Guest: Westheimer, Ruth
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THE OPEN MIND
“More Good Sex With Dr. Ruth”
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Heffner: I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind – and perhaps you know, even if you don’t care – that when I’m not teaching at Rutgers, or producing The Open Mind, I serve as Chairman of the motion picture industry’s film rating system – you know, G, PG, PG-13, R and X. Which is relevant to today’s program only because recently my Rating Board colleagues instructed me to see a pre-release film entitled “One Woman Or Two” because one of its stars, Hollywood’s newest, in fact, and today’s Open Mind guest, the fabulous Dr. Ruth, Ruth Westheimer. America’s sex therapist extraordinary, had taken an interesting name for herself up there on the silver screen. In the film she calls herself, of all things, Mrs. Heffner!
So I telephoned my impish friend, told her she was being naughty, and as penance made her promise to come back to The Open Mind to carry on a discussion we had started here a year and a half ago. Our topic, the real insights and personal convictions that inform her unrelenting mass media sharing of intensely personal and intimate sexual themes with ever larger numbers of television viewers and radio listeners.
Even now as she begins a new syndicated television series, Ask Dr. Ruth, she continues her Good Sex series, and her Sexually Speaking radio show. Her books and games about sex just keep flowing, too. All of which points to the fact that Dr. Ruth has become something of a natural, national, even international phenomenon that perhaps says more about us than it does about her.
And what it says is what I want to probe today.
Last time with Dr. Ruth I began The Open Mind saying that I had invited her here to do my thing, not hers… not to talk about premature ejaculation, or about oral sex, or about sexual positions, or even about contraception, but rather about the consequences of what and when she had first come to this country. Dr. Ruth had herself observed as American’s obsession with sex. As she said, “at first I thought, my God, these people must be crazy. They don’t talk about politics, literature, nothing. Only about sex.”
Well, last time I started by asking Dr. Ruth why she wants to add to that craziness. That addiction to sexual talk, talk, talk , with all her own sexual talk, talk, talk. This time I want to talk about the consequences, and I want to begin by asking her if AIDS, at least in its near epidemic form isn’t one of them. Dr. Ruth, that’s the question to start with.
Dr. Ruth: Okay. Richard, let me tell you something. First of all in my opinion this whole dreadful disease of AIDS is a catastrophe. I do not waste any time enumerating any symptoms because I’m not a medical doctor. I do give a lot of my time to fund-raisers, we just did one at the Metropolitan Opera; we raised a million and four hundred thousand dollars for research on AIDS. never talk about safe sex because I don’t think there is such a thing, because we do not know enough about this disease. I do not want people to waste time in blaming one group or another. What we need is a cure. But I’ll tell you something, last week… a few weeks ago, I was asked by the Pentagon, the Armed Forces Network, to do a public service announcement, so that our soldiers across… around the world would be aware of using contraceptives. Of using some kind of protection… and that’s exactly what I said in the public service announcement. I said, “you people out there who protect us, make sure that you also protect yourself. Do use condoms.” For me, for this little Jewish immigrant to this country, talking about our last conversation, to be asked to visit the Pentagon, to meet with two generals, with a Captain and a Lieutenant, to have lunch there, to walk through the halls of the Pentagon, everybody all over, the buzzing, everybody sneaked out to look at me …that was really fabulous.
Heffner: Of course what occurs to me Ruth, is this idea of only two generals, a colonel and a lieutenant. I’d want a hundred generals there for you because they obviously recognized that your involvement and this nation’s involvement with sex, sex, sex…those things are very intimately connected.
Dr. Ruth: You see, Richard…
Dr. Ruth: When you say like this, sex, sex, sex -I’m going to scold you. Because, let’s just talk about sexuality. When I hear you say sex, I think you with your voice, you are thinking of a penis in a vagina. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about relationships. I’m talking about a smile. I’m talking about values and family life. I do not talk about sex, sex, sex.
Heffner: Dr. Ruth, let me ask. Let me ask whether when people turn on your program, when they turn the television set on, when they turn the radio set on, when they buy your books, when they buy the games…do you think they’re looking for information about relationships, as you’ve just put it?
