This Friday, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, an icon for her expertise and straightforward discussion of sexuality, will speak at the Women’s Resource Center’s Renaissance Luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. (Call 366-1700 or go to 2014renaissanceluncheon.charityhappenings.org for tickets.)
The indomitable 85-year-old Dr. Ruth talked to us about the importance of asking questions, the origins of her career, and her turtle collection.
In Dr. Ruth’s five-plus decades as a therapist, teacher and media icon, some things about sex have changed, and some things have stayed the same. “The questions have not changed—boredom in the bedroom, loneliness,” she says. “We have to still talk a lot about the issue of sexually transmitted disease, [because] people [now] are more willing to be engaged in sexual activity.
“Women have heard the message that a woman has to take the responsibility for her sexual satisfaction—she can’t expect for him to know exactly what she needs. So we have less women who are not sexually satisfied.” For both men and women, sexual questions and problems are “not so much a shame and hidden anymore,” she says.
And, as a passionate teacher, Dr. Ruth loves inviting people to ask questions, which she says allows her to continually learn new things.
Still, even with that increased openness, there’s no pressure to reveal your insecurities if you don’t want to. “You don’t have to say ‘I [have a question],’” she says. “You can say, ‘My friend….’ For me, it’s just important that the information gets across. Always there will be a reluctance about issues of sexuality.” She will field questions, both written and out loud, as part of her appearance on Friday.
Where did Dr. Ruth’s passion originate? “I worked in public health at Columbia University,” she explains. “Money ran out on a government project. I needed a part-time position and was offered a position at Planned Parenthood. I thought, What’s wrong with these people? All they talk about is sex. Forty-eight hours later I thought, What an interesting topic. Then I realized I didn’t know enough and went for further training.”
Oh, and the turtles? “I have a collection of turtles. Not live ones, of course—little trinkets,” she says. “A turtle, if it stays in one place, it’s safe—nothing can happen to that turtle. But if that turtle wants to move, that is to take a risk. He has to stick his neck out. But without taking a risk, he doesn’t move.”