Published during the summer of 1997 in the Chautauqua Region Word.
“Coming out of Nazi Germany there is no question that I had to make a contribution to this world, but I didn’t know it would be talking about sex!”
When it comes to the topic of human sexuality, there is no one more famous than Dr. Ruth. I recently had the opportunity to chat with her, and at 79 years old, she has more energy than anyone I’ve ever encountered. She made me laugh so much that my face hurt. She’ll be speaking at the Chautauqua Institution this Friday as well as signing any of her many books. She’s certain to be just as feisty then.
Just in case you’re one of the few people who don’t know her; Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist who helped to pioneer the field of media psychology with her radio program, “Sexually Speaking.” What began in 1980 as a 15 minute, taped show that aired after midnight, soon became part of a network which has included television, books, newspapers, games, home video, and computer software. She’s THE sex expert.
Currently Dr. Westheimer is an adjunct professor at N.Y.U., an Associate Fellow of Calhoun College at Yale University, and a Fellow of Butler College at Princeton University. She is a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and in addition to having her own private practice, she frequently lectures at universities across the country and has twice been named “College Lecturer of the Year.” In addition to radio, her television career has included such shows as Lifetime’s “The Dr. Ruth Show,” “Ask Dr. Ruth,” “The All New Dr. Ruth Show,” “You’re On the Air with Dr. Ruth,” and “Never Too Late.” In print she circles the globe with her column, Ask Dr. Ruth. A prolific author, she has written 31 books, and counting. There were also Dr. Ruth’s Good Sex Night-to-Night Calendars (1993 & 1994) and a board game, “Dr. Ruth’s Game of Good Sex.” Dr. Ruth has been celebrated with numerous awards for educational programming on television and cable. People Magazine included her in their list of the “Most Intriguing People of the Century.” I certainly found this to be true about her.
The topic of discussion at Chautauqua this week, and your lecture is, “Healing and Healthy Aging: Nurture and Nature.” I’ve noticed that in the “For 50 and Over” section of DrRuth.com, a majority of the questions are about Viagra. Is Viagra giving seniors a more active sex life than before, and if so, are seniors better off for it?
Dr. Ruth: First off, I’m no medical doctor. I think Viagra is a fantastic pharmaceutical. It’s a real breakthrough if the physician permits the man to take it, as long as the relationship that the man has with his partner is a good one. Hopefully she went with him to the doctor! If the man and the woman are sexually literate, and know that after menopause to just use a little bit or else it’s painful… If they know not to have sex at night when they’re tired… If they know some of these things then it can be helpful. But the problem with the pharmaceutical companies is that in the beginning they only talked to the men, and women are a big part of this. I talk about that in the book Sex Over 50 as well as in Sex for Dummies. Partners have to communicate!
You’ve been answering people’s questions about sexuality for three decades now. Have people pretty much always had the same sorts of issues with their sexuality, or has sex evolved?
Dr. Ruth: –Since 1980! I’ll tell you what is changing. The vocabulary is changing. It’s more explicit. The questions about relationships and how to keep that spark alive are the same. I do get questions from younger people who are engaged in more sexual activity than the older generations. –But the questions about relationships, in-laws interfering and how to keep interest alive even when the bodies are aging, most of those questions are the same.
What’s the most common question people come to Dr. Ruth with?
Dr. Ruth: I think that the most common question from women is still about not being able to achieve satisfaction, and then with younger men about premature ejaculation. They ejaculate too fast. I also still get a lot of questions about how to keep things interesting and how to keep regular life problems out of the bedroom. That’s important!
Your own life story is one of tragedy and triumph. After losing your parents in the Holocaust, you joined the Haganah in Jerusalem, trained as a sniper and were seriously wounded just before your birthday during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. After regaining your ability to walk, you taught psychology at the University of Paris before coming to America and furthering your education earning a master’s in sociology, a Doctor of Education degree and completed post-doctoral work in human sexuality. You also speak four languages. –All of this without mentioning your accomplishments as a speaker, Radio/TV personality and author. Is there a secret philosophy which drives you? How do you do it all?
Dr. Ruth: Coming out of Nazi Germany there is no question that I had to make a contribution to this world, but I didn’t know it would be talking about sex! I’m very fortunate that I do all the things I do. I still keep my private practice. I still teach at NYU, Princeton and Yale. I do all the things I’m passionately interested in. It keeps me very busy! I’m also very fortunate that I’m very healthy. Up until last year I was still water skiing, but I gave that up this year. You have to know how to handle your own age!
Your life story really should be a movie. It’s inspirational. Who would you want to play you?
Dr. Ruth: No one. Often I’m asked about a movie and I say no. I did write my autobiography, All In A Lifetime. I have a strong feeling that I have to look forward. I’ll never forget the past. I had a tough life, but I’m looking forward. I don’t dwell on it. To play me, I don’t think anyone could be 4’7 with a German accent with part French, German and English in it. I have been asked though. It just doesn’t interest me.
You work harder than most recent college graduates. Besides sex advice, it seems that seniors should be asking you for advice on longevity in the workplace. Is it true that the 60s are the new 40s, or is there more to it than that?
Dr. Ruth: I don’t know about the new 40s, but I know one thing. I tell older people, “Instead of retire, rewire.” Cheryl Lansing, head of Paramount Pictures said that. As long as people do something, either volunteer or do something they are vitally interested in, that certainly helps.
Lets switch to the other end of the age spectrum: You’ve often appeared on PBS’s Between the Lions as “Dr. Ruth Wordheimer.” What’s the hardest word in the English language to pronounce?
Dr. Ruth: I thought it was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious…. –Now I have Chautauqua! I can say your name though, Michael Salamone. Oh, but I loved Between the Lions! I got to look into the camera and say “Oooh, I’m Good!” I loved that. I’m doing a new television show called MTV-U which will be on all the colleges. It should air at about noon. At lunch they’re going to hear about orgasms and ejaculate. (laughs)
Your popularity as a therapist is world-wide, and here in America you’ve helped make sexual health something that people aren’t as afraid to talk about anymore. Are Americans more uptight when it comes to talking about sex? If so, why do you think that is?
Dr. Ruth: No. It’s just that we’ve lived for a long time with the Puritan attitude that the Victorian mother told her daughter on the night of the wedding ceremony: “Lie back and think of the Queen.” But we aren’t repressed. We are the ones who had Kinsey and Masters and Johnson! It’s true that in England there’s a newspaper that on page 3 has a half naked woman every issue. It doesn’t mean that they are better lovers or even that the French are better lovers though. Americans are pretty good!
I’m guessing that since you’re one of the world’s leading sex experts, and the world’s most recognizable, that you get hit on a lot. What’s the worst pick up line you’ve ever heard?
Dr. Ruth: A come-on? I can tell you about one good one. –A fellow from a cruise I was speaking on. He was an assistant to the cruise director and came from Cuba. He was the best dancer that I have had in the last, I don’t know how many years. My late husband could polka I suppose. This guy with Cuban blood, he was the best. (giggles)
Well then, do you like younger men?
Dr. Ruth: For dancing? Of Course! –For dancing only, not necessarily for talking to. (laughing) How old are you
Michael? Oh, you’re too young. (giggling) But do you dance?