At 86, Dr. Ruth Westheimer proudly announces that she goes out every night. Maybe that explains why so many people seem to have a story about meeting the gregarious sex therapist. This one met her on a cruise. That one met her dancing the hora in a New York City synagogue. I met her waiting in line at the bathroom of Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side. She lives in Manhattan but travels the country and the world (this summer she's headed to Israel and South Africa) having no-nonsense conversations about sex.
She was born in Germany, and after her father was captured by the Nazis, her family sent her to Switzerland. So she survived the Holocaust, but her parents did not. She never saw them again. And yet she's a woman who emanates such joy and has made it her life's work to bring joy to as many people as possible -- through sex (her "Sex for Dummies" book was just published in Turkey).
Recently she visited the Palace in Coral Gables, a senior living residence, to talk to senior citizens about sex. She stopped by WLRN's studios to talk to us too. You can listen to our conversation above, or read it here.
What do senior citizens typically want to know from you?
I did a book about three years ago called "Sex After 50." And the important message really is to not give up. The idea in this country was: Why do older people engage in touching, or in arousal, or in sex? Grandchildren certainly think: My grandparents don’t do that! So my message is, if anybody tells me that’s not what they want to do anymore, "I’ve done it, I’m finished," I say, "Wonderful, go and read a good book."
But for those people who want to engage in that activity, they have to know not to engage in sex in the evening, when they are tired. But to engage in sex in the morning. Go for breakfast, go back into bed, because the testosterone level is highest in the morning. And also, if one of the partners at [a] later stage in life wants to have some sexual satisfaction, that’s what they should engage in. If the other one doesn’t want to, just lie there and think about the next meal.
Just lie there?
Right! But the important thing is that a couple who has a good relationship have [sic] to be sexually literate to know what to do and what not to do. … I tell people, especially older people, don’t drink too much, otherwise you fall asleep. So we have to make sure that there is no taboo, it’s not something dirty. And if you do it with humor — not jokes but humor — then people will remember what I have said. ... I'm a grandmother, and I still talk about sex.
I wonder if, now that you’re 86 years old, talking to senior citizens about sex is easier for them, because you’re one of them?
I will never ask them a personal question, if they are sexually active. I will never permit them to ask me -- nobody’s business. But I think… by them having somebody who’s not, like, 21 probably makes it easier.
You have a new book out. It’s called “Myths of Love,” and it looks at the parallels between ancient mythology and modern romantic thought. Why is this a topic you wanted to delve into?
Because what I want to show is, one thing is scientific knowledge, but we also should branch out a little. So by telling Greek and Roman stories, I want them to spin off their own fantasies. And you don’t have to share them. You can keep your mouth shut, and just be in that fantasy. … But it’s also important to know the boundaries.
What’s an example of that?
If somebody would say to me, “Are you still sexually active?” then I say, "I don’t answer, and I’m not asking you either."
Did Howard Stern ask you when you were on his show?
He didn’t get an answer either. He loves me. ... The important thing is to keep the conversation going.
I have to tell you, Dr. Ruth, that you’re one of my radio heroes. When I was a teenager, I used to listen to you late at night--
Under the blankets!That was gonna be the next thing I said.
Ten years, every Sunday night from 10 to 12.
Sexually Speaking with Dr. Ruth Westheimer!
And people like you were listening. … OK, now I’m going to tell you something, Alicia, and you are the first public station. … This fall I’m getting a new television program. Guess where? On MTV. That’s all I can say about.
Congratulations. Good for MTV.
What it means is now I’m going to, like, have another big population talking about not just sex, but about relationships. And that makes me smile. And I do have on my Twitter, I have like 80,000 — more than 80,000 [followers].
I could use a few of those.
OK, use a few.