What does “clean romance” mean to me?

This was an interesting question discussed on the clean romance subgroup I am a part of on Goodreads, especially since I describe my writing as fitting within the “inspirational and clean genres.”  But even that can be troublesome.  Does the very term presume sex is “dirty?”

Two editors questioned me on this recently after looking at a few pages of my manuscript.  One wondered whether it could even be described as “sweet.”  I have read romances with graphic sex scenes, but I choose not to write them.

Yet, I got caught in a bit of the politics of clean romance reading and writing.

So I have decided to join a number of boards whose members seem to share interests similar to mine.  I applied to join one of them, and one of the moderators presumed that because I was interested in clean romance and I specifically explained that I wanted to write in the genre, I had some type of agenda that would be critical of and harmful to the participants.

I suppose that is the history in these message boards when it comes to readers of clean romance.  But the irony is that in my description of what I was hoping to do in my writing, I was making a statement in support of liberalism!  Even more surprising is that this woman was a member of a sister church within my tradition.  But I wonder whether she remembered her church history.  She eventually permitted me to join, but I realize now that there is a lot of work to be done in explaining and expressing the nuances of clean romance.  That is my goal.

My faith tradition is within Mainline Protestantism, and we tend to be less judgmental about sexuality matters compared to Evangelicals.  For example, in 1930, Anglicans at the bishops’ conference at Lambeth Palace in London stated that matters relating to birth control were to be determined by individuals in the privacy of their own relationships.  The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t decide upon that matter until the 1960s.

Here is the way I see it.  If I read books that are prurient, ie., erotic, or just books that include sex scenes, but they don’t cause me to act inappropriately, ie., to fantasize about or seek sex from a man not my husband, there is nothing wrong.  It is about understanding the difference between fantasy and reality.

As for writing, I prefer to listen to my characters as they think about their lives and the people in them.  I love to have them interact in a way that indicates their emotions.  They talk about their feelings, they can be playful, affectionate and passionate.  It is quite clear they are sexual, but it is about sensuality rather than sexuality.  There are a few scenes in the book I enjoyed writing, where they listened to music and danced.  They might kiss, cuddle, hug, touch, or even start to undress, but we can guess at what happens when they “get down to it.” I just don’t need to write about it, and no one needs to read it!

The female lead in my novel is very sensual, and the male lead noticed it from the start.  She dresses very well, in clothes that are not revealing, and in colors with jewelry that coordinate nicely and which draw attention to her complexion.  She wears flattering makeup, perfume, and nail polish.  She loves to cook, and she certainly enjoys dancing with him!  She is athletic, enjoying exercising for the thrill it gives her to push and strengthen her body.

As for being sexual, I’ll describe it as though it were a scene from the book.

Second Epilogue:

My writing process has felt like a scene from the Pirandello Project, Six Characters in Search of an Author.  The characters show up and tell me who they are, and what their story is to be like.  But this time around, I felt like I was an author in search of my characters.


I met up with them at a local coffee shop.  It had been a while.  When I last saw them a number of months ago, I attended the baptism of their first child,  a baby girl.  The Episcopal priest who married them presided at the service, and the female lead’s mother, an ordained minister, assisted.

Their baby girl just had her first birthday a few days before our meet up.

Sitting on a couch in the back, I waited.  They came promptly.  Once they arrived, each of them gave me a hug.  I then sat across from them.

We talked about how our lives had been since then, my writing, her parents and grandparents, her sister, as well as the friends and relatives who were bridesmaids at the wedding.  His family was fine as well, his parents, brothers, their families, and the friends who were groomsmen.

The good news was that her younger sister, who married one of the groomsmen two years prior, right before her senior year of college, was expecting her first child.  I asked “will this be an arms’ race?”  She looked sheepish as he laughed out loud, “I would not be surprised.  Some sisters can be competitive.  If anything, the grandparents would be saying ‘bring it on!’  They like the idea of the cousins being close in age.”

Stirring her chai latte and taking a sip, she grinned, “my parents have kidnapped my baby!”  He chuckled, “we are getting a break.  The grandparents are in town for her birthday.  They took her to the Children’s Museum.”

In all the time I had known them, I never asked them about their sex lives.  I know my  readers were very curious, so I figured it was time to get nosy (and nervy).  I waited until it was time for us to leave.

“So, what are you like in bed?”

She raised her eyebrows and smiled.   As he drew her in for a close hug, she stroked his hand and kissed his cheek.  Glancing at me, he replied, “that’s private,” while she added, “we don’t talk about that.”  As they began gathering up their things to leave, she said, “thanks for inviting us to have coffee with you.  It was good to see you again!”

I watched them in admiration as they held hands and walked away.  I looked forward to catching up again in the future.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.