How Hot do you like your Steam in romance?
The term Steam was first used by the psychologist William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890) in reference to intensity of attraction between people.
Steam in romance is a generalized term readers and authors use to help gage the sexiness or sexual tension of the book. For each reader it is going to have a different scale that they rate a book’s steam level. The preference of how much steam you want in a book is like anything else, subjective. We all have preferences in our daily lives for example, dark meat versus white meat or Coke vs Pepsi.
Steam level is going to be completely subjective to the reader and their experiences. The expectations for books are going to be different based on what the author shares and teases about the story. Lots of authors use the term steam to drive readers to their books. Knowing that the relationships both emotional and physical are what readers are looking for in romance books. Oftentimes the physicalcality of the relationship can have as much of an impact as the emotional relationship on the HEA for many readers.
Here is how I personally rate sexiness or steam level in a book. It is sort of a mental checklist for me. I do prefer my books to be more on the steamy side.
Book reviewers use the 5-star scale to gage enjoyment of the book. For steam rating it was just natural to use a 1 out of 5 scale to rate steam level in a book. One being the closed door, sweet romance has almost no steam to a 5, which would be classified as Erotica or almost.
1 steam rating. This is reserved for books where the sexual relationship is not mentioned. That the flirting, foreplay, and kiss are simple interactions with little to no mention of them. They might be eluded too but nothing actually takes place on the page. Physical contact is hardly mentioned.
2 steam level. This is going to be a slower burn romance or when there is physical encounters eluded too but the sex scene fades to black. We as the reader never actually read about the physical encounter. The story might have one major physical encounter the others alluded to. Some flirting, no dirty talk , maybe a few moments of foreplay and flirting mentioned on the page. Language to describe sexual encounters would be very poetic, without intense descriptions.
3. steam level. The sexual connection is intense between the characters. The reader should expect 2-3 sexual interactions, these encounters can be foreplay, heavy petting, Intense flirting and sex. First encounter would happen in the first 40% of the book. Language to describe the sexual encounter would be more descriptive and sexual in nature. Using very sexualized words.
4. Stream Level. Strong sexual connection. Sexual interactions starting within the first 20% of the book. These encounters would include, heavy petting, descriptive masturbation, dirty talk, some role playing, along with light bdsm and anal play. Sex in multiple locations and described in book. The description of these encounters would have an intensity to them.
5. Steam level. The main focus of the book and the storyline are the sexual encounters. This would be almost erotica if not labeled erotica. It would sometimes be referred to as Porn without plot . As a reader you should expect to have all senses engaged in this read. The characters would have an intense physical connection. You might read about such things as multiple partners, BDSM, anal sex, toys, along with such kinks as voyeurisms or public sexual encounters.
Erotica- By definition erotica’s is literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire. Erotica is there to spark a sexual or emotional response in either what you read or what you are seeing. Erotica is also an acceptable way to explore topics and kinks that you might have interest in or questions about. Erotica is often lumped in as something that is naughty and not acceptable. I challenge this! One of the things that is amazing about literature is it has always been a way to provoke society and push acceptance for outliers. (watch for another article about this coming soon)
Things to consider when trying to figure out how much steam or sexual references do you want in your romance. You first have to figure out what your triggers are. What are you comfortable with in a sexual nature? Are you interested in pushing your boundaries? Just as with movies, there are going to be things in a book you can and can not handle. And that is ok. I live by the mantra “Not every book is for everybody”
One of things to consider when you are rating or reviewing a book and want to include steam level is that not everyone’s triggers or boundaries are going to be the same. It is important that if you think a book has certain topics or actions that could cause issues please note it in your review. Also mention it when recommending the book to fellow readers. Because of the subjective nature of steam/sex everyone is going to have a different feeling or definition. If you come across a book that is too much for you STOP reading it. If the book in some way causes you anxiety or you are uncomfortable to the point that it is causing you stress, STOP reading it. It is 100% ok to stop reading a book because it is not enough or too much intense feelings for you.