Sarasota is a lot of things. It’s wealthy, it’s luxurious, it’s a vacation destination. But is it sexy? I tried to answer these questions via the most explicit sex-related public locations available in town: adult stores.
Sarasota has three main adult sex shops: there’s XTC, located right off US-301 on 17th Street (with other locations across the state, including one in Bradenton), Giggles, south on Tamiami near Trader Joe’s, and Kinky Kitty, in the Gulfgate area near Munchies 420. Each of these stores has a different vibe to it, serving different clientele with different sets of needs.
XTC is your run-of-the-mill sex shop, with a strong focus on pornographic DVD sales and rentals. As I visited, another older gentleman entered behind me, dropping a stack of at least six DVD’s on the counter and shouting “Just making some returns!” to the man working, whom he appeared to know. The DVD area, which took up about half the store, appeared to feature films geared toward heterosexual men, with a slim selection of gay pornography as the only real variance. The store does feature a reasonably wide selection of cheap sex toys for all genders, as well as some lingerie with decent plus-size options. Prices here are lowest of the three, but the store doesn’t seem to be particularly geared toward women or members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is, however, one of the only stores in the area that sells compressed nitrous oxide.
Giggles presents an environment that may feel a bit friendlier to women and LGBTQ+ people. For starters, the store is staffed by women. There is a much larger selection of lingerie, as well as bikinis and costumes for Halloween and otherwise compared to XTC, with an offering of professional shoes and clothing for exotic dancers – though there’s a bit of a mark-up. A display of sex toys, clothing and related products targeted toward gay men is front and center in the store. A back room contains a selection of pornographic videos (some which, at least based on their covers, seem to be targeted toward women) and a vast amount of sex toys, many of which are considered premium. The prices reflect that, and all around Giggles presents a more expensive – but more comfortable – shopping experience than XTC. Giggles is an adult store for certain, but not necessarily a sex store. Beyond getting intimate, there are a number of reasons why one might stop in.
The Kinky Kitty, nearly a half-hour drive from campus, is a little bit of a trip but offers a different experience from both XTC and Giggles. Kinky Kitty is best described as a boutique – the store is smaller, more curated, with cute pink walls and decor throughout. Around Halloween, it’s another great place to pick out a costume, but also offers a decent selection of lingerie, exotic dancewear, club dresses, and corsets at prices a little lower than at Giggles. In the back, all the sex toys and kink gear are behind a counter. This may make it a little difficult to look at and touch everything on your own, but lends the perfect environment to ask questions and get to know the products with the help of a professional. For Kinky Kitty, that’s really the strong suit – the boutique experience is perfect for when you know you want to buy something, but you’re not sure what. Like Giggles, Kinky Kitty is staffed only by women. Kitty Diane, the manager of the store, explains that it’s important to hire women for this position because many people come in needing to be fitted for corsets or other clothes, or just simply feel more comfortable with the help of a woman. But Diane is clear about one thing: Kinky Kitty is for customers of all genders, orientations, interests and ages (so long as they are 18+).
“We get a lot of trans women in particular, and help people try women’s clothing for the first time,” Kitty Diane said.
Each employee of the store has their own “Kitty” name – the store owner, for example, is Kitty Rachel. In addition to running the independent business, which started six years ago, Kitty Rachel also has an engineering degree. Kitty Diane met Kitty Rachel when she was working in cardiology, with Kitty Rachel as one of her patients. The other employees include a woman who works in pediatrics, and a woman who graduated from Ringling and now makes cartoon pornography.
Despite her expertise in all things sexy, Kitty Diane said that New College students have taught her a thing or two about kink as customers in the shop.
“They came in here teaching each other how to properly whip someone, how to properly flog someone. I didn’t know there was a technique,” Kitty Diane said.
Kitty Diane has been in touch with a producer from Bravo, and is in talks to create a reality show based on the shop. The Kinky Kitty furthermore has a radio show being developed.
The Kinky Kitty is definitely a further distance than most of us college students are willing to travel, but if you’re looking for more of an experience than just a quick shopping trip, it’s the way to go. Giggles sells just about everything you could imagine yourself needing and then some, with a larger selection than the Kinky Kitty for nearly every type of product. But if you’re really in need of something quick, XTC is most convenient. Just maybe don’t expect a friendly saleswoman to greet you at the door.