Porn Star Penny Flame Finds a New Life

By McCarton Ackerman 08/01/12

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.

The many faces of Jennie Photo via

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.

How many of the people who go on these shows do you think genuinely want to get better?

[Filmmaker] Duncan Roy, who was on Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew, always tells people he went on the show for a Los Angeles adventure. Obviously some people have done it as a career booster and that’s not surprising. I honestly feel like whatever gets you in the door is fine, though. Unfortunately, what got a lot of people in is the promise of revamping their career but the motives are irrelevant. Once you get in there, you have a chance of getting better. I went in thinking this was going to give me so much exposure in the porn industry and after two weeks of treatment, I decided not to do porn anymore. 

In your book, you write about a producer on Sober House getting loaded on sake in front of the cast and encouraging Seth Binzer (lead singer of Crazy Town) to break the rules of treatment. Is that something you blame Dr. Drew for, or do you consider him separate from the rest of the crew? 

Dr. Drew is 100 percent separate from the producers and the show. He’s a big part of the rehab and therapy that helps us get better. Unfortunately, my experience on Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew was completely different from the one on Sober House. Sober House is reality TV at its finest. He comes in and does the rehab, but when he goes home at night we’re left to our own devices. And the producers were looking for ways to stir things up because the struggle of people trying to get better wasn’t compelling enough to them.

After that incident though, I called Dr. Drew and one of the head producers that night and freaked the fuck out. Drew was on my side and things changed immediately afterwards. He’s not doing Sober House anymore because he realized how little control he had. 

What does the after-treatment plan for sex addiction look like? It’s not like alcoholism where you can say, “I won’t ever have sex again.”

It’s an individualized plan and the way mine was set up almost looked like a bulls-eye. The inner circle consisted of behaviors that would trigger a relapse like sex for money, drinking alcohol or using drugs. The middle circle was slippery territory like masturbation, which had the potential to become chronic and compulsive. 

What’s difficult for people to grasp about sex addiction is that sex is a fundamental and necessary part of our lives. We have to have it. You don’t have to have alcohol. That being said, even if you abstain from drinking, you can white knuckle it the whole time and not have that emotional sobriety. In working through sex addiction, you’re learning how to have an emotionally sober lifestyle and that’s absolutely necessary for recovery.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to maintain their sobriety? 

Have good people surrounding you. I’ve been blessed to have such an amazing network of support like Dr. Drew and Jill and Dr. Reef. Taking part in anonymous programs has helped me stay accountable as well. And spirituality has become very important to me also. I pray every morning and try to pray every night. 

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Time Out New YorkThe Huffington Post, and, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among other topics, for The Fix. 

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