Longform

Risqué Business: If Porn Star Taryn Thomas is Any Indication, the Valley of the Sun May Be the Next Porn Capital of the World

Taryn Thomas isn't shy about anything, which makes for an unnerving lunch. On a breezy Friday afternoon on the patio at Zipps Sports Grill in Scottsdale, she's chain-smoking between coughs and eating fried chicken strips with her fingers. She's talking loudly and enthusiastically about her sexual experiences, using lots of graphic detail and four-letter words. The people trying to eat on the patio around her have all fallen silent, conversing only through wrinkled brows and grimaces.

Restaurant management's been trying to drown out Thomas for the past 30 minutes — they've gradually turned up the music coming from the patio speakers until it's absolutely blaring. Every time they turn up the volume, Thomas talks louder. By the time she gets to the part about how she got into porn, people on the patio have to shout their orders at the waitress.

Thomas is oblivious until somebody in her party remarks on the loud volume. "Oh, is it because I'm talking about fucking?" she asks, wide-eyed. "I can't help it. I talk loud."

At 26, Thomas is already a seasoned veteran of the adult industry. Four years ago, she was making bank as one of the most in-demand hardcore performers in the business — and business was booming. Then she drifted to the dark side, almost killing herself with drugs and rough sex and going broke in the process. She left porn three years ago and now is returning with her own production company, Taryn It Up Entertainment.

The adult business isn't what it used to be, especially in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles, the long-reigning capital of porn in America. But luckily for Thomas, her new company's based in a place considered the next big hotspot for pornography: metropolitan Phoenix.

Some of the most successful adult sites in cyberspace are grounded here. In fact, Taryn It Up Entertainment leads a pack of profitable, Phoenix-based adult-entertainment businesses that, like it or not, just might make the Valley of the Sun the next porn capital.

"It's kind of strange. Arizona's become like the small mecca, the little porn capital already," says Buzz Aziani, owner of Phoenix-based adult site Aziani.com. "The San Fernando Valley is definitely still the porn capital, but it feels like we're second, especially with Web companies. There's a ton of Web companies out here."

Before Jenna Jameson retired from the industry to have babies in California with mixed-martial arts fighter Tito Ortiz, she was Scottsdale's most famous resident porn star, and her Club Jenna (acquired by Playboy in 2006) was the best-known Arizona-based brand of adult entertainment. But those in the industry — both in L.A. and in Phoenix — say Thomas' company has the potential to enjoy even more long-term success. She's already filmed her first movie for Taryn It Up and procured distribution through the same company that handled Club Jenna. And she's building a Web presence that could bring in substantial income.

She's been able to lure big-name porn stars here to work with her company — including Ron Jeremy, Poppy Morgan, and Veronica Jett — but she's most interested in bringing in local talent to work in her videos. It hasn't been hard for her to find people willing to work in Scottsdale, either, since Thomas says her company pays more than many companies in the San Fernando Valley — about $2,000 for a boy-girl scene, whereas talent in L.A. might get half that in the current economy.

There have been a couple of business disputes, including a costly one with former frequent Howard Stern Show guest Lee "Crazy Cabbie" Mroszak over who has rights to hardcore footage from the Stern studio. But they haven't damaged her company.

Fortunately for her, she's not venturing into this territory alone. Thomas has the support of her family and friends, as well as some key people in the adult industry. And she has her fiancé and the co-owner of Taryn It Up — New Jersey porn businessman Brett T. — by her side to fend off bullies and handle the finances.

"We plan on being together forever," Thomas says. "Really, he's my soul mate."

Thomas talks with her hands a lot, so it doesn't take long to notice the words tattooed in black on the inside of her wrists: "Love" on the left, and "Lust" on the right. She says they're recent tattoos she'd wanted to get for a long time.

She considers the fresh tattoos a step toward burying her demons and reclaiming her place in an industry where women are easily replaced and quickly forgotten.

"I'd say 97 percent of porn stars are psycho," Thomas says. "Everybody wants to paint their life as the perfect fairy tale, and it's not. A lot of people don't like my honesty. And, honestly, I'm still getting my own head back to normal."

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea