This past week at the Radcliffe Union of Students (RUS), Jennie Ketcham taught her first class about something besides, er, “dick-sucking.” Her nakedly candid talk, titled “Porn, Fame, and Addiction,” was also the first time she’s ever led a lecture clothed. Still, despite the Harvard gig being Ketcham’s virgin foray in academia, the nearly 50 students who came to hear her tales of “cocaine and cock addiction” were the easiest audience she’s ever entertained.
The 27-year-old former porn star once known as Penny Flame has a half-dozen Adult Video News (AVN) awards and more than 250 feature films under her retired garter belt. In the past year, since abandoning her smut persona and starting her recovery blog becomingjennie.com, she’s also been a cast member on two VH1 reality shows, appeared on talk programs including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Last Call with Carson Daly, and The View, and recently began writing for the Huffington Post.
Needless to say, Ivy Leaguers and professors were roofed by Ketcham’s story. Her life has been a mix of Kids and Boogie Nights — from when she was a promiscuous pot-smoking Colorado 12 year old, to her San Diego State years majoring in business and moonlighting as a nude model, to her first cocaine binge, which started in a Las Vegas hotel room with rapper Too Short and ended eight months later.
“I want you to imagine a world where you can point to any sexual partner you want — and have them,” opened Ketcham, who dropped more than a few jaws during the two-hour chat. “Imagine being able to spend all of your rent money and make back twice the next day, and imagine your entire existence depending on strangers masturbating to you.”
Though there were plenty of tales about Amsterdam buds and penthouse sex, Ketcham didn’t come to flaunt Penny Flame’s lifestyle. As viewers of the VH1 shows Celebrity Sex Rehab and Sober House already know, she’s also a rape victim, sex addict, and drug abuser who is now struggling to become an ordinary member of society (next week, if she stays on course, she’ll have been sober for a year, and is currently in her first monogamous relationship).
“The majority of girls who leave porn become escorts or make-up artists, die, or find one of two men: Jesus or one on a white horse,” said Ketcham, who is taking a unique route out through writing. “Every day, I get e-mails from old performers thanking me for doing my blog — because you’re not really going to hear how this business affects people in too many other places.”
By the end of Ketcham’s time at Harvard, students were comfortable enough to ask questions about everything from the importance of penis size to whether she was stoned when she lost her virginity. In the beginning, one student organizer had said that, while the RUS has had several “porn events,” this should be the rare one on campus that highlights the unique perspective of a former adult actress.
“Any one of the girls in here could call my old agent and be a porn star tomorrow,” said Ketcham, who doesn’t recommend the business. “But porn is easy. What’s really hard is to not be Penny Flame anymore. She’s a bad bitch.”