What is a Closed Door Romance?
What is a closed door romance? Like any fan community, romance has phrases and lingo that have developed over time for fans to talk to other fans. We have romancelandia (referring to the collective of romance readers and writers), HEA/HFN (happily ever after/ happy for now), and have mostly co-opted the use of tropes in both book marketing and slang. Closed door romance is the informative slang term used by romance readers and writers that I am breaking down today.
What is a Closed Door Romance?
The easiest way to define a closed door romance is a book that centers on a romantic relationship developing between a group of people and ending in an HEA/HFN that has no on-page sex scenes. The door is proverbially closed to the reader. So, if a sex scene develops between characters, that part of the romance does not occur on page in the book — it might “fade to black” at that point. It is often discussed in contrast to an open door romance that does have on-page scenes. So, you can ask readers if the door is opened or closed in a romance. You can also describe something as “mostly a closed door romance” if it lands somewhere in between. However, in my opinion, it’s best practice to call something an open door romance once there is an on page scene.
Closed door romance is a relatively straightforward term. It’s also one of the better options when it comes to asking how much on-page sex a book contains. However, the term closed door romance is not without its flaws.
The Complications of Closed Door Romances
It’s important to bring up the fact that sometimes closed door is used to describe romances where the characters don’t have sex at all. Technically, nothing is happening behind a closed door in the book, so the term doesn’t necessarily fit. However, then we get into the weird grey zone where there’s not a matching third term in this set. What are we supposed to call this lonely third group? Doorless romances? No-door-required romances? Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the alternatives, these are usually lumped in with closed door romances, despite not quite fitting there.
Closed door romance also lands differently with different people, especially in a world where purity culture is very much still a thing. Fellow Book Rioter P.N. Hinton, discussing closed door romance as a term, explained, “There seems to be a shameful or hidden connotation there. That said, I’m not everyone and alternatively everyone is not me. I know a lot of people who really love this term, because it still implies the sex is happening; we’re just not privy to it.” I think she is totally correct here.
The Romance Writers of Australia’s glossary of terms also defines a closed door romance as “A romance novel with no sex on the page, ie it all happens behind closed doors. Some classify this as ‘sweet’ or ‘clean’, however, others dispute the term ‘clean’ as it implies books with sex are ‘dirty’.” There is nothing inherently wrong with a closed door romance. I think the problems stem from the idea that closed door is associated with goodness and cleanness. In comparison, open door is associated with badness or dirtiness.
No one wants to get a weird look or comment from someone when they say what they like to do or like to read, and it is often something that happens when you read romance. It is something that definitely happens when you discuss how many on-page sex scenes a romance book contains. Honestly, I am over believing in the idea that one book is inherently better than another book for everyone in general, no matter the genre. Everyone is going to have things they do like to read and do not like to read. Pretending like the thing you like is inherently better is always going to be the wrong play. Likely, you will be wrong, they will be hurt, and it never mattered that much in the first place.
The Benefits of “Closed Door Romance” as a Term
The term closed door romance lets other readers know what to expect in the books they want to read. They can know what is and what isn’t in the book and proceed accordingly. I find people like books a lot more when they go into them with the correct information. I just talked to a friend who was sold the book My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh as “a period-piece historical romance like Bridgerton.” Although one could say 2000 is in the past, it is over 150 years off the mark. It’s also in no way a romance. There is nothing wrong with the book, but you can’t go into it expecting Bridgerton.
Now that aside, let’s get back to the business of exploring the benefits of the term closed door romance. In a Writer’s Digest article, Rachel McMillian argued the rise of closed door romance can be attributed to writers’ increasing ability to “choose how far they want to go in terms of on-page sensuality. Expectations are changing as well as the boundaries previously prescribed as the genre strides toward many levels of inclusivity.” She emphasizes the idea that romance authors can choose how they want to write romantic plot lines. Writers have can control what does and does not happen on page. Her argument makes sense to me.
In my experience, most people who use the term closed door romance do so with the best of intentions. People have preferences when it comes to media. With the continuing rise in romance sales, people are going to want specificity in their romance. Plus, there are so many romances to choose from now. So, if you are in the mood for a snowed in romance or a winter sports romance or a friends to enemies to lovers romance, the book is out there and you have someone who has conveniently grouped recommendations for you. These days, I think writers can develop a niche readership for anything in the romance space. That includes closed door romances.
Closed Door Romance Recommendations
I have a bundle of recommendations if you are looking closed door romances. I am a bit of an odd one when it comes to romance: I truly do not care if something is a closed door romance or an open door romance. When it comes to romance, I just care if the characters have a satisfying romantic plot line. However, as someone who analyzes and recommends romance books to others, I recognize people look for closed door romances specifically. So, without further ado, I have some wonderful recommendations for you all.
The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews
Breaking into Victorian-era high society ladies’ fashion is hard for anyone, even someone as talented as the half-Indian tailor Ahmad Malik. So, when Evelyn Maltravers comes to him asking for a new wardrobe to land a high society match, he knows he must say yes. As they work together to craft Evelyn’s appeal as a marriageable fashionable horsewoman, they come to develop complicated feelings that could change both their lives forever. Ahmad makes clothing for Evelyn in an incredibly intimate way, and let me tell you, their messy relationship arc is perfection.
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
In this Pride and Prejudice retelling, a Toronto-based aspiring poet lives with her Muslim family and unintentionally falls for the man engaged to her younger cousin. Ayesha Shamsi knows her job as a teacher is stable but wants to finally commit to her poetry. She doesn’t have time for her growing interest in the handsome and conservative Khalid. Although their collective family lives are messy, they will both have to decide what they really want if they want to secure a future they are happy in.
Then There Was You by Mona Shroff
Content warnings: death of a child, miscarriage, school shooting, racism
After Daniel lost his child and divorced his wife, he never thought he would find someone who made him feel at home again. Then he meets Annika, the bartender and kindergarten teacher who has stolen his heart. However, she is dealing with her own heartbreak from her recent miscarriage and breakup. It’s a contemporary romance that centers grief, healing, and love in the best way.
Bisclavret by K.L. Noone
This is my closed door romance recommendation for fans of bisexual werewolves and demisexual kings in medieval fantasy romances. When the Lord Bisclavret’s clothes are stolen by his wife who fears what it would mean to live with a werewolf, he finds sanctuary with a scholar king who notices his intelligence. The novella is based off a Marie de France poem of the same name from The Lais of Marie De France, and it is excellent.
The Ongoing Discussion About What is a Closed Door Romance
Romance is a genre that — more often than not — highlights joy and love. It also gathers a dedicated community of people around it. My favorite part about romance is that romance books are for anybody and can speak to any experience.
Closed door romances offer variety for readers exploring different ways of expressing intimacy on the page. It might not be the best term. Maybe it’s not the term we will always use or even the term everyone agrees on right now. For now, discussing what is a closed door romance a good starting point to talk about our preferences in romancelandia. Ultimately, we are a community that loves to talk about lovely books and we need a way to keep all doorways to romance open to anyone who wants to step through.