Mimi MatthewsMimi Matthews

Closed-Door Romance: What's the Point?

Closed Door Romance GraphicI recently saw this question relating to one of my books. It made me think a lot about the genuine misunderstanding some people have about where closed-door romances fit into the modern-day romance genre.

What’s a closed-door romance novel? Closed-door romances are romances where the sex in the story takes place off the page, i.e. behind a closed door. These romances are also sometimes referred to as “fade-to-black” romance novels. 

A (very) brief history

Romance novels of the nineteenth and early to mid- twentieth century generally didn’t have sex on the page. It was only in the latter half of the twentieth century when groundbreaking novels like The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss (published in 1972) emerged onto the scene that the previously closed bedroom door was finally opened, both for Woodiwiss’s novel and for countless romance novels to come.

As a consequence, for many twenty-first century readers, the very term “romance novel” is now synonymous with on-the-page sex. This can lead to disappointment when they read a romance where sex happens behind a closed door. Don’t romance novels all contain sex scenes? Isn’t that the whole point of the genre?

Other readers might feel that the lack of on-the-page sex in a closed-door romance is in some way a judgment about sex itself, either from a moral or religious standpoint. Maybe the novel is implying sex is dirty? Or maybe it’s suggesting that sex is a sin? Terms like “clean romance” or “chaste romance” further perpetuate this confusion.

Forbidden Fruit by Auguste Toulmouche 1865

Forbidden Fruit by Auguste Toulmouche, 1865.

My version of closed-door romance

I write secular, closed-door historical romances. This means that my novels aren’t Christian or Inspirational fiction. It also means that the bedroom door is closed on any sex scenes. Depending on the storyline, sex is usually still happening—and acknowledged as such—but the act itself is off page. There’s still lots of sexual tension. There’s yearning. There’s passion. There’s the brush of a petticoat against a trouser leg, and the first touch of ungloved hands. 💕

the lovers by william powell frith 1855

The Lovers by William Powell Frith, 1855.

So…what is the point?

People read closed-door romances for lots of reasons! Here are just a few:

  1. Many readers are simply drawn to the specifics of a story (tropes/setting/relationship dynamics), and on-the-page sex isn’t a key component of how much they enjoy it;
  2. Other readers might find on-the-page sex scenes triggering because of personal trauma;
  3. Some might gravitate to closed-door romances because of their own sexual preferences (they’re asexual or demi-sexual, for example);
  4. Others might prefer closed-door romances for faith-based reasons;
  5. And finally, some might prefer a more historical style of historical romance, similar to the novels of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer.

Those are just a few of the reasons that have been communicated to me by my own readers. I’m sure there are many others, just as there are many reasons why readers prefer hotter romances.

Girl Reading by Alfred Stevens

Girl Reading by Alfred Stevens (1823–1906), n.d.

In conclusion…

Bottom Line? The romance genre is one of the biggest and most inclusive out there. No one needs to be shamed for their reading preferences. Read what you like. Love what you love. In this genre, there truly is something for everyone. And that’s the point.

*For more info on closed-door romance, check out these great articles!

What is a Closed Door Romance by R. Nassor – Book Riot

The Rise of Closed-Door Romance by Rachel McMillan – Writer’s Digest

About Mimi Matthews

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and Shelf Awareness, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

Where to Buy Mimi's Books

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Mimi’s books are also available at Penguin Random House, IndieBound and Powell’s, and at Amazon in the UK, Australia, and Canada.

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