If you‘re looking for exciting new uses for onion rings or strawberrv jam. DR RUTH WESTHEIMER could be the person to approach.
Gillian Ferguson talks to the diminutive sex therapist and learns how
to call a dildo a dildo.
man once telephoned Dr Ruth to say that his girlfriend enjoyed tossing onion rings onto his erect penis. Convulsed by the sudden. dare I say climax of. repressed giggles that tend to build up in the more inhibited when using words any more
this was a problem. a confession or a
suggestion. According to Dr Ruth. however. it is ‘a fabulous idea — it‘s Ilzeir
genitalia. whatevertwoconsentingadults do in the privacy oftheir own home is fine.‘ Nor
does she ever impose her own beliefs on patients: ‘l‘m a teacher. not the Pope. it‘s not up to me to make moral judgements.‘ Dr Ruth is bringing her crusade for ‘sexual literacy" to this year's International Science Festival in Edinburgh where she will be giving several lectures. There is no doubt
that the world‘s most. if not only. famous sex
therapist will attract a large crowd
composed not just of professionals with an interest in psychosexual therapy but ofthc general public. Dr Ruth‘s frank dialogue with the public began in 1980 when she first shocked the prudish airwaves with a radio programme called .S'exuully Speaking. followed by (food Sex and even 'l'errifii‘ Sex. She then moved into television before the radio titles reached earth-moving superlatives. and the success of these programmes by this pioneer of media psychology led to her current fame.
In fact. the degree of popular fame she
enjoys conceals the fact that she is a very
educated woman with an impressive array of
academic achievements. She educated herselfat night school. supportingherself with menial jobs. and one gains the impression that her for (/e vii'n' has been practised so often in the face ofatlversity.
8 The l.|st 22 March 4 April 1W1
explicit than ‘bottom'. I didn‘t catch whether
that it has become natural. Born in Frankfurt. she was sent as a child to Switzerland. to an orphanage for Jewish children to escape the Nazis. and for some time received painfully cheerful letters from her parents. ‘Tyleine Liebe Karola. enjoy your carefree youth: stay healthy and happy . . . May you only have luck. wealth and contentment.‘ they wrote. before perishing in Auschwitz. ller autobiography was published only last year and it was a revelation not only to the public but to her own children. ‘I didn’t want them burdened with such sadness.’ she says. and her life story is so affecting that it is to her credit that she did not reveal all this much earlier to the American public who would surely have lionised her hardships. She considers herself lucky to be alive and believes these early experiences have made her a 'better helper" for other people.
Strongly family—oricntated. she considers her greatest personal achievement has been becoming a grandmother and professionally that she has had the guts to say. ‘We have the knowledge and it has to be transmitted not only in college classrooms but to the population at large. l‘m listened to by a large cross section of the community: rich. poor. all ages and races. that makes me very proud.‘
But isn't there something innately paradoxical. even distasteful about speaking about intimate matters in public; surely .s‘umr' things are better left in private'.’ Shouldn‘t Brad's preference for sex in telephone kiosks be discussed with his squashed wife. rather than with millions of telev ision v iewers'.’ ‘( )1]. no. It's absolutely fHI/H'I'tllfl'i’ that we have these public discussions. This information should not be kept for the few who go to a therapist. 'l‘he
more people know. the less problems they will have. Also. they will be able to admit when they do have a problem and know that help is available.‘
ller programmes leave you wondering whether you are normal. or just unimaginative. They also exercise a certain voyeuristic fascination; how can these people discuss the intimate details of what happened on their kitchen table in public'.’ And why"? Does she not find it harder to
“ Remembergirls, a dildoisallvery well, but there is no substitute fora penis”
convince the British public of the need to talk about orgasms or. a common problem. lack ofthem'.’ ‘No. I think we all come from the same Victorian background. but if we talk about the subject openly. in good taste. everyone will see the value ofeducation.‘ Most people's definition ofgood taste perhaps does not stretch to discussing. with total strangers. the meritsoforal sex. and in Britain there is a sense that this is perhaps just another facet of the American obsession with therapy. another fad from the nation that sends its dogs to psychiatrists. According to Dr Ruth. Americans don‘t ‘yet‘ talk about going to their sex therapist as readily as they do about going to the dentist but thinks their interest in ‘therapy' has to do __A__#_J