GLOBE, Arizona – Retired adult film actress Sunset Thomas – once called “The Princess of Porn” – has renounced her career in prostitution.
During an extended interview spanning various areas in Arizona, Thomas explained to a reporter how many of the men in her life poached off her decades of earnings, first in the porn industry and later in brothels that capitalized off her high profile adult industry name. She said despite the fact she spent over two decades in the profession – her name and face known throughout the world – she has little to show in the way of savings.
“I’m finally out,” Thomas said. “I was tired of the stress and people forcing me to do things I don’t want to do. I’m tired of people trying to pressure me to keep doing it when I don’t have to do it. I want to live a normal life like everyone else.”
Thomas – who prefers to be called by her real name, Diane – said her fiancé, Dr. Robert Martin of Arkansas, has worked with her extensively to help her transition to a normal life. Dr. Martin supports Thomas financially. He said she has a very small amount saved up in an account. Dr. Martin said he struggled to emancipate Thomas from having to work in a brothel. It was something she no longer wanted to do – but out of financial necessity had no choice but to do.
“The conditions at the brothel where she was working were prison-like with two week, 24/7 lockdowns,” Dr. Martin said. “It was an existence for her that became more and more unbearable, mentally and physically. She wanted to leave, but the money she was making for them was an incentive for them to keep her in it.”
The two originally met when Martin was trying to help another legal courtesan escape the sex industry a few years ago, although that woman eventually returned to prostitution.
“There are many of these ladies who would love to be out of that life,” Martin said. “Psychological reprogramming takes a lot. It’s a chance to be yourself again, but you have to relearn how to do it. There are a lot of people who don’t want those girls out of the brothels because of the money they would lose.”
Martin said it took several attempts for Thomas to free herself. “I told her from the start, ‘You deserve better than this’,” Martin said. “But it took her a long time to get to the point where she was ready for me to get her out of there.”
Thomas said she had great hopes and dreams when she was younger. She said she had no idea her life would head in the direction it did. Born in Sikeston, Missouri on February, 19, 1972, Thomas was the youngest of ten siblings. As a teenager in Daytona Beach, Florida, she dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. She moved to Ft. Lauderdale to work as a model. Thomas shot her first adult film at age 18. Now 42, she has worked in at least 213 adult films. Thomas said she tried to be as genuine as possible while on camera, but ultimately the smiling, cheery character she played in her porn films was just a role.
“Right now, you’re seeing me. I’m not acting at all,” Thomas said during the interview in Arizona. “This is who I am. Either like me or don’t like me. But I’m not going to act for you or put on a show.”
Thomas said she left the porn industry in 2009 because of concerns that not enough precautions were being taken to prevent sexual disease.
“It was a couple of years ago,” she said. “I simply did not feel safe anymore. A lot of people were catching stuff. Like HIV. There were a lot of cases and people were catching a lot of things.”
Thomas said the long time span between when the AIDS test was administered to porn actors and the time they were allowed to come on set to perform greatly concerned her.
“I can go out today and get my AIDS test and it come in and I’m clear,” she said. “But you don’t know what I did the night before or a couple of days before I shoot that film.”
Also, Thomas said some of her male co-stars were complaining about having to use condoms in the adult films.
“A lot of the guys were iffy about using protection,” she said. I started to demand they do, but they kept saying, ‘Oh, it destroys the fantasy.’ But my life, my survival, is too important.”
During her time in porn, Thomas said she began to freelance as a legal prostitute in various bordellos in Nevada – her fame and notoriety as a porn star attracting customers by the droves. But then she met Martin in Las Vegas, who she considers to be her one true love. After escaping with his help in December 2013, Thomas worked up the courage to call the brothel at which she had been working to tell them she would never return.
LIFE AFTER PORN
Michael Sis, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of San Angelo, said he has known others such as Thomas who has successfully survived that kind of lifestyle.
“They can turn their lives around with God’s help,” he said. “What is usually most helpful is to have a supportive faith community to give them encouragement. They can get the moral support to weather the storms of moments when they are feeling down and tempted to go back to it. Having a good prayer life is important for the inner strength to withstand challenges.”
