For the last month and a half, I have been utterly glued to “Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew” on VH1, in which the salt-and-pepper-haired Dr. Drew Pinsky counsels semi-famous entertainers who are battling sex addiction. We’ve written a bit about the topic on The Frisky, sometimes expressing dubiousness that it’s even that common, but the show has definitely taught me — oh, the power of television! — that sex addiction is extremely complicated. In fact, in the show’s voice-over, Pinsky says that sex addiction is as harmful as drug or alcohol addiction.
All of the patients being treated on the show are dealing with sex addiction that has manifested itself in different ways, but I’ve found Jennie Ketcham’s story to be the most compelling. Ketcham arrived on the show as Penny Flame, her porn alter ego. As anyone who has watched Pinsky’s previous treatment shows knows, he insists on calling his patients by their given names and not the personas they’ve crafted, often to shield their demons. And so Penny Flame became “Jennie” again and almost immediately, it seemed, at least to me as a viewer, that Ketcham’s recovery from sex addiction began. Since the show wrapped, Ketcham has left porn and Penny Flame behind and has started a blog, Becoming Jennie, which chronicles her recovery. In her first entry she wrote, “My name is Jennie Ketcham, and I am a recovering porn star. And addict. This day, as every day, is the first day of the rest of my life, and I intend to live it to the fullest.”
After the jump, Jennie talks with The Frisky about being a sex addict, how “Sex Rehab” changed her life, how she feels about porn now, and what her plans are for the future.
The Frisky: You were involved in the adult industry for eight years or so. How difficult has it been for you to leave that behind?
Jennie Ketcham: Leaving behind the adult industry is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do for myself. It was harder than quitting drinking, because leaving porn meant leaving behind an entire identity, leaving the safety and predictability that goes with the makeup and fake eyelashes. When I left rehab, I erased all the phone numbers I had for people that went under pseudonyms, somewhere around 400 contacts. There are still a few people in my life from that business, but I can count them on one hand. When you make a change, it’s all or nothing. The majority of fans, who were true fans, support my decision to “become” Jennie, and then there are some that are uncomfortable with the thought that I’m more than an image on a screen, or a f**k toy. But that has very little to do with me.
The Frisky: How has it been watching yourself on “Sex Rehab with Dr. Drew”? How has it been different than, say, watching yourself in adult movies?
JK: First of all, it was a rare occasion that I’d watch myself in my movies. I’ve always been hypercritical of the way I look, the faces I make, the noises, etcetera. It was just easier to know that the fans liked it and be comfortable with that. Watching “Sex Rehab” is a different kind of experience. I don’t identify with the girl on the show anymore. I’ve been sober and living an entirely different lifestyle since April 6, 2009, and between the massive amount of therapy and solid 12-step program, the way I see myself is different. Which is nice … I’d hate to be where I was eight months ago. I’m grateful to have been there, but I’m even more grateful to be where I am today.
The Frisky: Did you worry that being on a reality TV show about sex addiction would be exploitative? Or was the fact that it was a show secondary to it being a treatment facility?
JK: As a woman who was comfortable exploiting myself for money, even though I didn’t think of it like that at the time, being on a reality TV show hardly compares. I signed up to do the show with the intention of exploiting it. I thought it was funny, a porn star going to sex rehab. I planned to claim that I was a workaholic. I brought toothpaste to use to graffiti c**ks all over the walls. However, the intensive therapy and level of honesty that quickly revealed itself made it virtually impossible to continue in that mind frame. After a certain point, I forgot the cameras were there, because the s**t we were dealing with was so heavy. The show, as funny as it may sound, was my breaking point, and helped me make the decision to change my life completely.
The Frisky: You definitely really gave yourself over to being vulnerable on the show — where did you find that bravery?
JK: It wasn’t my intention to be brave, or vulnerable for that matter. But it took me a few days of being called “Jennifer” to realize my porn star persona was the only identity I had. That I had no idea who Jennie was, who they were talking to. Once I realized I have nothing to hide behind, the makeup gone, the pretenses dismissed, I was starting from scratch. That kind of realization leaves one incredibly vulnerable, because I had nothing left to cling to. Once that initial facade was broken apart — the construct that was “Penny Flame” — I continued with the process because of the support from the group and the therapists.
The Frisky: Was there a point in treatment where you had a real “breakthrough”?
