Laura Zam hated sex. With a passion. The District-based solo performer, writer, public speaker and most recently sexuality educator suffered for decades from painful intercourse, but suffered even more from not talking about it.
“We [women] don’t talk much about sex,” she acknowledged. “One reason is that we think there’s something wrong with us … and feel it’s a shameful thing to bring up, especially if we’re in a partnered relationship” and privacy is a consideration.
These days, she’s found her voice, and her pleasure. Zam, 57, learned much on her years-long journey to sexual healing, which she originally recounted in “Married Sex,” a 2012 one-woman play that premiered at Theater J, before moving to New York and other locales.
This spring, she returned to her exploration of the sex industrial complex — a years-long investigation that took her into EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, a therapy used in trauma victims) and EFT (emotional freedom techniques, using acupuncture-like touch points), a hypnotist, a tantric sex coach, trauma therapy, group couples’ workshops, a pelvic floor physical therapist and a range of gynecologists for her troubling diagnosis of vaginismus.
The result is “The Pleasure Plan: One Woman’s Search for Sexual Healing,” a bright pink-covered book by Zam that is both an autobiographical confessional and self-help manual about her quest for sexual healing. She wrote it to empower women to speak up, seek help and take charge of their sexual health, and their sexual pleasure.
In Zam’s breezy, frank – and sometimes explicit — prose she shares her deepest pains, traumas and intimate moments, in the bedroom, the examining room and the therapy office. “I decided I was going to write about this issue because I just saw it as an opportunity to heal myself, to force myself to heal,” she said. “As a performer, I knew how to make art. I didn’t know how to heal myself of this past trauma or whatever it was that was affecting me.”
In the book, Zam recounts her childhood history of sexual abuse — not one but two pedophiles lived on her Brooklyn street, as well as a teenage handyman —who all molested her at a young age. The vague memories and flashbacks continued to weave in and out of her subconscious over ensuing decades, marring her intimate relationships.
Zam also experienced generational trauma: Her mother survived the Lodz ghetto, two concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and a death march, while her father suffered from untreated depression that kept him isolated from his family throughout much of her youth. Her childhood experiences haunted her for decades.
In fact, while she had a few boyfriends over the years, she didn’t marry until 46, partly, she admitted, because of effects from residual trauma. “As Jews, we have a complicated relationship with trauma. Individually we have our own traumas that we’re dealing with … and then how are those traumas and processes informed by this collective Jewish trauma?” she wondered.
“There are some old ways of thinking about trauma,” Zam said, “because … the Jewish people are trauma survivors. Of course, the biggest trauma survivors are Holocaust survivors.”
She alludes to her mother, noting that treatment of trauma and PTSD in the post-war 1950s and ‘60s was often inadequate or nonexistent. “My mother never went to therapy,” she noted, “but when I was in my 20s, I did. But even I thought it would be bizarre for my mother to go to therapy and talk about Nazis,” when Zam said she used therapy to talk about boyfriends, work problems and other problems a woman in her 20s faced.
“My concept of Holocaust trauma was that it was something so huge that you couldn’t even talk about it,” she said. “And you certainly couldn’t process it. It’s too big to process.”
But while traumatic memories thread through her book, it’s a purposefully light and uplifting read. “I took this risk. It was an experiment to create this first as a play, to see where it would take me.”
She called the result miraculous. “It gave me courage to step outside of the morass and the confusion and pain of [the diagnosis]. It gave me an ability to look at things from a playful angle, an improvisational angle, a creative angle, a highly imaginative angle, a humor angle.”
Zam hopes that women, young, middle-aged and older can find ways to connect with her story and with their own bodies: “First understand what … pleasure is for you … and own your pleasure.”
“The Pleasure Plan: One Woman’s Search for Sexual Healing” by Laura Zam, published by Health Communications Inc. and distributed by Simon & Schuster. For information on Zam’s work or to order, visit: https://laurazam.com/.