Erotic or Spicy Romance - How hot is hot?
I don't believe you'll find a dictionary definition that explains the difference between these two terms, though there are some books on writing erotica that describe how the author of that particular book defines them. For me it's a matter of extent or levels. I see novels fitting into different levels of heated intimacy (e.g., sweet, spicy, and erotic or hot). Like many things, these labels are more a matter of taste and texture. Just as people have different tastes in food, readers have different tastes in the level of sexual heat they enjoy in their reading material. But it's more than that, because there is a level of naughtiness connected to erotica that some people equate to dirt or smut. Which is why erotica has been compared to pornography.
Erotica - a literary or artistic work that possesses a theme or quality designed to arouse sexual love or desire. (With that definition, I would think most, if not all, romances fall under that category.)
Pornography - a work that is designed to promote sexual excitement.
Obscenity - a work promoting lust or depravity.
Lust - is an intense or unbridled sexual desire.
Love - is the attraction, affection and tenderness shown between lovers.
Profane - treating with irreverence or contempt.
Profanity - vulgar language.
Vulgar - something lacking in cultivation, perception or taste as well as being morally crude, undeveloped or unregenerate--(i.e., crude, coarse and crass).
So, what is the great difference between them? I'd say it is love. Though it is possible to write a novel about sex where love isn't a consideration. However, that book could not be considered a romance. A romance has to have love somewhere in the equation. It could be a slow building of trust toward a deeper affection, or even love at first sight. So, what is the dividing line between the levels? When does a novel drift from sweet to spicy, or spicy to erotic? Can romantic books be rated like movies? G, PG, R, X? Yeah, maybe. At least I think it's possible.
So, how would this sort of rating system work for romantic novels?If you read the reasons why a movie is rated a certain way, there are three or four categories taken into consideration:
Language, Sexual Situations/Nudity, Behavioral Disorders/Violence and occasionally Mature Theme.
A book that concerns the BDSM lifestyle (Mature Theme, Sexual Situations), is filled with swear words and explicit terms (Language) and depicts full frontal nudity of the male and female (Nudity) - is that erotica? Probably so. I'd say that the sexual theme and possibly the language take it beyond the world of spicy into erotic. But let's say we have an average vanilla couple who like to use dirty words and make love a lot, how do we rate that? What would make it PG instead of an R? In this case, I'd have to say it's the language. It's possible the couple likes to use dirty words, but if the author doesn't say exactly what they are, I'd say you'd probably have a book that is spicy, but not erotic. The couple's activities are just a little too racy to be considered G or Sweet.
With that in mind, all of these words or labels that define the extent or intensity of sexual arousal in a book, refer back to levels. So, do all these labels exist only in the eye of the beholder? Yes, and no. There are some reader expectations built within each of these levels. By that, I mean a reader would be very disappointed to find explicit or profane language in a novel designated as sweet. No matter how you look at it, profanity is not sweet.
However, not all sweet novels stop at the bedroom door. Some venture beyond it, but if they do take the reader into the bedroom the spotlight will be on the characters' emotions, not their physical actions. Spicy novels do not end at the bedroom door. They definitely take the reader beyond, but are usually careful to avoid words that could be considered vulgar. Readers of spicy novels know exactly what is taking place, but are spared all the technical or explicit words and details. Again, this is a level. Some novels, not considered erotic by the author, do use technical or medical terms, but tend to avoid guttural slang or profane language. However, in an erotic novel, or even an erotic romance, readers expect not only to be taken beyond the bedroom door, but want to feel and hear every moan and sensation the couple is experiencing. The language found in erotic novels is explicit, and slang terms are common, if not expected.
These levels are usually used to describe the intensity of sexual interaction the characters' experience. All novels can be sensual in that they deal with the five senses, but a sweet novel will usual only hint at sensual input, a spicy novel will take the reader in a little deeper, while refraining from overly explicit descriptions, and romantic erotica will tell lay it all out there for the reader to experience first hand. If you think of the bases (first, second, third and home) that kids sometimes use to communicate what level of intimacy a girl has allowed a boy to reach, there is an unspoken hierarchy built directly within that structure. For a girl to be considered non-promiscuous, not every boy was permitted to touch second base, and third base was very restricted along with home base, which some girls even kept beyond the reach of any man not her husband.
So, in summary, my understanding is that heat levels are meant to provide guidelines for the reader, to give them an idea of what to expect. Erotic vs. spicy? It's all in the language used.
Remember, love is the key ingredient in every romance, and all sexual activity should besafe, sane and consensual, even in fiction.