Is there a Dr. Phil without Dr. Ruth? Does Steve Harvey have a daytime talk show without Dr. Ruth? Do teenagers get to learn about their bodies by listening to Loveline without Dr. Ruth? Most likely no. Dr. Ruth helped usher in an era of sexual frankness on television and radio.
Ruth entered the public media landscape in 1980 with her radio show Sexually Speaking. Since that once controversial WYNY production, she’s gone on to host television shows, write books and syndicated column and became everyone’s favorite, friendly sex-positive sex expert. She’s one of those people that’s been in your cultural awareness since your cognizance. You may know her for her voice, her size or her glasses, but you know Dr. Ruth.
Speaking with the woman is surreal. It’s Dr. Ruth! She’s answered every question about every orifice on every type of human for over three decades. She could be resting on her laurels, quietly enjoying her New York City apartment. She’s not. She’s still writing books and teaching college courses and answering questions about orifices. And she’s nice! She’s so nice and warm and open, she’s the type of grandma you want to hang out with as often as possible. There’s a reason she’s won Mother of the Year, which is a real title.
Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer and her co-author Jerome E. Singerman will be in D.C. this Saturday at 8 p.m. for the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. They’ll be talking about their book Myths of Love: Echoes of Ancient Mythology in the Modern Romantic Imagination. Tickets are currently available.
We’re here to talk about your upcoming appearance in D.C. and about your new book. Why do you think that these myths have lasted so long?
I tell you why I did that, because my co-author, Jerry Singerman, is an expert in medieval literature, he’s at the University of Pennsylvania Press, and when we were at the museum, I said it would be fun for us to do that, because I wanted a book called “The Art of Arousal,” with art pictures. I’m not an art expert, but I made some of the interpretations, I did that with Gary Tinterow of the Metropolitan Museum, the director of the museum. I said it would be fun, and if you look at the cover, the typical answer is, here is Bacchus, the God of Wine, with a commoner, and she’s very interested in him, which shows that she’s sexually aroused, and he doesn’t even look at her.
He looks bored!
Absolutely. He looks like he is praying to the gods, I don’t know which god, but he’s praying to the gods, “Dear god, make sure I have an erection.” I thought I could have some fun with that.
You can look at these pictures and these myth and maybe you can add something to your lovemaking.
Why do you say you couldn’t have done this without an expert? You have a master’s degree, you have a doctorate degree…
I’m not an expert in medieval literature and myth. I could not have done this without Jerry Singerman.
You came into the national spotlight because you give extremely frank advice, but you are an expert in your field. What do you think of the modern lack of expertise?
I can’t comment on that. Next question! (Laughs)
You taught a lot of people my age about sex. I remember watching you on television with my mother. You literally won Mother of the Year (The National Mother’s Day Committee honored Dr. Ruth as “Mother of the Year”). Do you have any basic advice for parents when they need to have ‘the talk’ with their child?
It is wonderful, because I usually talk to children alone and then I would talk to adults alone but…if there are some parents who feel comfortable to talk about these issues with their children, then I’m very happy about it, because they don’t have to give their personal experience. What they do is show that there is nothing dirty about it, nothing to be hiding, for example, I used to tell parents that when their find Playboy in their son’s room, to act like they never saw it.
I’m a little bit old fashioned, everything has to be fitting into their particular family’s framework. But everything that they would need for sexual literacy and to older girls growing up, knowing about menstruation, knowing about wet dreams, it takes away the anxiety.
When you started doing this work there wasn’t Tinder or Gindr or Snapchat. Do these things make your job harder? Easier? Does it makes sense to go back and study these myths to put it all in perspective?
I changed my mind about the dangers of the Internet. I used to say don’t look at the diary of your youngster, that’s private. Now I changed my mind. You must know what your youngster is doing on the Internet, that they don’t give out addresses, and they don’t put pictures out of nakedness.
Dr. Ruth doesn’t shy away from the Internet. She has an active and funny Twitter feed.
The new iPad is very thin. But remember what Dr. Ruth says, size doesn’t matter.
— Dr. Ruth Westheimer (@AskDrRuth) October 16, 2014
Is there anything risqué in sex anymore?
What you have today is, we have more knowledge, no question. But we also have to be able to say that there has to be a measure of privacy. I was never do a sensitivity training. I would never sit around and tell people to tell about their own personal experiences. I want them to get all of the knowledge. With me and the questions, they can always say “a friend of mine has a question.” Or I heard it on the radio, or I heard it in the literature, on television or on the Internet, so they don’t have to be put on the spot.
You were part of Planned Parenthood before you were famous. How did you get involved?
I was a director of a project, that’s how I started my career in human sexuality. I followed 2,000 women and their contraceptive and abortion history. Abortion was illegal at the time, and used that as my doctoral dissertation.
I’m very sad that there is such rebuttal, some people thinking that contraceptives should not be part of public health. I’m very sad that it’s part of the political discourse, it should be only in the public health arena.
Is there a connection between sex and love?
I could never do sex therapy with a couple when they don’t have a relationship. If they hate each other, I say go to see an attorney.
How soon can you tell if a couple hates each other?
It’s difficult to say, but I have a lot of experience so I can say it after a few sessions.
Do you have any basic marriage advice for newlyweds?
I think that the most important thing is to work at the relationship and to not put the sexual activity when they are very tired as the last thing on their agenda. The most important thing is not to have boredom in the bedroom. They have to have interests so that they are of interest to each other, because then their life together translates also into the bedroom.
Is it possible to over think these things?
I think the one thing that we should have more sex education for social workers, for nurses, for those that don’t get enough of not just sex education but education about family life.
What do you hope people learn from the new book?
I want them to smile. In the Talmud, in the Jewish tradition, it says that a lesson taught with humor is a lesson retained. I want them to remember that.
I know this is a horrible question but I’ve never been able to ask it. How does it feel to be an icon?
I love it! All four foot seven inches of me!