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Let’s Talk About Sex - 10 Questions with Dr. Ruth

Dr. Ruth Westheimer

By: Greg Root & Kristen Turner
Photos: Courtesy of Dr. Ruth Westheimer

Dr. Ruth & Bill Cosby

Dr. Ruth with Bill Cosby

As an esteemed college professor, dynamic radio and talk show host, author of 36 (and counting) books and the recipient of countless awards, Dr. Ruth Westheimer has achieved a long list of groundbreaking accomplishments throughout
the span of her illustrious career.

Today, as a household name, what she is best known for is pioneering the way we talk about sex, making it ok to converse about the birds and the bees and as an authority on all topics sexual.

At a time when talking about sex was considered taboo, Dr. Ruth refused to shy away from the topic, trail blazing a new outlook and creating open communication on topics once limited to just hushed whispers.

Recently, we had an opportunity to get together with Dr. Ruth for some frank conversation about her, dare we say, titillating path to where she is today.

Tell us about your journey and what led you to become a sex therapist…
It was by chance while working in public health at Planned Parenthood and attending Columbia University. When money ran out on a government project I was working on, I needed to find a job. I was offered a research position in New York, which I accepted and was eventually promoted to Director of Research. I used the data about issues relating to sexual activity from following hundreds of patients to obtain my Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in the Interdisciplinary Study of the Family from Columbia University Teacher’s College. This was at a time before abortion was legalized. I began teaching sex education but realized I still needed further training.

I applied and was accepted to New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center where I had the opportunity to study under Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, a renowned sex therapist. I later worked in the program as an Adjunct Professor and have also taught at Lehman College, Brooklyn College, Adelphi University, Columbia University and West Point. (She just recently ended her teaching career as an Adjunct Professor at Princeton and Yale where she taught every year for six years). At this point, I possessed both a clinical and academic background.

Dr. Ruth and Burt Reynolds

In 1980, I started a radio program called Sexually Speaking, which played after midnight on Sundays. On the program, I would answer questions and talk about any and all issues relating to sexuality. I did this for 10 years. I went on to television with the Ask Dr. Ruth Show on Lifetime where they have now aired over 450 television programs.

I never thought I would be a sex therapist, but I have no complaints. I have a wonderful career. When they started teaching sex education in New York public schools, I smiled and said to myself “I told you so.” Because of many people
like me, not just me, there are less unintended pregnancies. There are still too many and we have to continue educating.

I’m now 83 and I still conduct lectures at a wide variety of institutions including Planned Parenthood centers, universities and some pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Ruth and Scott Bakula

Dr. Ruth and Scott Bakula

We can only imagine that you must be the center of attention at every cocktail party you attend. Are you constantly being approached by strangers with intimate questions?
Certainly. And I smile sweetly and if I can give a fast answer, I do. If not, I tell them to come to my office.

Any secrets for keeping your relationship spicy outside of the bedroom?
Keep boredom out of the bedroom and out of your lives. Be inventive and new, and not just for Valentine’s Day. Text, send flowers or do something out of the ordinary. I wrote a book called Dr. Ruth’s Top Ten Secrets for Great Sex: How to Enjoy it, Share it, and Love it Each and Every Time, which addresses how to pay attention to your relationship and create the element of surprise.

How do your children and grandchildren feel about your unique profession?
In general, I keep my professional life separate from my family life, which keeps children and grandchildren out of it. Though they all know how I make a living, I let the parents talk to my grandchildren about issues relating to sex.

As a lifestyle magazine, we feature our fair share of cooking segments. Is there any truth behind libido-boosting foods?
I do not know of any truth or research about chocolate and all these things having an effect on libido. But, if black olives get you excited, I want you to eat them at least once a week. If it works for you to think about ice cream, then do it. The brain is the best ingredient for a great sex life.

You have authored an impressive list of books! What is your top seller and why?
Sex for Dummies. At first, I was hesitant to write it thinking I don’t talk to dummies. I talk to intelligent people. But, after looking at Windows for Dummies, I saw the benefits of being able to address specific subjects in short paragraphs so you can read what is of interest or relevant to you right now. The book also offers a bit of humor and some illustrations and is available in 17 languages and multiple editions.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
It’s wonderful to be Dr. Ruth. I am approached in restaurants or other places where people will tell me that they have seen me here or there or are following me on Twitter. This is what keeps me going and reinforces the idea that one shouldn’t “retire but to rewire.”

Your profession centers around an intimate and often controversial subject. How have you managed to block out the nay-sayers you have encountered along the way?
I am lucky to be so well trained and to choose my conversations wisely. There are so many controversial issues from abortion to homosexuality. I would not go on a debate because nothing can get accomplished. For example, many believe that only parents should teach about sex; I don’t disagree, but I continue to do my thing. And we don’t know the etiology for homosexuality, but any homosexual couple that walks into my office is treated with the same respect as anyone else. If others don’t agree, that’s fine and I move along.

Where can your fans catch you now?
My website (www.drruth.com), Twitter page (www.twitter.com/askdrruth) and YouTube (www.youtube.com/drruth) are all great places to catch up with me.

If you could give our readers only ONE piece of relationship advice, what would it be?
Don’t take your partner for granted. Be grateful and cherish your relationship.

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