AAR’s sensuality ratings have come under discussion lately due to the changing nature of the romance industry in general. With the recent proliferation of racier novels, what was once declared Hot may now be considered barely Warm by our readers. The language used in love scenes, once a deciding factor in rating, has also changed drastically in recent years.  Quaint euphemisms such as “manhood” or “heated channel” have fallen by the wayside.

If we update our sensuality ratings in response to changes in the industry, what sort of changes should we make?

One issue under discussion was possibly adding another category after Burning.  For instance, Penelope and Prince Charming by Jennifer Ashley was given a Burning rating because of some mild anal play and very frank love scenes. But does PaPC compare to Sarah’s Seduction by Lora Leigh which would be given the same rating by today’s rules?

And how should language affect rating? In the not so distant past the words “cock” and “clit” were pretty rare in mainstream romance, their presence garnering a Hot rating just on principal. Is it shocking to read a review rated Warm, only to find language once considered very blue when you read the book? Conversely, some readers may be disappointed to purchase a book rated Burning because of language or one delicately described incident of alternative lovemaking, when their hope was for something more raunchy.

Another factor that should be addressed is sexual violence. (Let’s not get bogged down in comments about how there is nothing sexual about rape.) Recently I read a book by a favorite author who’s writing is normally rated PG. The book was a departure for the author and there was an extremely violent rape scene that was written in great detail. Where would that fit in the current rating system? With more female action heroes in urban fantasy novels and paranormals, should we also have a violence rating to encompass their adventures?

If you read our current sensuality ratings, you’ll see that they are outdated and clunky. This issue was raised in another blog by SandyAAR, but the comments got bogged down in unrelated discussions regarding the difference between romance and erotica, and a lot of readers commented that they were satisfied with the status quo. So the idea was scrapped for a number of years. I feel its time to try again. My suggestions are:


At no point in the book is lovemaking (or rape or other sexual violence) described beyond mention that it has occurred. There may be kisses or petting, pregnancy, mention of a wedding night, etc, but at no time is the reader present during a love scene or forced intercourse.


Straight sex only, Male/Female only, with no alternatives involved.  The reader is present when sex occurs for an unlimited number of times, written with gentler euphemisms or correct terminology (orgasm, penis, erection, bundle of nerves, etc).


Sex with variations. The reader is present during self-pleasure to orgasm, oral sex, light bondage, sex toys, anal play, etc. Love scenes written with racier verbage (quim, cum, cock, clit, etc).


Sex with more extreme variations. Anal penetration, extreme bondage, multiple partners, homoeroticism. The book is still about the romance, though, not the eroticism. I’d say that sex with a manimal would be included here, too. For language, see Hot.

There you have it. I’m not sure where or how violence could be or even if it should be included in our rating system. Perhaps its best to leave it up to the reviewer to mention instances that readers may find upsetting.

How about our rating system in general? Do you also feel its time for a change? One other point that might be raised – should the sensuality rating be renamed the sexuality rating? There are numerous books that are very sensual that contain little or no actual sex.

Whether or not the publishers agree to my suggestions, we welcome your opinion.

– Wendy AAR

Note from SandyAAR:  These are posted in order to get discussion going again about an update to our sensuality ratings.  These proposed designations are not final.

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