INTERVIEW: TV Sexpert Dr. Ruth
Sexually speaking, Dr. Ruth Westheimer has been there and done that. ‘Sexually speaking’ was also in fact, the name of her radio show in the 1980s which began her media career. Now, at 91 years old, Dr. Ruth Westheimer is still a force to be reckoned with as one of the most prolific sex therapists of her generation. She has over 40 published books and an uninterrupted radio and television career, no one knows good sex like Dr. Ruth.
In her new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth available for streaming on Hulu, director Ryan White takes a deep dive into the German-American Holocaust survivor who became America’s favourite sex therapist. The film chronicles her incredible career at the forefront of the sexual revolution, her ongoing perseverance to lifting taboos surrounding sexual health and, in a wider sense, her long reaching cultural impact. Did you know that Dr. Ruth was one of the first people to ever say the word ‘clitoris’ on the radio?
I spoke to Dr. Ruth on the phone from her home in New York City where spoke candidly with me about her documentary Ask. Dr Ruth and what she hopes for the young people navigating sex and the dating world today.
Adelle: Ask Dr. Ruth takes audiences up close and personal into your life and also it is a study exploring your achievements. What was it like to watch it all back once it was finished?
Dr Ruth: I tell you what. It’s the only time in my life when Rafael Marmor, the producer, and Ryan the filmmaker came to my apartment right here in Flushing Heights overlooking the Hudson and I sat still without talking for 1 hour and a half! I didn’t talk one word. I just watched the film and I loved it. I really thought they did a wonderful job, all of us worked very hard but the people who put it together, the people who edited the animation section – the animation which shows my mother and grandmother coming to the railroad station in Frankfurt to say goodbye. It’s as if they were alone there. They achieved it beautifully.
I talk about loneliness a lot in the latest book, ‘Sex For Dummies.’ In seems that people get very lonely, it also seems that the art of conversation is getting lost because people are more on their phones than talking to their partners. So I want to warn people about that.
That actually leads me well into something else I wanted to ask you about – online dating. Millennials and meeting romantic partners online. What do you think about all that?
I do talk about it in the latest book and I hope it comes across also in the documentary, how important it is to have a relationship. How important it is to have a significant other who is there for you and how you have to cultivate that. It doesn’t just happen by itself. It’s hard work but it’s worth it.
What kind of advice would you give to millennials dating? What should they look for?
Certainly to make sure they have a significant other in their lives. Not to always think that there is something better around the corner but to try to develop the relationship that they have or when to end the relationship if it’s not productive. Make sure they’ve found a significant other, it’s not just for sex it’s for companionship and helping each other so that you know that somebody’s waiting for you when you come home from work.
Talking about the documentary and during that filming process, what was it like having the cameras around you all the time?
I’m very glad it’s done! I love the film but believe me I was on my toes. Any time that Ryan with his camera was nearby I was careful for every word I was saying. There wasn’t a word in there where I would say to you now, I wish I hadn’t said that. I was on my toes! The camera constantly in my face. I was happy after my birthday party when the camera was finally put down then I became friends with Ryan, not before! Become friends only once the camera is shut off!
Because everything is out there in the open. The camera sees everything, doesn’t it?
The camera sees everything! And Ryan, he was brilliant. Raffi the producer and Ryan they worked very well together. We had a good time with my family is Israel so it really worked very well.
You live a very public life but there’s still a lot that you don’t share with the public, you keep your private life private. Can you talk more about keeping those two things separate?
That certainly comes with maturity. Keep a certain part of your life away. Like I say at the end of the film. You will never know how much money I have and you will never know with whom I’m sleeping! I make everybody laugh with that but i mean that seriously. You have to know that comes with maturity.
You’re still doing so much into your 90’s! You’re living life to the fullest. Do people ask you all the time, what is the secret to living a full and happy life.
The secret is fortunately I’m healthy. The secret is, I love what I’m doing. Last night I was with 20,000 young people in Madison Square Gardens at a Queen concert. 20,000 people plus Dr Ruth, 91 and a half years old.
91 years old at a rock concert?
In Madison Square Gardens with 20,000 people! Plus with two new books ‘Sex for Dummies’ and ‘Crocodile You’re Beautiful!’ I’ve always got plenty to talk about.
You’re so busy! Now, you’re also very honest, you’re very frank when it comes to talking about sex and relationships and sometimes that shocks a lot of people, even by today’s standard. Does it surprise you?
It doesn’t shock people like it used to when I started on radio. When I started to talk about orgasms and erections on radio it was not common. But I was very well trained. I had a wonderful mentor and I was fortunate that I took everything that people could teach me and I tried to incorporate it into my knowledge about human sexuality and human relationships.
I’ve read somewhere that you were one of the first people to say “clitoris” on radio, is that true?
That’s true. Yes. It’s difficult to remember today because you young people certainly are used to it, but I think back to when I did the radio section that I’m not saying I’m the only one but I’m probably one of the first ones to say that – “the clitoris has to be stimulated in a woman to have an orgasm.” I also said that Freud was sexually illiterate because he thought that a woman who doesn’t have a vaginal orgasm is an immature women, he made a lot of women really unhappy… Freud should have taken a course with me!
This has been such an excellent conversation Dr Ruth, I might finish with one more question. People who haven’t seen your documentary yet “Ask Dr Ruth,” what can they expect?
What they can expect? People who see the documentary will laugh because I can use humour when I teach about sex but they also will cry because I’ve had a rather sad life being an orphan at the age of 10 and that comes across very well. There isn’t a sentence there that I would have said, I shouldn’t have said that. So I’m very pleased that people all over like it.
Thank you so much Dr Ruth for talking with me
I hope to meet you one day!
Maybe at a Queen rock concert?
Alright I’ll be there! I like it! Thank you.
*This transcript has been edited and condensed for length.