At 87, Ruth Westheimer is still talking about sex.
Inher new memoir— her second— called “The Doctor Is In,” Westheimer shares a bit about herown romantic entanglements. Her first boyfriend was nicknamed Putz, she tells us, and she lost her virginity on a kibbutz (not to Putz).
A few other details you might not know about Dr. Ruth: At age 10, Westheimer wa staken on a kinder transport from Germany to an orphanage in Switzerland. Her family perished in the Holocaust. Later, she trained to be a sniper in the paramilitary organization Haganah.
Dr. Ruth— twice divorced and a widow— teaches at Columbia, has a strong presence on social media (her @AskDrRuth Twitter account has more than 85,000 followers), and in the summer will publish, with her co-writer, Pierre Lehu, a children’s book, “Leopold,” about a turtle that overcomes its fears. In a phone interview from her office in New York, she talked about her books, her philosophy and (a bit) about her personal life.
How have people’s problems changed since you began offering sex advice in the early 1980s?
People are more knowledgeable. Women in this great country have learned that they must take responsibility for their sexual satisfaction. Even if they love the guy, he can’t guess what she needs. Yet I get a lot of the same questions. Sex is boring. The relationship is not good. People bringing their worries into the bedroom. I say leave the worries outside the bedroom door.
Why do you say you’re old-fashioned?
I don’t believe in hooking up. I don’t believe in sex on the first date. I want people to have a relationship before they have sex. I can’t say how long before. Also, you don’t have to share your fantasies. If you have sex with your partner, and the woman thinks about a whole football team in bed with her, that’s okay, but keep your mouth shut about it.
What do you think of E.L. James’s “Fifty Shades of Grey”?
I read all three books. I didn’t see the film. It proves my point: Women do get aroused by sexually explicit material. It’s not required reading. I tell people to make sure you turn the page if you read something you don’t like. It’s the same with “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or “Fear of Flying.”
Howhas the Internet changed our relationships?
I amworried about the Internet because young people think they can retrieve what they put up— like naked pictures— but you can’t. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. The other thing that worries me: I see couples walking holding hands and in the other they are holding a phone. We are going to lose the ability to have a good conversation.
Questions have been raised about your comments on “The Diane Rehm Show” about when it’s appropriate for a woman to say no to a man. Can you elaborate?
Loud and clear: In the Jewish tradition, it says that if that part of the male anatomy is aroused, the brain flies out of the head. It also says a man doesn’t have enough blood for two heads. What does it mean? If a man and a woman— or two men and two women— are naked in bed together, there is no way that, in the middle, he or she can say, “I changed my mind” and leave. I think people have to take the responsibility that if they are in bed together, they are willing to have some kind of sexual experience. She has no business in bed with him, and he has no business in bed with her if they don’t have an understanding that they will have sex.
Howdid you learn about the birds and the bees?
I do remember as a girl in Frank furt— so I was less than 10— a girl explained to me she was menstruating. And I do remember a book at my parents’ house, “The Ideal Marriage.” I went up ona ladder to look at that book; they were hiding it. I saw some pictures of people having sex.
People must ask about your sex life. What do you tell them?
In your book you write, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m still becoming Dr. Ruth.” Whatmore can you be?
I mean I am still very curious to learn. I am still teaching. I taught at Yale and Prince ton. I go to lectures. I amnot satisfied by standing still. I still wantto learn. I go to concerts. It’s very nice tobe Dr. Ruth. I am now a widow for more than 16 years. If I could find an interesting older gentleman who can still walk and talk, that would be very nice. I would be very happy.
Dr. Ruth at 87: “I am not satisfied by standing still. I still want to learn.”