Those who wish to pursue redemption can certainly find it, the Bishop said. As examples he recalled King David in the Old Testament of The Bible. He bounced back after several sexual sins he had committed. Also, there is the story of Maria Gorreti, an Italian virgin-martyr of the Roman Catholic Church. She is easily one of the youngest canonized saints. Gorreti was murdered after refusing to have sex with a man. The man eventually repented and became a very holy man and was present when Gorreti was canonized by the pope.
Bishop Sis cautioned it would be wise for Thomas to find an entirely new set of friends who are not in the adult entertainment industry.
“Some of the most challenging moments come when they are running low on money and are tempted to think if they could just do some of the stuff they used to do it would be easy money,” the Bishop said. “The real trials are when times are tough financially. It’s important to lean on friends and family. God will take care of you.”
Texas Department of Public Safety Capt. Brian Baxter, who is based out of San Angelo, said work investigating sex slavery has made him very familiar with the dehumanizing effects prostitution can have on women. Women who work as prostitutes for extended periods of time can develop serious problems, Capt. Baxter said.
“It’s almost hard-wired in her to be abused,” he said, “Where do you go when you leave? Who do you go to? How do you keep the lights on and pay the bills and buy food without going back into that life?”
What makes it difficult for anyone fleeing that type of lifestyle is the negative public perception of pornography, the Captain said.
“We have been told that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession and in the process we have decriminalized what the pimps and johns are doing,” he said. “People assume they (prostitutes) want to be in that life. But I have yet to meet a woman who wakes up thinking, ‘Hey, I want to sleep with 12 strangers today’.”
Candida Royalle, a former adult actress and couples-oriented pornography producer and director, said she met Thomas near the beginning of her career but never actually worked with her. As an industry educator, Royalle said women who leave porn are highly advised to go into therapy as quickly as possible.
“When these women leave, even if they consider their experience good, they should go speak to someone,” Royalle said. “We live in a culture that watches and eats up these movies in record numbers and then condemns the women that are in it. It’s a horrible, hypocritical culture.”
Thomas and Martin acknowledged the former porn actress has not availed herself of therapy. But Martin said Thomas does find comfort riding horses with him in Arizona.
“It’s something she loves to do,” Martin said. “It is good therapy and very relaxing. It allows her to clear her mind and have some fun and be herself. She’s just a country girl at heart so this is very important.”
Family support for Thomas’ new life has been strong. Thomas’ mother, Margie Stanley of East Texas, is hopeful for her daughter’s future. Stanley is currently taking care of Thomas’ younger son, who Thomas declined to mention by name. Stanley said the boy is doing well in school these days.
It’s been an interesting journey for Thomas, her mother said. “People are always asking me what I think about my daughter being a porn star,” she said. “I don’t have to like it, but as long as she was happy I was happy for her. It was her choice…but it was hard. It was harder these recent past years because she wanted to get out of the business.”
Stanley said it was difficult to hear her daughter say over and over again she didn’t want to live that kind of life anymore.
“I heard her cry and say she did not want to do these things,” Stanley said. “But no one would help, until Robert (Martin). She and Robert had been friends for a long time and when she called and asked him for help he went and got her, but she was nearly dead.”
Stanley was referring to Thomas’ poor state of health when Martin retrieved her from Las Vegas, where she had gone into hiding after being beaten and injured by someone she declined to immediately identify. After rescuing Thomas from a bad situation, Dr. Martin nursed her back to health, Thomas’ mother said.
“She looks good now – healthy and happy,” she said. “She has that cute little face. But the men she has worked with in the past, all they saw was dollar signs.”
Stanley said her daughter’s future is a lot brighter with Dr. Martin in it.
“I think she is very happy with Robert,” she said. “It’s a process and there will be issues that develop down the road. Someone might make a nasty remark about her and make her feel bad.”
Thomas’ older son, Zach Fowler, 22, of Mendocino, California, said he is equally happy for his mother – especially since she has put some distance between herself and Las Vegas.
“‘Lost Vegas’ is a slight hell and I can tell she’s better since she left,” he said. “She has a better vibe now. I’m happy that she seems more comfortable, more laid back. I have seen a lot of change in her.”
Las Vegas is a hard town to live in because it promotes a dangerous survival mindset, Fowler said. “Because she was able to back away from a few things, she seems much brighter,” he said. “She doesn’t look unhappy anymore. She is in love with Dr. Martin. He loves her and is concerned about her health and it has really helped her.”