Dr. Ruth: I do believe, what they hear is good sexual advice, within the relationship. Within the relationship. Yes, they do want to hear about what you just said with such… aahh, aahh, feeling…premature ejaculation, it’s an important issue.
Heffner: You don’t have to tell me that, Dr. Ruth.
Dr. Ruth: Richard, when I talk about these issues they know that I talk about it with seriousness, that I can have a woman who is a social worker from the Mormon community on my radio program discussing family values and within that, sexuality. That I was kissed the other day by a nun because she hears me and she said she knows that I say very often, can you talk to your priest, can you talk to your Rabbi. But stay within the realm of your own values, at the same time she knows… sexually active people ought to use what?
Heffner: You were going to ask me to say condoms. Condoms.
Dr. Ruth: Right. I’m saying contraceptives. That’s what I’m saying. Because…
Heffner: That isn’t what you mean.
Dr. Ruth: Contraceptives?
Heffner: You don’t just mean contraceptives, generally.
Dr. Ruth: Oh, yes, I do.
Heffner: If you’re talking about your concern then about AIDS?
Dr. Ruth: There I’m talking about condoms. But I’m talking about the larger picture in terms of unwanted pregnancies, and I mean contraceptives.
Heffner: Okay, you say the larger picture, but…aahh, I start off talking about AIDS and perhaps I could have talked about the age of herpes, the age of AIDS, etc., and relate all of this.
Dr. Ruth: Don’t say age of AIDS, it’s sounds terrible.
Heffner: Why not?
Dr. Ruth: Because, yes it is an epidemic. But hopefully, around the corner, by the time that you and I talk, as we speak, hopefully, there is some laboratory who is going to find a cure. I find it… it would be very sad to talk about age of AIDS. I’m saying, dreadful disease, let’s find a cure and let’s go on.
Heffner: Ruth, you say you’d find it very sad. It… darn tootin’ it’s very sad. And very dangerous and for us not to understand what we’re in for and work on the assumption that around the corner, somewhere there is cure, I think is…
Dr. Ruth: I’m a little bit of an optimist, it’s true. And I, I look at The New York Times every morning, and the first thing that I look at….
Heffner: To see if the cure is there?
Dr. Ruth: Yes. Yes. I’m… I’m a little bit, maybe a little bit of an optimist.
Heffner: Okay. That …that’s fine. On this program those who watch regularly know that I’m very much of a pessimist, maybe more of a realist. But Ruth, I come back to this question about… uhmm, you don’t like… you would accept the Age of Aquarius, but you wouldn’t accept the concept of the age of…
Dr. Ruth: No, no… I’ve… I accept it. I’ve just wanted to say let’s not be so pessimist. But I want to tell you something. That because of the epidemic of AIDS, there’s no question that people who do not have a steady partner, heterosexual and homosexuals, do have to be concerned. There’s just no question about it. But you see, basically, it fits into my philosophy. I have never said, go out there and have one night stands, sex only. I have said have a relationship and when it works well… then, perfectly all right. So, being careful, there’s no question that that is absolutely necessary and in this I will agree with you one hundred percent.
Heffner: But you see what I’m asking you is something different. I know you well enough to know that you’re not talking about or urging promiscuity, you’ve done just the opposite.
Dr. Ruth: Right.
Heffner: All these years that you have talked about sexuality, and I’ll use the term rather than sex, sex, sex… but I’m asking you to make a judgment about what the impact of Dr. Ruth is. What the impact of the radio programs and of the television programs and of the… look, our age is so different… when you came here and said these people they must be crazy, that’s all they talk… they talk about it and clearly act out… more now than ever before.
Dr. Ruth: I… I don’t want to sound conceited, but when you ask me what’s the impact…
Heffner: Umm humm…
Dr. Ruth: …then I would like to say first of all, I’m not the only one who has programs on sexuality. But now let’s talk about me. Having said that there are others, and having said that Helen Singer Kaplan trained me in terms of being a sex therapist, and Masters & Johnson and Kinsey gave us the data, the scientifically validated data. I do see across this country and actually more than this country that I do have an impact. The impact is that people know that is all right, I say so, to speak about sexuality explicitly. That I don’t want a woman not to have an orgasm for her whole lifetime. That I want her to say to her partner, “honey, there’s something that I have to learn, let’s go and see a sex therapist or let’s gets some books or a video cassette, or whatever.” So that part, in terms of saying, don’t hide when there is a problem… I believe I’m making an impact.
