Sex Therapist Dr. Ruth Has Ongoing Love Affair With Israel
At nearly 93, world-renowned expert on human sexuality reflects on Freud, life after the coronavirus, and her recent honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University
Although she is quickly approaching her 93rd birthday, renowned sex therapist, author and media personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer is not slowing down.
Dr. Ruth, as she is popularly known around the globe, gained worldwide fame for her frank and open discussions about sex.
Born in Germany in 1928, Westheimer’s parents were killed in the Holocaust and, at the age of 17, she decided to emigrate to British Mandatory Palestine. She later joined the Haganah – the primary precursor of the Israel Defense Forces – where she served as a sniper for the fledgling Jewish paramilitary group.
Last week, Dr. Ruth added to her long list of impressive accomplishments when she received an honorary doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) – her first from an Israeli university. To honor the occasion, she has so far raised $125,000 for her newly-established Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer Endowed Scholarship for Psychology, which will go toward funding psychology students at BGU.
In an interview with The Media Line, Westheimer reflected on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected couples’ relationships, her ongoing love affair with Israel and Sigmund Freud – whom she dubbed a “sexual illiterate.”
The Media Line: Dr. Ruth Westheimer, thank you for joining us. First, I would like to ask you: What have you been up to these days?
Dr. Ruth Westheimer: Hallelujah, I was very happy with the Ben-Gurion [University] honorary doctorate. I’m still smiling and I wish I had met [former Israeli Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion. He was short.
I was in Jerusalem on the day that he declared the State of Israel even though some people at the United Nations and others had told him not to do so.
In my living room I have a picture of Ben-Gurion and [former Israeli Prime Minister] Golda Meir. I know everybody said they never had an affair but to me—the way he looks at her—he at least would have wanted to.
I’m going to be 93 on June 4th and I hope everyone – but me – knows how to use Zoom. Zoom has been very important these days to combat loneliness, especially for people who live alone. Right now in New York, it is very hopeful. People are slowly going out. I still don’t and go out only when my daughter, son, or son-in-law take me.
TML: What does Israel mean to you today?
Dr. Ruth: First of all, I never thought that I would not live my life in Israel but I have no complaints. The new film that is running on Hulu called “Ask Dr. Ruth” clearly shows that I was, and still am, a Zionist.
I went to Israel in 1945. I could’ve stayed in Switzerland but I said: ‘No, I have to help build a country so that what has happened in the Shoah (Holocaust) will never happen again.’
I still do lots of fundraising for Israel and up until recently would go [visit] every single year.
TML: You mentioned that you were in Jerusalem when Ben-Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel. What was that moment like? What were you doing?
Dr. Ruth: I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I was in Jerusalem on a truck. We danced the whole night. What is very sad is that I don’t remember with whom I danced, but I know that I danced the whole night.
I still have [Ben-Gurion’s] voice in my head when I think of it. I’m so sad that I never met him because I wasn’t ‘Dr. Ruth’ back then. He wouldn’t have met me, a little kibbutznik from Nahalal (northern Israel).
I lived in Jerusalem and got badly wounded when I was in the Haganah so I was there for a very short period of time. But I was a very good sniper. I was badly wounded in both legs [during the Israeli War of Independence] when a shell came and killed some girls next to me. There was a German-Jewish surgeon who fixed me up so well.
TML: What other projects are you working on at the moment? What else is new?
Dr. Ruth: New York University Press just issued my book “Heavenly Sex: Sexuality and the Jewish Tradition” (Nov. 2020: NYU Press) in a new edition and it’s now a classic. This means it will never be out of print. Hallelujah!
I did the book with a journalist named Jonathan Mark from the Jewish Week. I could not have done that book without him.
In the book, I prove how smart the sages were. For example, they knew about different positions … In the Jewish tradition, we have the best sex therapists possible.
TML: I remember your radio show many years ago. Regarding sexuality and sex therapy, how do you feel those have shifted in recent years?
Dr. Ruth: I’ll tell you what has changed. There are [fewer] women who do not have orgasms because people like myself – but I’m not the only one – have talked about it.
Sigmund Freud was sexually illiterate and ignorant. He should’ve taken a course with me. Sigmund Freud said that any woman who needs clitoral stimulation in order to have an orgasm is an [infantile] woman.
Nonsense! The clitoris is always involved and Freud was sexually ignorant. So there have definitely been changes.
TML: Over the pandemic, there have been a lot of stories about how lockdowns have negatively affected relationships. What do you think of that and what kinds of tips can you give to those who are still stuck at home?
Dr. Ruth: This was a very difficult year, period. I want people to forget about it and not dwell on it. I know it is difficult to keep up a sexual relationship when you’re cooped up in your apartment all day. As soon as everyone is vaccinated and things get better, I want people to say ‘this was a difficult year, what can I do to make it better?’
Some relationships will survive, some will not survive. Fortunately, within the Jewish tradition, it is permissible to get a divorce so for those who cannot survive, get a divorce and start new relationships. But I don’t want people to get on Zoom or on the phone and to continuously say: ‘How terrible, how terrible.’ We all know how terrible.
TML: What are your plans for the near future?
Dr. Ruth: I am going to teach a course at Columbia University again next spring. I had 18 students [last time]: some were from China and I was on Zoom in New York. I got wonderful term papers! There is a Jewish tradition that you learn from your students. I learned a great deal about Chinese sex education and about the one-child [policy].
The next thing I’m doing is: As soon as the [Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre] brings the “Becoming Dr. Ruth” play with actress Tovah Feldshuh to New York in June, I’ll go to the opening and go many times. In typical Ruth Westheimer fashion, I also have a good relationship with the woman who did the show before, Debra Jo Rupp. I’m also still keeping in touch with the playwright [Mark St. Germain] – he was just here this past week – and the play’s director Julianne Boyd. I’m very busy.