Porn Star Penny Flame Finds a New Life
When Jennie Ketcham went on Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew to boost her porn career, she had no idea she had a problem—or that a TV show would help her find a solution.
It’s taken Jennie Ketcham a long time to become Jennie Ketcham.
From 2002 to 2009, when she went by the name Penny Flame, Ketcham starred in over 200 porns, picking up numerous AVN Awards (Oscars in the porn world) in the process. She felt she’d exhausted every possible angle as an actress in the porn world and was hoping to get into the business side. With that in mind, Ketcham signed on to appear in the 2008 reality show Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew. But something funny happened when she got there: Ketchum realized not only that she had been using drugs and alcohol as a way of numbing herself for on-camera sex scenes because they were becoming traumatic but also that she was also a sex addict who was unable to form close relationships with people.
Within two weeks of entering treatment, Ketcham decided to completely abandon the porn industry. She continued to chronicle her recovery on another Dr. Drew spinoff, Sober House, and has been free from alcohol, drugs and the sex industry for over three years.
These days, she’s a full-time student with plans to go to grad school and is sharing her story in a new memoir, I Am Jennie. In this exclusive interview, Ketcham talks about dealing with a significantly reduced income since leaving the industry, her motives for entering the Pasadena Recovery Center and the Sober House producer she says intentionally tried to make cast members fall off the wagon.
When I left rehab, it was obvious I had no marketable job skills and that was a huge reality check.
What made you decide to write this memoir?
Initially, it all started with my blog. I thought that if I made a public statement about how difficult it is to struggle with sex addiction, and focused as well on my struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, it would make me much less inclined to go back into the adult business. I didn’t want that to even be an option. The memoir came about when an agent of Dr. Drew’s told me I needed to write a book. I had this powerhouse of support with the medical staff from the Sex Rehab show like Dr. Drew, as well as [therapist] Jill Vermeire and [psychiatrist] Dr. Reef Karim, both of whom had been seeing me pro bono since the show ended.
They all felt this could book could help so many people. It was obviously cathartic to write about my past and know I can open and close that book. But the response I’ve gotten from people who have told me my blog really helped them was a big reason for writing it. The book could reach people on a much larger scale.
How has the transition out of the porn industry been for you since Sober House ended?
We finished shooting that about three-and-a-half years ago. Since then, I’m now a full-time senior in college and pursuing a degree in psychology, with plans to go to grad school. I’m also working as a hostess at a Pan-Asian restaurant, learning to live on reasonable means while still being self-supporting. I have done nothing in the adult industry since April, 2009. I don’t even get money from any of my past videos, so there’s no financial gain from that—as frustrating as that might be at the first of the month sometimes. [Laughs].
You mentioned in an interview that girls in the porn industry can make up to $15,000 a month. Was it difficult to go from that kind of salary to $10 or $12 an hour as a hostess?
I wish I made $12 an hour! [Laughs]. To be honest, I could’ve made much more than 15 grand a month in that industry so the difference was initially difficult to wrap my mind around. I was convinced that I was a bigger-than-life person. But when I left rehab, it was obvious I had no marketable job skills and that was a huge reality check. I didn’t deserve to make more than $10 an hour because I hadn’t put in the time to develop skills that would pay more than that. It made me realize how entitled I’d become to think I deserved so much just because I sold sex for a living.
You also mentioned that even though a lot of girls in the porn industry made that kind of money, they still had trouble paying their bills. Do you chalk that up to drug addiction or just mismanaging their money?
I think it can all be lumped together. Whether you’re wasting money on cocaine or dresses, not being able to manage your money is usually a sign of something bigger. I mismanage my money when I’m not being healthy and those financial issues are one of my biggest hurdles. People often get sober and freak out when they look at their financial past. They either run out and use again or they say, “I can’t ever use again because this is what happens when I do.”
Has your past in the adult industry ever come back to haunt you at the restaurant or when you’re on a date?
When I first started working at the restaurant, I didn’t tell anyone about having been in porn because I didn’t want to define myself that way. I do get recognized occasionally, but it’s more from the Dr. Drew shows. People have come up to me quietly and said, “I just wanted to say that I saw you on TV and really admire you. I think it’s great you’re here now.”
That being said, I had to deal with one really drunk guy at the restaurant on a Saturday night that kept going, “It’s her! I know it’s her!” His friend goes, “I’m really sorry, my friend thinks you’re someone you’re not. He thinks you’re a porn star.” I told him I wasn’t and the guy goes, “No, not is. Was a porn star!” I owned up to it and then just went into the back room. I didn’t want to deal with it.
It’s not haunting. It’s simply why I don’t do it anymore. For every drunk guy like that, there’s a feeling they could get away with a butt slap or a grab and it’s a reminder of the total lack of boundaries I once had. I’m just really proud that I’m now able to have those boundaries and respect myself.
When you talk about sex in the porn industry being a traumatic experience for you, did you know it was traumatic at the time or was it only when you got to rehab?
I don’t want to have this hindsight bias where I’m like, “I always knew this was fucked up.” I had a good time in the industry and didn’t ever think I was recreating the trauma of my youth. I knew I had intimacy issues simply because I’d never had a relationship. I thought I had a cocaine problem when I was using it at the moment, but never thought I had a drinking problem. A lot of these things surfaced once I got into treatment.