Heffner: Ruth, do you think that impact is possible to be made, to be developed without leading to the kinds of promiscuity that you yourself understand as basic to the spread of AIDS, of herpes, of other venereal diseases.
Dr. Ruth: Very good point. Very good point. I do believe strongly, Richard, that whoever listens to me hears that I say good sex, terrific sex, yes, within the confines of the relationship. I’m also saying something to homosexuals. As you know, we do not the etiology… we don’t know the reason for homosexuality. Any homosexual couple that walks in to my office, at the clinic or my private office, I treat them with the same respect, with the same modality of treatment, if it’s a sexual problem, except some modification, of course, that I would treat a heterosexual couple. To a homosexual who does not have a partner right now, I say, and it’s very sad, but I have no other advice for you then to take a partner who you hopefully will find and to masturbate. Not each other, but to masturbate yourself and he to masturbate himself until we find a cure. I also say, half in jest – in, in, in good humor, have a little black book. Write down all of the men that you find attractive, that are sexually arousing to you. That you would like to start a relationship with. Write them down in the black book, with their phone numbers, rate them, one, two, three, as soon as we have a cure — get on the phone and call them. I have no answer to saying to somebody to do this or that, kissing, yes, but hugging, no; intercourse, yes or anal intercourse, no. I have no way of saying that, I’m not a medical doctor.
Heffner: Dr. Ruth what do you think the reaction to… listen, I know in terms of the popularity of the books, of the radio programs, of the television programs, what the reaction has been… do you think there is going to be a counter-reaction to Dr. Ruth?
Dr. Ruth: Fabulous question now. Here the program is going to be a syndicated television show, NBC, New York, ABC, Los Angeles, CBS in San Francisco and so forth. It’s syndicated so each station can decide when to play it. Ahhhmmm, there will be some people who will say a program like this Ask Dr. Ruth should not be on the air. And I will have the same philosophy that I have with my radio program. And that I had on the cable. I will say I’m not a missionary, move your dial. I will also say it’s not a program for children but I know that children are watching and I will say at least they will get good information. Hopefully if a youngster, let’s say a fourteen-year-old, thirteen-year- old, is watching it once or twice or three times, hopefully they’ll get bored and they’re going to turn over to the football game. There will be some… aahhh, reaction but I expect it to be almost nil. In terms of people not accepting that a program like this should be on the air.
Heffner: Why do you say you expect… uhhh… minimal reaction?
Dr. Ruth: Because look what’s happening with the radio program. It’s not a fashion and a fad, which I thought in the beginning it would be. Here is this little woman, German, Jewish accent, talking about these things. After a while, people are going to say, “enough, let’s switch over to something else, look what’s happening.” Sixty Canadian stations just joined, the Virgin Islands just joined. It is amazing and it’s not just because of me, Richard.
Heffner: What does it say then? What does it tell us?
Dr. Ruth: I tell you what it tells us. Exactly what you started this conversation with. It says that there is a need in our society for such programs. Otherwise the ratings would be down and the network and everybody would say to me, “thank you very much, good-bye.” But it’s not only the need. It’s also that Americans, we in this country are very fortunate. Our knowledge about sex therapy and our experience in doing sex therapy is far greater than any other country. France has some research… basic scientific research, but in terms of actually knowing what to do with sexual problems, it’s this country. And it’s also this country who is generous in spirit despite the Victorian/Puritan attitude to permit a program like this to be on the air.
Heffner: You don’t anticipate that that attitude will change as there is a greater threat from what seems to be “good sex”?
Dr. Ruth: No. I think that what I’m saying is Richard, first of all you, personally, be lucky because you are married for many years so you have nothing to worry about.
Heffner: But I’m an old man.
Dr. Ruth: You’re not an old man, look at those blue eyes with the sparkle.
Heffner: I’m an old man with blue eyes.
