An Interview with Dr. Ruth


After seeing Becoming Dr. Ruth last week, I was even more intrigued by the real Dr. Ruth than before.  Everyone knows Dr. Ruth Westheimer from her career as a pioneering radio and television sex therapist. Few, however, know the incredible journey that preceded it. From fleeing the Nazis in the Kindertransport and joining the Haganah in Jerusalem as a scout and sniper, to her struggles to succeed as a single mother coming to America. I recently asked her a few questions about the show, her life and more.

TCM: What is it like seeing yourself portrayed on stage in the city you love and have lived in for many years?

DR: Every time I see the show I pinch myself.

TCM: The show takes place in a NYC apartment.  How similar is it to your own?  

DR: Thanks to Nate Berkus my apartment is in much better shape but originally I used to have a lot of stuff around.

TCM: You’re a  Holocaust survivor.  How often do you think about the family you lost and that time in your life?  Did that experience formulate your desire to work in a profession where you can change lives?

DR: I think of my family every day. I wanted to be a doctor but the war took that away. Yes, I did want to be in a helping profession and luckily I’ve been able to help a lot of people.

TCM: In Israel, while serving in the Haganah, you were badly wounded when a cannon shell fired from Jordan fired into your student residence. How did that incident impact your future choices and how did living Israel during the War of Independence shape your life?

DR: I love Israel and go back every year. Between not being killed by the Nazis and almost being killed by that blast, I make sure to live life to the fullest.

TCM: When you came to America, you immediately started studying to prepare yourself for your future career. Were you as passionate then as you are now about what you do?

DR: When I came to America I had no idea that I would be a sex therapist.

TCM: Your 1980 radio show broke records.How come people were so hungry for someone to talk about sex then? And how have things changed? 

DR: In the 1980s, my show was 15 minutes late at night and who knows how many people listened. It was not until it went live the next year that I started to have an impact. People have learned a lot about sexual functioning and while I wasn’t the only one giving this message, I’m proud of the role I did play. But people still have questions and there remain too many un intended pregnancies so there’s more teaching to be done.

TCM: Do you think you would have been given the same opportunity today? How do you think the times have changed for women in the past 85 years?  Do you consider yourself a feminist?

DR: Since I was one of the first to talk openly about sex on the air, and today it’s much more common, it’s difficult to say what would happened if I just arrived on the scene. I certainly wouldn’t have made the splash I did. The word feminist has many connotations, some of which I don’t agree with and some I do but I am certainly thankful for the progress women have made.

TCM: In this age of hyper-sexualized media (like Miley Cyrus), and kids experimenting at a younger and younger. What is the message we need to send to our kids?

DR: To slow down. Kids these days are rushing into sex thinking that they’re ready just because their bodies are capable of having sex but in many cases they’re not ready. Many young women are engaging in sex but not getting sexual satisfaction. To me that says they are not ready.

TCM: How do you stay current? Have you read “Fifty Shades” or watched “Masters of Sex” on Showtime?

DR: I most definitely read “Fifty Shades” and I try to stay as current as possible, at least when it comes to sex. I’m not as familiar with pop culture but I’m delighted when stars like Paul McCartney or Elton John or Bono recognize me.

TCM: What are your hopes for the show and how many times have you seen it?

DR: I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, probably more, and I’ll be seeing it a lot more. My hopes for the show is that it continues for a long, long time. Even if it closes in NY it has a chance to go on the road so I hope many, many people see it because I think Mark St. Germain did a great job and I really

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  1. I remember what an impact Dr. Ruth made on television; making it easier than ever before to talk about sex, and doing so in a way that wasn’t threatening to anyone. Wonderful interview.

  2. Oh my goodness- what a cultural icon. Great interview!

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