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G Force

A sex expert for the ages

(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Joseph P. Kahn
Globe Staff / April 7, 2011

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Q. Your husband died in 1997, after which you spoke candidly about seeking “sexual companionship’’ as you moved forward in life. Not to be rude, but have you found any?

A. Next question. (laughs)

Q. Do couples seek you out for therapy because you’re Dr. Ruth, or despite it?

A. Very interesting question. For a while, I thought people wouldn’t want to be seen by me. But they do, knowing I would never talk about them publicly. They also know I’m well-trained and old-fashioned in many ways, that I believe in relationships, in people wanting to give pleasure to each other. I would never do a reality program, however, even though I’ve been asked to many times.

Q. Your reaction to the Playboy honor?

A. I liked it. Hugh Hefner was instrumental in my career, you know, by promoting the free-speech movement. People forget that about him.

Q. To what do you attribute your success?

A. I was already 50 when I started in television. I’m short. I’m not a sex symbol, at least in the conventional sense. I use humor a lot. I don’t talk around issues. My accent helped, too. When you turned on the radio, you knew it was me. So it’s been a combination of my taking sex very seriously, being very well trained, and not being afraid of speaking up, but without being militant or political about it.

Q. Although you don’t align yourself with political causes, do social conservatives target you over issues like same-sex marriage and teaching sex education in schools?

A. Not really, because I’ve never responded to these groups. My message is, you need to become sexually literate — but then abstain if you want to. Years ago, in Kansas City, I spoke about homosexuality. A publicity-seeking politician tried to make a citizen’s arrest, which didn’t happen. Was I scared? No, because I was a sniper in the (Jewish paramilitary group) Haganah. Did it worry me? Yes, having escaped Nazi Germany.

Q. When you speak about topics like oral sex, erectile dysfunction, and why women might try a vibrator, it’s hard to miss the audience’s nervous laughter. Are we still that squeamish about sex, despite being bombarded with sexual imagery and explicit language?

A. No question. We’re basically Puritans. One key to my success is, I never say you have to use a vibrator. Or stand in front of a mirror admiring your erection. I’m just putting these things on the table so people can think about them.

Q. Is there a lot of bad sex advice out there?

A. Yes. “Sex and the City’’ is unrealistic, for example, because there aren’t four men waiting to take every woman to Paris, or buy her a fur coat.

Q. Should schools be teaching more sex ed?

A. We don’t have a choice. Parents and teachers, everyone must be involved in sex education. Teachers should hold evening sessions with parents to discuss what they’re going to teach. Sexually transmitted diseases, hooking up: All these issues mean we must do more.

Q. Your views on pornography?

A. I object only when it involves violence or children. Anything two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom, or kitchen floor, is perfectly all right.

Interview condensed and edited. Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

WHO
Dr. Ruth Westheimer
WHAT
For three decades, the renowned sex therapist and media personality has been dishing out explicit advice. Now a widow and grandmother of four, Westheimer, 82, has published dozens of books (e.g. “Dr. Ruth’s Sex After 50,’’ “Sex for Dummies’’); taught at major universities (Princeton, Yale); hosted radio and cable television shows; appeared in product ads (Clairol, Honda); spoken to audiences of all ages, including last week’s appearance at a Dedham retirement community; and maintained a private practice in New York. In 2009, Playboy named Westheimer one of the most influential people in the world of sex over the past 55 years. Her mantra, appropriately enough: “Get some.’’