THE MEN IN HER LIFE
Thomas and Martin took a reporter on a tour of some of their favorite spots in Arizona – to both display the horses she rides to relax and also explain the details of her exodus from the sex industry. In tears, Thomas said she places a lot of the blame on her choices of men over the years. She said the men in her life steered her – first toward porn, then toward prostitution. She said they tried their best to keep her there when she wanted to leave.
“It was all about, ‘You have to do this. You have to work.’ It was all about the name ‘Sunset Thomas’. I was forced to advertise the brothels constantly. I didn’t get a nickel. I was forced to do it. And I didn’t want to do it.”
Thomas said she is experiencing trouble with trust right now. Poisoned relationships with men are one of the dangerous after-effects of women fleeing prostitution, Captain Baxter explained.
“The trust just isn’t there,” the captain said. “They have been forced into this business and coerced and not allowed to exert their own identities. Many of them have been forced into perpetual debt – making them owe for utilities. Many turn to drugs during slavery because of the emotional or physical abuse.”
Thomas’ mother said her daughter’s poor choices in men in the past cost her dearly. “She wanted to stop, but the men in her life, they liked the money coming in,” she said. “She made some really bad choices.”
Candida Royalle said she encountered one of Thomas’ more ruthless men when meeting her as a fledgling adult performer years ago. “I remember she came to my office when I was running my production company back in the 1990s,” Royalle said. “She was with a man who brought her by my office. She was such a fresh, young, pretty face looking to get into the business, but I never ended up working with her. I was certain she would be a success story – for a while.”
But there were some red flags that popped up for Royalle when studying Thomas’ companion during the meeting. “I am pretty perceptive about people and I sniffed it out as soon as she turned up in my office with that guy,” she said. “He was what we in the business call a ‘Suitcase Pimp’. Basically they travel with them and supposedly take care of all the women’s business and negotiations. They even go as far as to work with the women in scenes. But they are really living off them.”
Thomas agreed that she has suffered greatly from her long-term romances with predatory men who leeched off her financially.
Royalle described Thomas as a delightful person. But the man she met with her? Not so much.
“She was such a little sweetheart,” Royalle said. “She was like the quintessential milk maiden from the Midwest. But you knew right way that with him it wasn’t going to end well.”
Candida Royalle was very pleased to learn Thomas had found someone worthwhile to spend her life with. “It sounds like she has fallen in with a good guy who will at least take her in a good direction,” Royalle said. “This is the kind of business that eats girls up and spits them out in record time. And when they try to leave many don’t notice because there are so many girls there to take their place. This business doesn’t have a high regard for women.”
While vowing to live a porn and prostitution-free life, Thomas refuses to apologize for her career because it would basically be apologizing for the way she has lived her life. Thomas said she tries her best to stay in touch with her fans, while at the same time letting them know she is no longer in the porn industry and will never again work at a brothel.
“Many of them love me for being the way I am, love me for the new me,” Thomas said. “I love my fans. I am not hiding under a rock…I am so happy. This is the best medicine for me. I don’t think I have ever been so happy in my life.”
But it has taken work for Thomas to get to this point, Martin said. For a while, he said Thomas’ industry-inspired drinking problem was a huge obstacle. It caused nearly-fatal complications for her during appendicitis surgery in the latter part of January, 2014. Martin ended up prescribing Thomas medicine to block her receptors so she can’t get intoxicated. It helps curb her urges – which at one point were up to 20 shots of Jameson a day when at its worst.
“It has been a difficult road,” Martin said. “Alcohol dependence was her way of coping with the trauma of her life and the abuse she was living in. There has been a lot of trauma of the body and the mind.”
But things are better now, Martin and Thomas say. The two go dancing and play billiards as often as possible because Thomas very much likes to do these things. And she still loves the stage. Martin makes a point of providing Thomas with a lot of attention, holding her tightly when she sleeps.
“She asks me, ‘Why do you hold me so tight?’ And I tell her, ‘Because you’re safe. I want you to feel safe.’”
@SunsetThomas on Twitter
Ben Tinsley is a veteran Texas news reporter. He can be contacted by email firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (702) 524-3773. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.