Dr. Ruth: I’m… I’m married 25 years with the same man so I’m saying one field will do. People will go to a marital therapist or to a counselor and try to work out some problems rather than to immediately dump that partner because certain aspects of their lives they don’t like. That effect it will have and that’s great. I’m for that.
Heffner: Do you think despite your injunctions… do you think it will also have the effect, in any way, just between the two of us…
Dr. Ruth: Between the two of us and all your millions of viewers?
Heffner: Well I know I don’t have them… you do. But it’s not your program, it’s mine. Seriously, do you think in any way what you do leads to some degree of promiscuity…
Dr. Ruth: Richard…
Heffner: …that would not be present were there not this addition to the talk about sex or sexuality, call it what you will?
Dr. Ruth: Richard, no. But what it does lead to is to experimentation. I hear people say, you know, that position that you described… we tried it and it’s terrific. My erection was better, she had better orgasms, so to experimentation it certainly will lead. Great. It also will lead, not to put that sex life on a back burner but to say exactly like we are involved with talking about diets, we can talk about sexuality. I’m not saying that one night stands couldn’t be, at one point or another, very pleasurable and that somebody can afterwards walk around with a little smile on their face. Look at that smile on you. I don’t ask you personal questions. And remembering that one-night stand, that, I think, will be not as easily engaged in because of the threat of AIDS.
Heffner: You know it’s so interesting to me… last time we spoke more about your background.
Dr. Ruth: Hmmmhmmm…
Heffner: You come from a disciplined society.
Dr. Ruth: Hmmmhmmm… Very rigid.
Heffner: All right.
Dr. Ruth: Super rigid.
Heffner: You bring with you a set of morals, you bring with you a set of personal injunctions. Do you think that the emphasis that you place upon good sex, the emphasis that you place upon pleasure does in any way diminish the possibility that in this country with its Dr. Ruth everywhere you turn, we will be increasingly less disciplined in a good way? Less capable of postponing pleasure? Less able to live what is a more balanced and rational life in this age of pleasure?
Dr. Ruth: Richard…
Dr. Ruth: From your mouth, from your eloquent way of speaking to your millions of viewers, to my millions of viewers and to somebody up there, I absolutely agree.
Heffner: Now wait a minute… now wait a minute. The question is…
Dr. Ruth: Will it lead…
Heffner: Will it lead, not may it lead and wouldn’t it be nice if it did lead…
Dr. Ruth: Will it actually lead?
Dr. Ruth: I think so. I think it’s leading to it right now. Why do I say that? Ahhhh, the National Academy of Sciences had a dinner, a private dinner with a private reception and guess who was invited by the President of the National Academy of Sciences but me because they discussed a report on teenage pregnancy. And they introduced, said there are certain people… and there are 200 people at their dinner… and they said, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer doesn’t need an introduction. What does it mean? What it means is that people do know. Yes, I speak explicitly. When I mean clitoris, Richard, I mean clitoris, I don’t talk about a certain space in the woman’s body down there between the waist and the knees. I speak explicitly even on your program.
Heffner: Oh, I know that.
Dr. Ruth: And it will have an effect because I… I’m very happy that it goes across ages, because when I walk in the street, older people – much older than you, Richard, and younger people and across socio-economic backgrounds and across ethnic backgrounds and religious backgrounds and that’s what I’m after. I’m a lucky woman.
Heffner: Of course you are. And I’m a lucky man to have you sitting at this table so that I can ask you whether you ever get sick and tired of the whole business?
Dr. Ruth: Not yet. But I tell you something interesting… it’s a good question, Richard. You know why? At home I talk very little about sex. At the dinner table, in a restaurant and people start to… want to talk a little about that, I say no, I only talk about sex on television and on radio. The rest of the time I want to talk about literature, I want to hear about movies. I would love to make another movie. You should… you write a script for me.
Heffner: I’m not going to write a script because you’ll then give yourself the name Mrs. Heffner again and be…
Dr. Ruth: But I didn’t do that… they did that in Paris.
Heffner: But you’re the begging the question a little. Do you ever think in terms of the future of Dr. Ruth? Move away from this thorough going involvement?
