Ruth Westheimer hits the Big 9-0 today ~ ~ congrats & every best wish!
The little dynamo who transformed talking about sex from “dirty” to diverting, event entertaining, always informative. In 1980, when her radio show debuted, detailed discussions about sex were still the rarity. They were about to get intense & essential. Because on 06/05/81, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reported on what was described as a rare lung infection that had apparently affected the immune systems of five previously healthy young men in Los Angeles – all of whom were gay; by the time the report was published, two had died. A month later, the NY Times reported on a “rare cancer found in 41 homosexuals” – – Kaposi’s Sarcoma.
When America was thrown into a panic about an apparently sex-related condition, with fears & questions – – Dr. Ruth was primed to respond. The little radio show she’d been asked to helm to better educate New Yorkers about sex-ed suddenly became a life line for people across the country who turned to her for answers to questions they never expected to ask.
The advice Dr. Ruth had dispensed from the first to protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) became a matter of life & death – – know your sexual partner before you bed, use condoms. It helped that she was introduced to America through radio, where listeners could call with a sense of protected anonymity with questions on contraception & erectile dysfunction, on STDs & HIV, on fetishes & unwanted pregnancies. They felt safe, knowing theying were talking to a woman steeped in a lifelong interest & years of postdoctoral studies in human sexuality.
And then there is her accent, an incalculable asset. Her life journey – born in Germany, sent to Switzerland as a child to escape Nazi Germany (both her parents died during the Holocaust), moving to Mandatory Palestine in her mid-teens, off to Paris in her early 20s, then finally to the USA at 28, left her with an intriguing accent that sounds like a European pixie – – an impression that only intensified on meeting the diminutive dynamo. Listeners felt safe sharing their deepest secrets with a voice that vibrated with knowledge, understanding & straight-up sass.
Long before the internet, Sexually Speaking became America’s go-to source for reliable information from an expert listeners trusted. Her appearance & unabashed openness on TV interviews delighted millions, perhaps billions – she remains an icon of wise & wonderful sexuality. Check out her YouTube Channel!
Kudos to Dr. Ruth for going to her audience. She has plans for a new show that would visit college campuses, she does presentations on cruise ships – she’ll be giving lectures on a Queen Mary 2 cruise to Canada.
And then there is The Documentary – tonight, a film crew with mingle with guests at her birthday bash at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, on NYC’s Lower East Side, where she is a board member. It’s already followed her across Europe & Israel, tracing her steps from her then to her now.
The Universe clearly loves Ruth Westheimer. Her parents managed to send her to sanctuary from the Nazis, she was part of an exodus to Palestine more riveting & dramatic than anything described in any novel or movie, experienced post-WWII Paris, lived in NYC in its hay day, was approached to do a sex-ed radio show in the pre-dawn of the AIDS epidemic. And she keeps on going!
As note in today’s NY Times article, she is every inch a German-Jewish refugee, “an orphan of the Holocaust, not a victim.”
Little did she know as she trained as a sniper for the Haganah & fought in 1948’s Israeli War for Independence that she’d never take a life, but instead go on to SAVE countless ones with her simple advice: don’t have one-night stands, know your sex partner, use a condom.
It’s small wonder I enjoy Dr. Ruth. At the core of her advice about sex & her messages about human sexuality is a deep respect for & desire to nurture relationships. “I’m old-fashioned. I’m still talking about relationships.” Amen & hallelujah!
Dear Dr. Ruth – all my best wishes on your 90th birthday. Thanks for the advice, thanks for being a fabulous role model for living expansively whatever the situation or circumstance. You take all that you’ve been for all of your days & wrap them into now. May we all be so infilled with the love of life to do the same!