There’s a whole lot to love and admire about Dr. Ruth. The pint-sized sex
therapist (she’s 4’7”) unblushingly goes there – YOU know where – time
and time again. Dr. Ruth became the go-to resource for Americans’ most
private questions, and she never made us feel dirty or shameful for
wanting to know the answers. We might have had fun with her accent
(which the Wall Street Journal has
described as “a
cross between Henry Kissinger and Minnie Mouse”) but we definitely,
definitely wanted to hear what she had to say.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist who combines
matter-of-fact advice with flashes of wit. Americans responded to her
(and continue to respond to her) because she was a respectable
authority who was talking about stuff that made us kind of embarrassed
or uncomfortable. It was stuff, however, that we had a real hunger to
Karola Ruth Siegel was born in Wiesenfeld, Germany in 1939. In 1939, the
Nazis took her father and her mother sent her to Switzerland. She grew
up in a Swiss orphanage and learned there that her parents had been
killed in the Holocaust.
At the age of 17, she moved to Palestine and had her first sexual
encounter: “on a starry night, in a haystack.” Okay, you guys, Dr. Ruth
totally just made me blush. She married a young Israeli soldier and
joined the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization. She was trained
as a scout and a sniper.
For real. Dr. Ruth was a sniper.
She was seriously wounded during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.
After a recovery period of several months, she was able to walk again
and made her way to France with her hubby. There she studied and taught
psychology at the University of Paris. Her first marriage ended and she
remarried. In 1956, she moved to Manhattan with husband #2.
When her second marriage ended, Dr. Ruth worked as a maid to support
herself and her daughter. She earned a master’s degree in sociology from
The New School and an EdD from Columbia. Dr. Ruth met her third husband
on a ski trip in the Catskills and took on the last name we know so
well. (This marriage lasted until Manfred Westheimer’s death in 1997.)
Her post-doctoral work on human sexuality was at New York Presbyterian
Hospital, where she worked with Austrian-born sex therapist
Helen Singer Kaplan.
(And yes, with all that globetrotting she learned to speak four different
languages: English, German, French, and Hebrew.)
Dr. Ruth began her career in media after Betty Elam, Community Affairs
manager of WYNY, New York City’s Adult Contempory radio station, heard
her give a speech. Elam loved Westheimer’s personality and wealth of
information. Elam introduced the idea of a radio program that featured
Dr. Ruth answering sex-related health questions.
Initially, Dr. Ruth’s program was relegated to fifteen minutes beginning
at midnight on Sundays. During the program, called Sexually Speaking,
she answered listeners’ letters. The show was an enormously bitchin’
success. After just two months, her fifteen minutes grew to an entire
hour of live call-in question-and-answer sessions. Throw in some
appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and a star was
The televised incarnation of Dr. Ruth’s program, also called Sexually
Speaking, first aired in 1982 on Lifetime and is now nationally
syndicated. She’s made guest appearances ranging from PBS kid show
In Between the Lions (as “Dr. Ruth Wordheimer”) to an episode of
Quantum Leap to an Herbal Essences shampoo commercial. And
she’s still going strong.
In 2009, Playboy magazine ranked Dr. Ruth as #13 in their list of
the 55 most important people in sex in the past 55 years. (But you knew
that already, because you read Playboy for the articles,
Holocaust survivor, doctor, author (I counted 32 titles on her site!),
public speaker, T.V. show and radio program host, and all-around nice
and open-minded person: Dr. Ruth is totally inspiring, you guys.
Here’s the tiny dynamo interviewing Jerry Seinfeld in 1986 on The Dr.
And here’s quite a match-up: Ozzy Osbourne (being impressively articulate)
and Dr. Ruth co-hosted Friday Night Videos in 1986:
Here she is talking about unabashedly about the benefits of self-love:
When Like Totally 80s asked Facebook friends about their Dr. Ruth
memories, we got some awesomely blush-worthy responses. Nikki recalled a
caller who described an embarrassing concern: every time she inserted a
tampon she had an orgasm. Dr. Ruth failed to see any problem and
answered “Consider yourself lucky!” Linda and Mark remembered a Dr. Ruth
caller whose boyfriend wanted her to play ring toss with onion rings on
his erection. I’ll betcha dollars to doughnuts that Dr. Ruth also saw
nothing bothersome about some wholesome fried food fun in the bedroom.
Since 1980, Dr. Ruth has been assuring listeners and viewers that
consensual safe sex of all shapes and varieties is totally okay.
Today, you can follow Dr. Ruth on Twitter at
and visit her site at
www.drruth.com. In addition, she has her own
YouTube channel and syndicated newspaper column. She’s been going strong
since 1980, but we still love to hear her blunt-yet-kind advice on the
topics of sex and relationships. She opened our eyes and helped make it
totally okay to talk about our sexuality. You rock, Dr. Ruth!