JK: There were a few moments of “breaking through.” The first being the realization that I had no identity as “Jennie Ketcham.” Another big one was the realization that when people tell me they want to f**k me, I shut off emotionally, deflecting my uncomfortable feelings by making jokes, or saying, “I’d f**k you too.” I think it was this realization that made me realize I needed to quit porn — as long as I’m playing a character on a screen, doing as expected and not necessarily what I feel, I’ll continue shutting down emotionally.
Another big realization was that I didn’t have to stay in porn. I’d convinced myself that my destiny was in the adult business. That if I wasn’t performing, I’d be directing, or running a studio, or something related. I realized there was a time in my life where I had different goals, different dreams. A big supporter in finding the courage to pursue those dreams was Duncan Roy, who kept telling me I could do whatever I want. I had become convinced that a choice I made at 18 determined where the rest of my life would lead me, and it took rehab to realize I could change my mind about the direction I’m going. At any point in the day, I can change my mind.
The Frisky: The word “rape” really set you off, understandably, during the show. Have you found any other words that break your boundaries?
JK: I get very uncomfortable now when people say in an offhanded way that they’d like to f**k me. It doesn’t happen often, because I’ve surrounded myself with likeminded people, people who understand what it means to be in recovery, and people that are respectful of my boundaries. It’s a constant learning experience though, learning boundaries and learning to maintain them. The majority of people in my life now know where I came from, and know what my goals are, so there isn’t a big issue with being disrespected in that way. Thank God.
The Frisky: Now that you’re not in rehab anymore, what kind of treatment are you still participating in?
I see Jill Vermeire [a therapist on the show] once a week, as well as a psychiatrist named Dr. Reef Karim from The Control Center. Both have been kind enough to see me pro bono since the show, and have been a great help in sorting through the mess I’ve made in my brain, and the wreckage I’ve left in my life. I participate in multiple 12-step programs and keep a solid support system around me at all times. I’m still in touch with Drewdiggity. He’s a dope guy.
The Frisky: I think there’s a real lack of understanding of what sex addiction is and what actually makes someone a sex addict. As someone who is recovering from sex addiction, how would you describe what it feels like to be addicted to sex?
JK: Sex addiction is an intimacy disorder, a disorder that manifest in multiple ways. For me, sex addiction manifest through compulsive masturbation and cheating, being emotionally unavailable to the people I love and who love me, running at the first sight or feeling of being sincerely intimate with someone. What does it feel like? Numb. It’s the inability to deal with my emotions, and the overwhelming urge to numb them out, whether using men, women, alcohol or drugs. It varies from person to person, but I experienced different levels of “highs”.
The Frisky: What do you say to those people who say that sex addiction isn’t real?
JK: Everyone is entitled to their opinions. I think enough research has been done regarding the physiological effects of oxytocin on the brain to lend some validity to the matter, but once people start admitting that sex addiction is a real thing, it requires them to look at their own behavior, and whether that behavior is impeding on their ability to relate to people intimately. Sex addiction gets a bad rap, most who don’t know what it is think it’s all hookers and porn addicts, which is a symptom. But what’s behind the desire to act out in that way? A ton of shame, and lack of self-worth. “I don’t feel I deserve to be truly intimate with someone so I …” You won’t hear that on the news, but fundamentally, that’s what it’s about. A shame-based, core issue centered around the view of ourselves and our relation to others, and whether or not we are deserving of real relationships.
The Frisky: Some of the TV gossip shows have mentioned that Tiger Woods’ reported appetite for cheating with lots of women could indicate that he’s a sex addict. Do you think there’s any basis for making that leap?
JK: I wouldn’t be quick to say he is a sex addict. Because it is a self-diagnosed disease, it’s unfair of anyone to point fingers and say “sex addict.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if he were, being in the position he is, the fame, the fortune, etc. He must feel very isolated. It isn’t my place to say whether or not he is a sex addict, but at least if he is, there are places he can go to receive help.
The Frisky: Do you keep in touch with the people from the show — both your fellow cast members and those who work at the treatment facility?
JK: I live down the hall from Duncan Roy, and see him almost every day. I see Phil [Varone] occasionally, as well as Amber [Smith], but unless they are still following through with the program and/or therapy, I really don’t keep in touch with anyone. Once again, the people in my life at this current moment consist of those in or understanding of recovery. I see Jill, and speak with Drew, and occasionally Shirley [an administrator at the facility], but that’s about it.
