In a country with Puritanical roots, a tiny Jewish woman named Dr. Ruth Westheimer was able to break all sorts of taboos and talk about sex frankly on both radio and cable TV in the 1980s and 1990s.
“I’ve had a great opportunity in this country to make a dent in the knowledge of sexuality,” the now 89-year-old said in an interview with the AJC in 2015. “That’s been wonderful.”
She believes today women are far more sexually satisfied than they were in the 1980s. “There are more men who know what do,” she said. But people, she said, still grapple with boredom in the bedroom.
Born in Germany to Orthodox Jews, she was sent to an orphanage at age 11 in Switzerland after the Nazis took her father. By the end of World War II, she learned her parents had died in the Holocaust.
She later studied psychology in Paris and moved to the United States in 1956. She was a professor for many years before starting her radio show “Sexually Speaking” in New York in 1980.
Known as “Dr. Ruth,” she quickly grew a following nationwide, her German accent and sweet grandmother-like approach leavening content that might otherwise cause listeners to blanch. The Wall Street Journal described her accent as “a cross between Henry Kissinger and Minnie Mouse.”
She is just four-foot-seven but never found her height a hindrance: “One thing about being so short is that’s why I was a good sniper in the Haganah (an underground Jewish military organization in the late 1940s). At the Sorbonne, (where she trained as a psychologist) it was so crowded in the classroom a good-looking man man lifted me up on the window sill. I’ve always made the best out of being so short.”
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