We are excited to unveil our revised Romance Heat Levels list (plus a lovely shareable reference graphic)!
This update has been a long time coming. Back when we started RFS in 2018, we sought to make clear, concise categories that adequately reflect the overall heat levels found in romantic fantasy, fantasy romance, and related genres. We had a strong start, but have since improved the labels to better align with both the spirit of the heat level as well as the romance genre as a whole.
(If you’d like to see our old heat level categories, hop over to this page.)
Everyone has their own preferences for the types of stories they enjoy. Especially when it comes to romance! In all of the books you’ll find on the Romantic Fantasy Shelf, romance is an important element of the story, meaning that if you were to remove it, you would lose something significant from the story. Of course, that’s why we’re all here, right? But also knowing the “heat level” or “steam level” of a particular story (a measure of the intensity of the romance) may be a deciding factor on whether or not it’s a good fit!
Below are the four main heat levels of stories you may encounter on the Romantic Fantasy Shelf:
Mild – some romantic interactions and kissing; no on-page or off-page sex scenes.
Warm – romantic interactions, kissing, and making out; fade-to-black sex scenes.
Steamy – romantic interactions, kissing, and making out; one or more on-page sex scenes.
Scorching – romantic interactions, kissing, and making out; detailed and/or longer on-page sex scenes that include four-letter anatomical terms.
Note: Scorching stories as defined on the Romantic Fantasy Shelf do not include erotica. The difference between Scorching and Erotica comes down to plot. The primary purpose of Erotica is the sex that the POV character experiences and to arouse sexual desire in the reader. Scorching fantasy romance or romantic fantasy will have descriptive sex scenes on the page that may be arousing, but there is also a plot within the story and it is not all sex. Because Erotica is one level beyond Scorching, those stories are not included on the Romantic Fantasy Shelf.
These heat levels are somewhat fluid, so in general, classify stories at their highest level to help fellow readers find the level of content they want. Similarly, if a book in a series has a higher heat level than others in the same series, classify according to the book with the highest heat (though it is helpful to note which books have less or more heat/steam).
Here are some more explanations with examples so that you can see which category stories fit within.
In a Mild story, you may see handholding, kissing, snuggling, and cuddling. Sexual feelings will not be described in detail. Sex between the characters will not occur on-page or off-page. It may be implied to have happened at some point between couples, but it will not be discussed or referenced beyond vague suggestions. Flirting will be minor and more innocent as will attraction in general. Strong lust will generally not be present, though attraction will be. The attraction may be emotional or intellectual, and physical attraction will be more innocent or at the very least vague in its desires beyond being with the other individual.
In a Warm story, you will definitely see various forms of romantic interaction, and, if there are sex scenes, they will fade to black. They will also include more explicit discussions of sex and sexual interactions. There may not be actual sex scenes, but there will be longing and contemplation of sex as well as foreplay. This will often fall into the category of what most would consider PG-13.
In a Steamy story, you will have similar levels of romantic interaction, flirtation, and discussion that may be similar Warm, but sex scenes will be present and they will not always fade to black. In these stories, there will be at least one on-page sex scene, though others may also fade to black within the same story. The language will generally be more emotional in nature with more euphemisms used to describe the more intimate acts rather than explicit language and details regarding how the acts are performed.
Scorching stories are usually the most intense and will have more explicit language, including words like “fuck,” “dick,” “cock,” and so on. Anatomically correct as well as slang for body parts will be utilized throughout. Rather than being more emotive and descriptive, these stories will use more physically precise language with descriptions that may be detailed enough to use as a guide.
Don’t forget to grab our lovely new graphic with a handy description of each heat level!