How Dirty is "Dirty"?

I've been taking a bit of a break lately - but my writing life has also been pretty hectic. In the last eleven months, I've released five books (Fat Chance, Prescription For Love, Wrestling Harmony, Selkie, and Fighting For Freedom). I've done a blog tour. I've written several guest posts on different blogs, and I even set up a YouTube channel. I've been active on Facebook (most of the time), and Twitter (sometimes, but I'm still learning to like it).

It has been a busy year for me with a lot of change, and I'm definitely feeling a bit ... tired. So I've been reading - books, blogs, the news. Whatever I can get my hands on, really. So during the course of my reading, I came across a blog post where an author was debating the current lingo attached to erotic fiction.

Erotic fiction is often referred to by more conservative readers using terms like "naughty," or "raunchy," or "nasty." Then there's a looser, less inhibited crowd that uses terms closer to "sexy" or "hot," or even "dirty." For those of us who like the voyeuristic appeal of knowing everything that happens in the story - even the sexy parts - these "dirty" stories invite us into the bedroom, the bathtub, the backseat of the car, or wherever else our favorite couple is getting naked.

Back to the other end of the spectrum, in direct opposition to this type of "dirty" fiction, there's Christian romance, YA romance, and a few other forms of "clean" romance for readers not interested in all the details. For those who don't need (or want) every sexual detail to be included in the story, these "clean" reads give us the romance and the emotional connection - while leaving us tactfully shut out of the bedroom.

They leave us to fill in the blanks - or ignore them at will.

But really, why is one "clean" and the other "dirty?" And how does one choose which type to read (or which type to write)? Generally, the choice is simple enough; if you want all the gritty sexy details, you go for the "dirty" fiction - and you're often thankful to be reading it on a kindle or other e-reader, so the other people in the doctor's office waiting room can't see what you're reading. If that makes you uncomfortable or for some reason you simply dislike the full disclosure of "dirty" reading, then you go for something that tactfully leaves the sex out - even if you're still perfectly aware there's some sexing going on. 

And, there are even extra-"clean" stories where there's simply no sex at all - not even implied.

The romance reading community is obviously a pretty big mashup - so in such a mixed market, how does one choose what to write? On one side of things, if you're a "clean" writer, you might come off as too much of a prude for the "dirty" readers. And if you write lots of really intimate, detailed sex scenes, you might come off as a bit too open. A bit too "dirty."

Throughout the post I was reading (which I would link here, except that it's since been taken down), I kept finding myself pulling back to think on different books that I've read - both "clean" and "dirty" - and how those books reflect on my personal reading style. And while I've read my fair share of both styles - and I definitely have solid preferences - I like to think when it comes to my writing, I'm somewhere in the middle. Maybe not entirely "clean," but probably nothing close to what might appeal to the "dirty" crowd.

Then again, why do I have to identify as either?

I mean, sure - people want to know what they're getting. A strictly "clean" reader would likely be rather offended reading something like 50 Shades of Grey; likewise, a "dirty" reader with an affinity for BDSM, LGBT, or some other such "kink" might be highly disappointed to have picked up something decidedly "clean." So there's that, I suppose - the need to label the work based on the market so that people can find what they're looking for.

There's another side of the issue too, though - in themselves, the words "clean" or "dirty" imply that one style is good and the other is bad, respectively. One is something we can read in front of the children without answering questions about the image on the cover, and the other is something we often feel obligated to read in private, unable (or simply unwilling) to share our favorite new reads with friends if they're too "dirty."

I know a person who reads pretty exclusively "clean" writing. Even my occasional sex scenes are too "porny" for her, and she has told me several times that that while she loves my stories, she skips the sex. I've even had someone send me a message to tell me the generally pretty "vanilla" sex scenes in my writing render my books no better than common "smut." On the other hand, my books really don't contain an awful lot of sex - nor is it generally very adventurous sex. Because of this, I've been told that my books are prudish, and that while they're rich in plot and filled with characters that are emotionally engaging, they leave something to be desired in the lack of frequent and detailed sex.

Somehow, my books seem to fall on both ends of the "dirty" spectrum, depending on the "dirtiness" of the individual reader. And in my own life as a reader, I often find that books I think of as too "dirty" might not be quite "dirty" enough for others.

So really, how Dirty is "Dirty?" What makes a book too "dirty" for you, and what makes a book not "dirty" enough? Have you read any of my books? If so, where do they fall on your personal spectrum? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Personally, I like both "dirty" books and "clean" books. It just depends on what mood I am in. I do feel that there should be some kind of label on any book that could be considered "dirty". Your books are not dirty or "porny" and nowhere near smut. A dirty book, in my opinion, is one that gives ALL of the details of the act. When I read a romance book, I do expect some act of sex at some point throughout the book, whether it be detailed or just built up to and left for the imagination.


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