The Frisky: Did you cheat at all when you were in treatment?
JK: No, I didn’t cheat in treatment. I’d only be cheating myself — there was no reason.
The Frisky: During the exercise where you had to identify your triggers — like sex toys, porn, etc. — did you ever want to say “Dr. Drew,” since, let’s face it, he’s way hot?
JK: One of the first things I told Dr. Drew: “I’ve already undressed you with my eyes, Drewdawg. Whatcha gonna do now?” He said, “That’s objectification, Jennie, and we are going to try to stay away from that.” The guy is awesome. And hot. But there are just some things that have nothing to do with sex addiction, and me saying Drew is hot is one of them. Some things are just stand alone true. His wife is a lucky lady!
The Frisky: So, do you consider yourself a feminist?
JK: I consider myself a sex-positive feminist, and believe it important to our nature as human beings to be able to express ourselves sexually, however we wish.
The Frisky: How do you feel about porn now?
JK: I’m not against pornography and I had a great time doing it, but there just came a time where I felt it best for my mental health to quit. But that doesn’t make it unhealthy for everyone, just for me. It’s a matter of knowing what your boundaries are, and being comfortable working within those boundaries. It’s different for everyone. There was a time where I wanted meaningless sex and multiple partners, and it was my right as a woman and a human being to pursue that. As I grow, my wants and needs change, and my behavior changes accordingly. I want more than sex now, I want meaning, I want an intimate relationship with someone I love deeply. But that doesn’t stop me from supporting those who do enjoy that kind of sexual expression.
The Frisky: Do you think you’re a role model?
JK: I’d like to think of myself as a role model, if only because I am a perfect example that any change is possible. If you are unhappy with your life and the way you are living it, it’s only a matter of deciding what is necessary, and being willing to go to any lengths to achieve it. Anything is possible.
The Frisky: Have you had sex since leaving treatment? If so, how has sex or masturbation or any other form of sexual activity been different?
JK: I haven’t had sex since leaving, over eight months now, and am spending the first year of my sobriety dating myself. I think it’s important to focus on me right now, to figure out what I want from life, and who I am as a woman. I need to feel confident in these things before finding a partner, because if I don’t, I’ll never be happy with them. I can’t be happy with someone if I’m not happy with myself. I am learning healthy sexuality, and it starts with myself. I did start masturbating again (laughs), but I threw away my vibrator in a supermarket dumpster so I didn’t go back to get it!
The Frisky: What are you up to now, since leaving treatment and giving up your porn career?
JK: I’ve been writing a recovery blog called Becoming Jennie, documenting my journey since recovery. Some amazing things have happened because of the blog — I’ve signed a contract with a literary agent and am working on a memoir. I’ve connected with a producer in Hollywood and am working on a script from that memoir. I’ve started blogging for the Huffington Post, selling my artwork, learning how to make money outside of the sex industry. I want to write. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and now that it’s all sort of falling into my lap, I can’t help but feel a sense of deep gratitude for these blessings. I’m a little nervous about the future, but that’s a way better feeling than looking ahead and thinking I know everything in store. I refuse to live in fear. Only faith that things will work out exactly as they should.
The Frisky: How has going through sex rehab changed your outlook on relationships? Do you want children?
JK: Kids, eh, I don’t know. Certainly not any time soon. Relationships? I’m still working on the relationship with myself; I’ll start dating again after I have a year under my belt. My outlook on the whole relationship thing has changed dramatically. I used to be excited to kick men and women out of bed before the night was over. Now I’m excited about the potential of snuggling with someone I care about, and waking up next to him or her in the morning.
The Frisky: Have you come to love yourself?
JK: Everyday, I learn to love myself a little bit more. Jill makes me say “I’m lovable” every time I see her, and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to say it without crying. Maybe one day soon, I’ll say it and believe it.
The Frisky: What has been the most gratifying discovery about yourself through this process?
JK: As long as I stay sober, and do what is best for my recovery, amazing things continue to happen for me. I learned that I am a good friend. That I can give more to a conversation than sexualized comments. That I’m worth more than $1,500 per scene. The most valuable discovery is the healing process, and the idea that with time and work, I too can heal. And that I’m worth the work.