The world’s most beloved sex therapist visited the White City this week, and was more than happy to share her positions on sex with Tel Aviv.
For Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the 85-year-old icon of sexuality and straight talk, those positions are rooted in Torah and Jewish tradition, much like the lady herself. Speaking to a sold-out crowd of nearly 400 at Jaffa’s Nalaagat theater — the event for English-speaking young professionals was sponsored by the Tel Aviv International Salon — Dr. Ruth hadn’t been on stage for more than a minute before telling the audience to make sure to try out a new sexual position when they got home that evening. And then, insisting to the crowd that she is both “old-fashioned and a square,” she shared a tale of an Orthodox rabbi who, while making love to his wife on Friday night, finds his favorite yeshiva student under the bed. The boy’s defense? “Rabbi, what you are doing is Torah, and Torah I must learn from you.”
“How come somebody like me can talk so openly?” Dr. Ruth asked the crowd. “It’s because I’m very Jewish. Because in the Jewish tradition, sex has never been a sin.”
Born in Germany in 1928, Dr. Ruth is not just Jewish. As Deborah Danan, one of the volunteers for the Tel Aviv International Salon, pointed out in her introduction, Dr. Ruth is a woman whose life story provides a map for the Jewish experience of the 20th century. Sent away to Switzerland in 1939, Dr. Ruth survived the Holocaust in an orphanage while both her parents perished in concentration camps. As Europe attempted to pick up its pieces in 1945, Dr. Ruth made her way to the British Mandate of Palestine where she spent three weeks as a sniper and a scout for the Haganah before being gravely wounded. After Israel’s declaration of independence, she continued on to Paris, studying at the Sorbonne before eventually immigrating to the United States. There, she earned both a master’s degree and a PhD in New York City and settled into the cluttered three-bedroom Washington Heights apartment that she still calls home.
Pint-sized and packed with energy, Dr. Ruth seemed to genuinely enjoy her time with the Tel Aviv crowd, praising the assembled audience for choosing Israel as their adopted home and reminding the crowd that good sex is as much a product of a healthy, loving relationship as it is a result of racy moves.
“Jewish tradition not only [talks about] the importance of the relationship, it also talks about the importance of being sexually literate,” she said.
Her take on sexuality, however, might have been surprising to those who have long associated the 4’7” dynamo with promiscuity. While Dr. Ruth made it clear that she is never one to judge, she reminded the audience on multiple occasions that it is really only married couples who should be getting down between the sheets.
“I will talk about sex because that’s what you want to hear, but you have to keep in your mind that I’m talking about love and relationships and being together and giving each other support, and that’s what will lead to good sex,” she said with a grin. Later, in a play on her oft-repeated comment that the brain is the most erogenous zone in the body, she told the audience, “Sex is not between the waist and the knees. Sex is between the ears.”
She also spoke warmly of her late husband, Fred Westheimer, who died 15 years ago, making the audience crack up as she described a long-ago television interview with news anchor Diane Sawyer in which Sawyer asked Westheimer about his sex life. His response? “The shoemaker’s children don’t have shoes.”
Dr. Ruth speaks fluent Hebrew and visits Israel about once a year. Her current visit was coordinated with the celebration of President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday and the 2013 Presidential Conference, where she gave a masterclass on erectile dysfunction entitled “Is a Pill the Answer?” Her Tel Aviv talk was held in two parts. First, Dr. Ruth gave a monologue, sharing her take on issues as varied as the place of technology in relationships (“I see young people like you, walking about, one hand they’re holding with their partner and the other hand is texting. That’s a big problem because I need people to have a relationship”); the customary Shabbat hymn “Woman of Valor” (“There is one sentence in it that is the most sexually arousing of sentences that I can find in any literature, even more than ‘50 Shades of Gray’”); and the persistent myth of the G-spot (“I’m not saying there is no such thing. I’m saying until reputable research is done, be careful of not creating a new myth”). She then took questions from the audience, both from those brave enough to offer them in person and from a selection submitted beforehand via notecards.
Making her scientific and data-minded side crystal clear, Dr. Ruth said she couldn’t comment on at least half of the questions because they concerned research, studies or events that she wasn’t fully educated on. And faced with a query from one audience member who called himself a nice Jewish boy and wanted to know if “shiksas are for practice,” she herself roared with laughter and then said simply, “No comment!”
Following the event, Dr. Ruth sat down with The Times of Israel to answer a few more questions. Asked if her time in pre-state Israel played any role in her feelings about sexuality and sexual freedom, she said that her experiences during and after World War II definitely made her gutsier and less wary of critics.
“Being an orphan at the age of 10 in different countries… I have a lot of chutzpah,” she said. “I have the nerve to talk about those things that other people might not have talked about.”
And asked what she hasn’t done yet that she still hopes to achieve, Dr. Ruth once again returned to her theme of love. What would she still love to accomplish, at the age of 85? For the widow of 15 years, the answer was simple:
“Finding a partner, who is a widower my age, and who can dance all night.”