Ruth Karola Westheimer

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Ruth Karola Westheimer

Ruth K. Westheimer (born 1928) has gained fame for giving practical and straightforward advice for sexual problems.

Known to her public simply as "Dr. Ruth, " the New York psychologist, broadcaster, and writer Dr. Ruth Westheimer became known for giving out sexual advice "like good hot chicken soup" to Americans in the 1980s. Orphaned by the Third Reich when her German-Jewish family perished after sending her to safety in Switzerland, she immigrated to Palestine where she became a fervent Zionist and member of the Haganah, the Jewish underground movement. The tiny woman, only four feet seven inches tall, briefly married a young Israeli soldier, and the couple moved to Paris where she earned a degree in psychology from the Sorbonne. In 1956 Dr. Ruth moved to New York with her second husband. After this marriage ended, she supported herself and her young daughter by working as a maid while she learned English and earned a master's degree at the New School for Social Research. After meeting her third husband on a ski trip to the Catskills, she earned her doctorate in education at Columbia University.

Media Celebrity

Dr. Ruth learned about sex early when she sneaked into her father's library to read his hidden marriage manual. At Columbia she studied family counseling and sex counseling, and her big break came in 1977 when she gave a lecture to a group of New York broadcasters about the need for more broadcast programs to promote "sexual literacy." Contacts at this lecture evolved into a phenomenally popular two-hour syndicated radio talk show called Sexually Speaking, a cable television show, The Dr. Ruth Show, several best-selling books, and celebrity status throughout the country.

"Grandma Freud"

Dr. Ruth's accent, witty humor, eccentric style, and commonsense advice made her enormously popular with the American public. On a typical night four thousand callers jammed the radio station's switchboards, and her talk show became the top-rated radio show in the New York City area in 1983. She stirred controversy with both political and religious leaders because of her frank answers about homosexuality, sex education, and contraception. Her ability to say anything and get away with it gave her both detractors and admirers. Critics warned she verged on entertainment rather than psychology and accused her of being frivolous and irresponsible. Her admirers praised her conviction and "knack of translating new technological information about sex into sound practical advice." A firm believer in traditional marriage and family, her enthusiasm for her work also kept her in her active private practice as a psychologist and family counselor.

Spicy Advice and the Ratings

To her loyal followers who counted on her, no question was too outrageous and no problem was insoluble. When a caller asked what to do about his girlfriend who had given him an inflatable love doll and "wants to watch, " Dr. Ruth fired back, "Give the doll a name and have a good time." Concern about instant advice to unseen callers prompted the American Psychiatric Association to caution the growing ranks of media therapists against providing actual therapy or trying to solve a problem conclusively over the air. But Dr. Ruth's spicy advice, conventional morality, and upbeat approach continued to help media ratings whether or not they actually helped the nation's sexual psyche.

Further Reading

Ruth K. Westheimer and Jonathan Mark, Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition, New York University Press, 1995, 188p.

Ruth K. Westheimer, Dr. Ruth's Guide to Good Sex, Warner Books, 1983.

Ruth K. Westheimer, Dr. Ruth's Guide for Married Lovers, Warner Books, 1986.

Ruth K. Westheimer and Ben Yagoda, All in a Lifetime: An Autobiography, Warner Books, 1987.

Ruth K. Westheimer and Louis Lieberman, Sex and Morality: Who is Teaching Our Sex Standards, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.

Ruth K. Westheimer and Louis Lieberman, Dr. Ruth's Guide to Erotic and Sensuous Pleasures, Shapolsky, 1991.

Ruth K. Westheimer, Dr. Ruth Talks to Kids: Where You Came From, How Your Body Changes, and What Sex is All About, Macmillan, 1993.

Ruth K. Westheimer and Steven Kaplan, Surviving Salvation: The Ethiopian Jewish Family in Transition, New York University Press, 1992.

Ruth K. Westheimer, Dr. Ruth's Guide to Safer Sex, Warner Books, 1992.

Ruth K. Westheimer, Sex for Dummies, IDG Books Worldwide, 1995.

Ruth K. Westheimer and Ben Yagoda, The Value of Family: A Blueprint for the 21st Century, Warner Books, 1996.

Ruth K. Westheimer and Pierre Lohu, Dr. Ruth Talks About Grandparents: Advice for Kids on Making the Most of a Special Relationship, Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1997.

Ruth K. Westheimer, ed., Dr. Ruth's Encyclopedia of Sex, Continuum, 1994, 319 p.

Ruth Westheimer, The Art of Arousal, Abbeville Press, 1993, 180p.

Patricia Bosworth, "Talking with Doctor Goodsex, " Ladies' Home Journal (February 1986): 82 □;

Georgia Dullea, "Therapist to Therapist: Analyzing Dr. Ruth, " New York Times, 26 October 1987, p. 8B;

George Hackett, "Talking Sex with Dr. Ruth, " Newsweek (3 May 1982): 78. □

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Ruth Westheimer