From Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus to The Sexual Life of Catherine M, the tradition of female erotic writers heating up the cultural conversation is long, varied and illustrious. Each time, there’s something of an outcry. But, “if people are uptight about sex anyway, they’re going to be uptight about women celebrating it and putting it out there,” says Tara Fischer, the founder of Lickerish Library, with a shrug.
This month, Fischer launches her online erotic short-story platform, created by women for women as a “sensual panacea to today’s blatant and often extreme pornography”. As Fischer says: “Erotica doesn’t just appeal to your carnal desires, it appeals to your sense of aesthetic and emotions – it’s about seduction, allure, enticement.” She is an advocate of the Gloria Steinem school of titillation. “Pornography is about dominance and often pain,” wrote the American feminist firebrand in her 1983 essay collection Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. “Erotica is about mutuality and always pleasure.”
“All our writers are women,” says Fischer of the 10 inaugural contributors, who are mainly from the US and UK. “We want to celebrate and empower women, and to primarily make this a platform for them.” Ultimately, Fischer would like to create a “global collective” of women who will showcase “culturally diverse perspectives”. Lickerish members will have access to an initial collection of nine short stories, some illustrated with original photography; some, refreshingly, text only – to “spark the imagination” – with new stories added each week.
In a powerful bid to take control of the narrative, one of the debut stories is written, photographed and modelled by the same woman: Kate Victoria, a photographer who specialises in nude self-portraits. “Stay” is introduced as “a story of illicit lust interwoven with bittersweet tenderness”, rated three out of five for erotic intensity, and marked as a “five-minute read” (the longest read-time on the site being 20 minutes). It’s a short, sharp burst of heat-filled prose intensified by a forbidden relationship, summer in the city, the constraints of a small attic room, and photography of body parts illuminated by shafts of morning light.
Other tales are accompanied by images by male photographers, including Somerset-based Vincent Evans, whose portfolio also includes weddings and portraits. His pictures for “The Tryst” are notably the most explicit on the site. But Fischer is keen to emphasise that “while this is an all-women platform of erotic writers, we wanted to mix it up.”
Fischer’s inspiration for the library was born from a love of erotic writing but also from a frustration with the quality of online offerings. “There is an enormous amount of erotic literature out there, but I couldn’t find anything online that was eclectic enough in terms of short stories presented as collective,” says Fischer. With Lickerish Library, she hopes to have created a space where readers can “dip into different scenarios, confessions or fantasies” that “feel authentic, reflect women’s real experiences, and resonate with them”. Too often, she says she has been put off by “ridiculous” set-ups and “rubbish” writing in other erotic efforts. Her launch selection features a fleeting encounter on a train between a mature woman and a younger man, a 1950s update of Lady Chatterley, and a three-way adventure after meeting in a bar. Nevertheless, even the most transgressive scenarios have an escapist, romantic, Mills & Boon-esque spin about them – more EL James than Pauline Réage’s Story of O.
Down the line there are plans for an e-shop selling Lickerish lingerie, branded stationery, original erotic prints and photography, and Taschen-style coffee-table books. Audio narration is also in the pipeline, though Fischer laughs that they will “have to be careful, as audio can be unintentionally funny”. But, she counters, “if it is done well, it is very, very sexy”.
“I’m not suggesting that we are the first people to come along and do erotica,” she concludes, “but I’ve never seen original erotic writing, erotic art, and erotic photography all under the same umbrella.” Even so, the stories are the thing. “The bedrock of this celebration of female sexuality is in the stories, because your imagination can fly anywhere,” says Fischer. “And, for me, the mind is always the sexiest organ.”
Monthly subscription, £4.95. lickerishlibrary.com