Ryan Muree: The Dirty on “Clean” vs “Dirty” Stories

I can’t say that I write romantic fantasy without addressing the romantic part of the genre. And there’s a lot to be said about romance and fantasy, because I feel there’s a lot of room here… other races, multiple loves, exploring sexuality in the safety of foreign worlds and cultures. I don’t hope to ever come across an orc warrior that I have to blast with a fireball, so if I can safely read about myself as the character incinerating other people to death, then I definitely can dip my toes in relationships and scary romances I wouldn’t naturally explore in the real world. This, in and of itself, is probably the best argument for romance in fantasy.

For the most part, romance in stories gets boiled down to Person A falling in love with Person B and vice versa. Maybe they hate each other at first, maybe they barely know each other, and maybe it’s the slowest of slow burns humanly possible. We tend to all agree, even though we may have preferences, HOW the characters fall in love doesn’t seem to be so taboo…

But what we can’t seem to agree on is whether sex on the page is necessary or not.

I don’t mean in that terrible story where the author thought adding a few racy pages would up people’s interest. Forced chemistry isn’t good for anyone involved. And I’m definitely not talking about those pieces that earned the Bad Sex Award. I’m talking about… totally probable, sex-having characters… where audiences can’t agree whether or not the deed needs to be shared.

…[I]f I can safely read about myself as the character incinerating other people to death, then I definitely can dip my toes in relationships and scary romances I wouldn’t naturally explore in the real world.

Maybe the reader isn’t comfortable reading consensual sex on the page. Maybe the reader doesn’t find sex necessary to tell the story, like it’s a peek into the two people’s private lives or even that of the author’s. And maybe it’s cultural. Point is, it’s almost a fear or viewed as a plague rather than a simple preference. People are offended it’s even included, rather than offended when it’s not.

And for those of us who want a decent sex scene in our stories, there tends to be a few other problems.

Maybe you don’t know this, but behind the scenes, there are battles being fought daily between “clean” authors and “not-so-clean”(?) authors. Fights for promos, swaps, ad spots, etc. And it typically tends to land… “clean over here” vs. “everyone else over there.” If your books don’t meet a specific requirement about sexual relationships between characters, you might find yourself swimming in circles with no advertising. And good luck if you write romantic YA where teens have sex. (Guess what? Teens have sex y’all.)

Side-story: Veronica Roth (YA author) was approached by several parents who questioned if her books included sex. When she said no, but they include murder and fighting and killing, the parents shrugged it off and said that was fine. Still think we don’t have issues with sex?

Also, authors who put sex on the pages of their stories in genres OTHER than romance tend to run into another interesting obstacle. If a book is deemed “clean,” you don’t typically see a lower rating or criticism for that specific trait in the book even if readers wouldn’t have minded it. However, if a book is deemed “not clean,” and the reader somehow missed the disclaimer or missed that it’s in the adult category, you’ll see books rated down PURELY because it includes sex.

So, what can we do?

First, can we do away with clean vs dirty or even clean vs not clean?

Can we just say… “no sexual interactions” or yes, “sexual relationships included”? Can that be a thing?

“Clean” reads can never be perfectly defined, just like sexual metaphors with baseball bases can’t be clearly defined across all audiences. “Clean” to me means no penetration. “Clean” to someone else might mean no heavy petting or foreplay. We’re setting up authors to fail and audiences to be disappointed.

And denoting “clean” vs “not clean” is pretty negative in and of itself. The opposite of “clean” is… “dirty,” duh, and it clearly has negative connotations. “Clean” is a very puritanical way of looking at it—pure, orderly, logical… as if to say stories that include sex, and dare I say actual relationships, are not those things and that there’s something wrong with them.

Except there’s not?

It’s okay to have a preference, but reviews that seem distracted by the sex, at least look to me like the same people griping that vampires don’t sparkle. What? (oh yeah, I went there!)

“Clean” is a very puritanical way of looking at it—pure, orderly, logical… as if to say stories that include sex, and dare I say actual relationships, are not those things and that there’s something wrong with them.

Second, can we lift stories that have sex in them?

If you read books with sex in them, and LIKE IT, then spread that good stuff around like your tub o’ buttah. I’m definitely not a fan of people feeling like they can’t voice when they like human experiences, so we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed about sharing these stories.

I’m guilty of this, too. I feel inclined to warn people who haven’t read something I like that it includes sex. Not like *nudge nudge wink wink* it has sex. More like an aside so they don’t judge *me*… And that’s weird, right? I need to work on that, and I’m willing to bet some of you do, too.

Truth is we need to share if we like sex in our stories, because it’s okay and totally human to want sex in stories. It’s not putting down stories without sexual interactions, it’s just giving the other team a voice to say… “Hey! Sometimes I need to read about the main character sleeping with every male character to pick the one she truly loves, okay? You do you… I’ll do… me?” 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! <3

So, out with it! What stories do you remember for their good sex scenes?

About the Author

Ryan grew up a military brat, managed to teach middle school in Texas for a spell, and finally settled in the southeastern US with her husband, their daughter, and two black cats. She loves writing determined heroines who answer the call for wild adventures across rich lands with grit and smarts. When she’s not inventing worlds for her characters, she games, draws, paints, and uses too many exclamation points.

Reach her at:

Despite all that talk on dirty vs clean, Ryan wrote a genderbent Beauty and the Beast retelling with love and magic, but no sexual relationships, called In the Garden of Gold & Stone.

She is a beast by nature. He is a beast by duty. 

Amid the lovely roses and razor-sharp thorns, love tangles between beasts and beauties in this twist of a classic romantic tale that transcends time…

Nida, a dragonian life weaver, anxiously awaits the day her new sisters hatch in their temple sanctuary. But without the magical spirit of a human male, that day will never come.

When Rowec, a human warrior from a local village, gets captured by Nida’s people, he’s offered freedom in exchange for his participation in their hatching ceremony.

But when Nida learns the cost of bringing her sisters to life, she must either embrace the beast within to save them or save the human she’s grown to love…

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

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