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Dr. Ruth on Great Sex, Pornography, and Getting Older

dr ruth westheimer
June 07, 2019

By Debbie Koenig

Dr. Ruth just turned 91, so you might think she’d be slowing down. You’d be wrong. With a new documentary about her life, Ask Dr. Ruth, now on Hulu and an updated edition of her book Sex for Dummies due out in July, she’s still working to change the way we think about sex.

WebMD spoke to Dr. Ruth about how attitudes have evolved since her first TV show premiered 35 years ago, and how to have a lifetime of great sex. Our interview has been edited for clarity and length.

WebMD: People ask you for sex advice everywhere you go. How have the questions changed over the years?

Dr. Ruth: The questions have definitely changed—I get less questions about women not being able to have an orgasm, or men being premature ejaculators. I get more questions about taking the time for sex, making sure you have a relationship and you aren’t just hopping into bed. Not about one-night stands.

I haven’t changed my opinion in terms of being old-fashioned and taking your time, but we have advanced in this area.

WebMD: Several times in the film, you promise people “great sex for life” if they do something or other. What’s the most important thing to do to ensure that?

Dr. Ruth: [Laughing] I say that they’ll have great sex to get them to do something that I want them to do!

In reality, the best way to ensure great sex is to have a relationship, to not take anything for granted. Cultivate the relationship, make sure you enjoy that somebody’s waiting for you, somebody’s there for you.

In my new edition of Sex for Dummies, I pay attention to the issue of relationships and intimacy, and being sexually literate—knowing about sex. To know that there’s nothing to be bashful about when asking about something sexual, to be glad we have the information available.

WebMD: I have a 12-year-old son, and I worry about the easy accessibility of online porn. What advice do you have for parents raising adolescents these days?

Dr. Ruth: I want to make sure everybody of all ages knows that anything being shown in sexually explicit movies isn’t reality. Pornographic movies, I don’t have anything against them when adults watch them, but I don’t want children to watch them. I’m old fashioned and a square, but adults also have to know that it’s unrealistic. No men have penises of the size shown in those movies, and no woman has this kind of orgasm, one after the other, like in the movies. We have to give them a little dose of reality.

WebMD: There’s new research making headlines, which found that Americans aren’t having as much sex as they used to. In 2018, almost 25% of adults said they hadn’t had sex for a year. What’s going on?

Dr. Ruth: I think it’s nonsense and it’s very sad. Years ago when new immigrants came to New York City, they certainly worked many more hours than we do now. It’s nonsense to say you don’t have time for sex—you have to take the time, to cement the relationship. It has to be cultivated and engaged in.

WebMD: What do you say to people who haven’t had sex in a year or more—how can they get back into it?

Dr. Ruth: Take a deep breath, and if you’re really nervous make a phone call to a sex therapist or educator. Try to forget that you didn’t have sex for such a long time, and start all over again. Have fun, and remember how important it is to be touched and hugged and kissed.

WebMD: You didn’t get your doctorate until you were 42, and you were over 50 when your radio show premiered. How did your age factor into your success?

Dr. Ruth: I think part of it had to do that I wasn’t going on television with low-cut blouses or short skirts. I was already a professional and mature. You know, Ruth Bader Ginsberg said in her film that what happened to her could only have happened in America. I say that what happened to me, going on the radio, could only have happened in New York because New Yorkers are very generous to people with different accents. My radio and television career could only have happened in New York.

WebMD: How have our views about older people and sex changed from when you first started out?

Dr. Ruth: Younger people accept more than they used to that their parents or even grandparents do engage in sex, and they should respect that. But older people have to also be knowledgeable. Women have to know to use lubricant. Men should know their testosterone will be highest in the morning. Older people must know not to engage in sex when they’ve had too much alcohol, or when they’re tired. They should do it when they’re relaxed, in the mornings, to make sure they enjoy it. Older people need to be touched, just like younger people. It’s very important.

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