Dr. Ruth: Yes. No. Because of my interest in the larger picture I’m right now did a proposal for an academic book on the issue of how sexual morals and attitudes are being formed, cross-culturally. That’s what we are doing right now and I have a couple of academic presses interested in that and that’s exactly to answer your question… because if I stay now and only will remain within those confines I eventually will say to you, Richard, I don’t want hear the word penis or vagina any more. So that’s why I’m doing that. Also I’m doing it because I do want to advance the scientific knowledge about these issues. But I still will keep my private practice and help those premature ejaculators and men with erectile difficulties.
Heffner: Will you stop… will you stop pointing your finger at me?
Dr. Ruth: Because you said that before, Richard.
Heffner: I know that you like to talk about this.
Dr. Ruth: It may be a little shocked that Richard Heffner says premature ejaculation.
Heffner: On the air, no less.
Dr. Ruth: On the air.
Heffner: Don’t forget, this program is called The Open Mind. Look, I remember 30 years ago when The Open Mind began and we did two programs on homosexuality. And there were those in the New York community after the first one said they were going to sue for the revocation of the license of Channel 4. Then called WRCA- TV because we had the temerity to mention the word and to do a program on the subject. Almost a PG- kind of program, so I, I know the changes, the… the… in our mores. What interests me is that a few weeks ago Catharine MacKinnon, the feminist, was here at this table. She talked about pornography and I wonder whether you are bothered by the extent to which pornography is distributed in this country.
Dr. Ruth: No.
Dr. Ruth: No. I tell you why. For me, pornography is only when it involves violence or children. If a man walks into my office and says he can only be sexually aroused by using children, I do not give him a second appointment, I send him to a psychiatrist. If…anything that has to do with violence… I couldn’t treat a sadist or a masochist, masochistic couple. I have certain boundaries of my competence. Anything that deals with violence, I’m very concerned about. Anything that deals with violence on the television screen of ours is terrible because how many people are getting shot every minute, that you and I talk. Sexually explicit material, even when it’s very explicit, I welcome. I say to my clients to rent those movies. And I’ll tell you something, I don’t tell them to buy them . Because I know that if they have watched the same video three times it becomes boring and not sexually arousing. I’m the first one to say buy Playboy, buy Penthouse, anything that helps to make your sex life more interesting.
Heffner: Do you think there is much pornography that isn’t related to violence in some way or other?
Dr. Ruth: Yes.
Heffner: To some level or other?
Dr. Ruth: Yes. Because some of these sexually explicit movies have all kind of sexual fantasies, things that you or I would never engage in, like group sex and all of these kind of things. It’s alright for fantasies. I tell women use a whole football team, in your bed, if that helps you to concentrate and to be sexually aroused in your mind. But… so I am not…you know what else, I wish that the people who did that report on the Meese Commission…
Dr. Ruth: I wish that they had used their good brains and their time and the effort and the money to find the best contraceptive available and to find a cure for AIDS instead of wasting all of this energy for such reports.
Heffner: But in doing so, they do seem to be responding to a need and a desire on the part of the American public.
Dr. Ruth: How often do you hear lately what the Meese Report… I have read it, sexually very arousing. It’s the most sexually arousing book of literature that you can find because they took out the best passages from so many other books. Do you hear any talk about it? I do not.
Heffner: Indeed not.
Dr. Ruth: And that’s what makes me very sad because we have these brilliant minds and yet what they wasted two years.
Heffner: But you don’t think that they are responding to some public demand?
Dr. Ruth: No. No. I believe that what we ought to do is to create more sexually arousing movies and films for adults.
Heffner: Well now that…
Dr. Ruth: Without violence.
Heffner: …now that you’re in Hollywood, maybe you’re going to do just that.
Dr. Ruth: No. That’s not for me, I’m too old.
Heffner: Dr. Ruth, I do want to thank you for joining me here today on The Open Mind…
Dr. Ruth: Thank you, Richard.
Heffner: Come back again.
Dr. Ruth: Anytime.
Heffner: And thanks, too, to you in the audience, I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, today’s subject, please write The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”
Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation; The W. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; The Mediators and Richard and Gloria Manney; The Richard Lounsbery Foundation; Mr. Lawrence A. Wien; Pfizer Inc.; The New York Times Company Foundation.