Shannon McKenna, Robin Schone, Sylvia Day, Jaid Black or Beth Williamson. I hate to pay extra for a supposed erotic book that turns out to be on a heat par with a novel by Stephanie Lauren.

    That’s interesting, because I’ve read most of those authors and it wasn’t immediately obviously to me how to distinguish the heat level between those two groups. After a few minutes’ thought, the primary difference I cam up with is that Leigh’s westerns and Holly sometimes include menage. Which gets back to listing sexual acts.

    As Ellie says, the “burning” publishers have had to deal with this. I can’t find Ellora’s Cave’s heat ratings right now, but their description of their erotic romance and erotica lines may be useful.

  12. Just want you to know the sensuality ratings are important to me. Since I have absolutely no interest in books that are “burning” and very rarely read “hot”, I check the sensuality rating on every review I read. Of course, one girl’s “hot” is another girl’s “warm,” but I know if I buy “kisses,” I’m not going to get “burned.” Tweak if you need to, but keep giving us ratings. Readers understand there’s subjectivity involved, but they’re still very helpful.

  13. For some reason, though, when you said ‘burning,’ my mind went to unpleasant STDs. I obviously read too much Dan Savage

    Perhaps “scorching” would sound less like “ooh, it burns”? :)

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