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The Rise of Spice: BookTok Opens Up the Conversation Around Female Pleasure

What is "spice"?

If you somehow haven’t made it onto BookTok, you may not know what the term “spice” is referring to. “Spice” is used by TikTok creators to inform their audience that the books they are talking about have explicit sex scenes in them, with some creators even giving books a “spice” rating. The number of videos reviewing and talking about “spicy” books has risen dramatically over the last few years and has led to some bookshops featuring dedicated sections to this emerging genre. A bookshop in Canada reported that:

Female pleasure in literature

Female pleasure has historically been a taboo topic discussed with stigma. Romance novels or any book exploring the female experience were denigrated and dismissed as “women’s literature”, considered unworthy of respect. Writer of the popular BookTok book "Beach Read", Emily Henry, told The Independent that:

The booktok community

Due to the popularity of BookTok and it acting as a diverse platform for many voices to be heard, literature that unapologetically explores and celebrates female pleasure has been a big talking point. Novels, memoirs, and poetry have tackled this subject, emphasizing the importance of female agency, desire, and sexual liberation. BookTok provides a platform where people can share books that resonate with their own desires. It has become a community where through the medium of books women can openly, unashamedly, accept and talk about their sexual desires and fantasies. Creators share and have a dialogue with their followers about books that include these themes.

Criticism of booktok

Although BookTok has been a platform for the conversation about female pleasure, it has been criticised for its lack of nuance, inclusivity, and performative appearance by turning important topics into fleeting trends. BookTok is a welcoming and diverse community, but the conversation about 'spicy' books tends to be heteronormative with little room dedicated to the queer experience. There has also been some questioning about the community’s obsession with Colleen Hoover’s book “It Ends with Us”, which has been promoted on this app as a romance novel and praised for its level of 'spice'. However, the book's story is about domestic abuse and portrays the violence and manipulation that occurs in abusive relationships.

Continuing the conversation

BookTok and social media are great platforms for the encouragement of discussion. However, to keep the conversation healthy there needs to be a better dialogue around problematic sex scenes and a recognition that it is okay to enjoy the story in literature, but that romanticising it can cause problems in reality. The positive of the “Spicy” books trend is that it has allowed creators and viewers on TikTok to own their sexuality and share their desires through the medium of romance novels.


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