Clean Romances: How clean is clean?

Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Grace Hartford

May 1, 2019
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I am hoping to write my first clean contemporary romance. I read a lot of clean contemporary romances and there's a wide variation on what's considered clean.

For example: some books avoid any mention of sex altogether but others have sex behind closed doors.

A really interesting book I found was #Starstruck, which is a clean romance about a heroine who wants to remain celibate. There's no sex scenes, but there are some very steamy scenes.

For example, in one scene the heroine and hero are at a public beach. While wearing their bathing suits, they decide to put sunscreen on each other. This leads to a very steamy scene, but I guess it counts as clean, because they are still dressed (in bathing suits) and they are in public, so aren't doing anything inappropriate.

Here's an extract:
Chase Covington wanted me to put sunscreen on his back. His very beautiful, well-defined back. He sat down and leaned forward, giving me full access to his sun-kissed skin.

I sat there for too long, overwhelmed and freaking out about what he wanted me to do. It wasn't until he looked over his shoulder that I squeezed some sunscreen into my hand and tentatively applied it to his back. His skin felt warm under my fingertips.

It didn't help matters when he sighed with pleasure and said, "That feels good." His shoulders lowered slightly, and his head drooped, as if he was relaxing.

It gave me a sense of feminine power that I could touch him and make him feel that way. It emboldened my moves, and I spread my palms flat against his back as I rubbed lotion all over. I probably applied more than was necessary.

"My turn." His voice was low and seductive, and I had never been so aware of the blood pulsing through my veins. He stood up and held his hand out for the sunscreen bottle. Aware that I still had a shirt and shorts on, I did my best to take them off without making eye contact. He sat behind me on the blanket, and I had to fight the instinct to lean back against him.

It was like every sense was heightened. The sound of the squawking seagulls overhead, the rhythmic ocean waves lapping against the shore, the sun overhead warming me, the coconut scent from the sunscreen, the taste of salt on the breeze. They were all magnified in a way I'd never experienced before.

I heard him squeeze the bottle, and my whole body tensed, waiting for the touch of his hand. The shock of the cold lotion against my hot skin made me gasp. I pulled my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. I needed something to hold on to.

He rubbed sunscreen on my shoulders first. And he didn't quickly brush it on. He carefully massaged the lotion into every inch of exposed skin.

My unsteady breathing sounded harsh to my own ears; I hoped he hadn't noticed. I tried to calm down, but his fingertips made that impossible. It was as if he possessed magic and was using his hands to cast a spell on me.

Hot, tingling pinpricks arose in every place he touched as my heart pounded in triple time. I was glad I didn't have any pulse points in my back so he couldn't see how hard it was beating. A pulsating pressure started deep in the pit of my stomach and spread throughout my body.

His movements felt hypnotic, tender, and sensual. I alternated between wanting to collapse into a gooey Zoe puddle and turning around and attacking him.

Later on in the book, the hero and heroine have their first kiss.

Forget the butterflies. He had unleashed the entire zoo.

"Kiss" felt like a poor description of the way he ravaged my mouth. I thought I understood what kissing should be like. I was seriously mistaken. Because no one had ever kissed me like this before. Not with this hot, hungry intensity. Not with this confidence, this surety, this level of skill. Like somebody would be grading him later on how well he kissed me, and he planned on getting an A.

And going for extra credit.

His lips glided over mine in a rhythmic frenzy that had me tilting against him, holding on for dear life. His insistent, wild, bruising kiss made me dizzy, and I concentrated on the taste of his mouth. The feel of his muscles underneath my hands. The sound of his labored breathing. The delicious heat from his body pressing against mine. The intoxicating, masculine scent of his expensive cologne.

The pleasure of it all flooded through me.

My hair came undone as he ran his unsteady fingers through it, tugging and soothing, those sensations balanced by the pressure of his firm lips moving on mine, igniting sparks with each touch. He devoured me, making my body shudder from all the waiting, all the pent-up frustration and denial he let go with his kiss.

I'd been right. I knew that if Chase burned, I'd be consumed. We were like two bonfires edging closer together, merging into one super fire, glowing hotter and brighter in the night.

He moved from my lips to nipping and pressing hot kisses against the side of my throat. I dug my fingers into his shoulders, trying to pull him closer, wanting this feeling to last for eternity.

Because this was more than just physical. The reason I'd never been kissed like this before was because I'd never had feelings like this for any man. My brain was too woozy to understand those emotions. I only knew I wanted to be near him and didn't want to lose him.

And I never wanted to stop kissing him.

"Zoe." His harsh whisper against my skin felt like a branding. I turned my head, intent on bringing his lips back to mine, but he pulled back slightly, just out of reach. I wanted to whimper in protest. It sounded like he said my name again, but I was having a hard time hearing. Because I didn't know which was louder: my desperate, shallow breathing or my thundering heart.

Again it's steamy, but I guess it counts as clean because most of the steamy parts come from how the characters are feeling, rather than what they are doing.

I'd love to know people's opinions: Do you consider these examples clean? Would they turn you off from reading or encourage you to read more?

Carrie in PA

Write All The Words!
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Aug 25, 2006
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in my own little world
This is an excellent resource for what constitutes "clean."

Follow them on Facebook, their group is a wealth of information, and they specifically write "clean" romance so it will be relevant to you.

The second excerpt is toeing the line, because it's more focused on the arousal. Especially if they're only clothed in bathing suits.

Personally, I write clean, but I read *everything*. It wouldn't make me close the book, but if I'm in the mood for clean and it went any farther than that, I'd be annoyed if it was marketed as clean.

As a very general guideline, I think of clean = Hallmark movie level of romance.

Marissa D

Scribe of the girls in the basement
Super Member
Jan 22, 2011
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New England but hankering for the old one
I think individual definitions of "clean" will vary by publisher. If you're interested in writing for a specific publisher, read their guidelines (and a few of their books) to get an idea of what they want, and see if your comfort level coincides with theirs.

Sonya Heaney

Super Member
Apr 16, 2019
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I think individual definitions of "clean" will vary by publisher. If you're interested in writing for a specific publisher, read their guidelines (and a few of their books) to get an idea of what they want, and see if your comfort level coincides with theirs.

^^ That.

Do you have any particular publishers in mind? It really does vary so much. Some "clean" romance publishers are Christian or faith-based, and they have stricter rules.

On the other hand, if you approach your book as "sweet" rather than "clean", I think you'll be fine. Plenty of mainstream publishers are happy to publish sweet (as in, no sex) romances, and then you're not worrying about fitting your book into one company's very specific moral code.
(An example: Harlequin has both faith-based and sweet-lines. What you have here wouldn't work for their faith-based line, but would be fine in one of their sweet imprints.)

Elizabeth George's book Write Away