On the eve of her 90th birthday, the legendary sex therapist Dr Ruth starred in a documentary reflecting on her life and career. She talks to Michele Manelis.
Your documentary is called Ask Dr Ruth. So what is the most common question people ask you?
I don't get so many questions anymore about fellatio or about women not knowing how to have an orgasm. Those subjects were my trademark. But looking back, I'd get a lot of questions from homosexuals who said, "I can't tell my parents because they're going to kick me out of the house. What do I do?" And my answer was, "Keep your mouth shut. Go to a large university and then to a large city and you will find other people."
Have you ever heard from any of those people you advised?
Yes. Just the other day, a man in a restaurant came up to me and he said, "Dr Ruth, before you leave, I need to talk to you." He said to me, "I called you when I was in the 11th grade, and told you that I felt attracted to men and that if I told my parents, they would kick me out of the house. You said, 'Keep your mouth shut and finish high school, go to a large university and then to a large city.'" And guess what he said? He said I saved his life. That made me feel good.
You're 90 years old. Do you ever get tired of talking about sex? Does anything make you blush?
I never get tired talking about sex, ever. But if some people talk about some positions, like anything violent, not only does it make me blush, but I say, "Next question!" If somebody says something about animals, I say I am not educated in that area. In the Jewish tradition, it says, a teacher learns from their students. And that's why I am a professor at Columbia University's Teacher's College. I am teaching a course and in every course, I am learning something myself.
What's the best advice you ever received?
In the Talmud, in the Jewish tradition, it says, "Unless you speak with humour, it's less entertained." In other words people remember their university professors if they used humour. The professors who do that guarantee you'll remember what they said.
What are you concerned about these days in modern society?
I am very concerned about the art of conversation that has been lost. Everybody has their iPhone at all times. You sit in a restaurant and you can watch people and they don't talk to each other anymore; they're just interested in their iPhones - they think the world is going to stop if they hang up their iPhones. So that's very important. I'm also concerned about the issue of loneliness. Loneliness is in all age groups - younger people, older people, widows, widowers, divorced, separated.
Do you think today's world is getting more repressed when it comes to sexual attitudes?
In America, even though they have somewhat different morals than maybe Sweden or Denmark, we have the best scientifically validated data about human sexual function. What is happening in today's society, we need to do more research. Previously we had Kinsey, Masters and Johnson and, as you saw in [Ask Dr Ruth], Doctor Helen Singer Kaplan, who was my mentor, had the best knowledge on these subjects. What we also need is more advice about loneliness, more advice about relationships. I am going to emphasise this in [my] book, Sex for Dummies. We don't necessarily need more information about how to have an orgasm because you can read that in my books but also what to do if you have difficulties obtaining or maintaining an erection. Many more people these days know about that because they watch television and they watch movies but we still have to talk much more about relationships and about how to make sure that people find the person to share their life with - not necessarily to marry but to share their lives.
You have two books coming out. Can you tell me about them?
One is Sex for Dummies and one is a children's book. Sex for Dummies is being re-issued with some more chapters, so it's a new edition. The other is a children's book about diversity. It's called Crocodile, You are Beautiful. I am telling the crocodile we are all the same and I am also telling a little ant - a tiny little ant, even shorter than me - that you should be happy to be an ant because if they co-operate, if they work together, they can build bridges.
In Sex for Dummies will you mention online dating? And what about Tinder?
I don't have anything against any of the online dating apps but I do have something against one-night stands. Nobody can tell me that that is a good thing and I am worried about sexually transmitted diseases. I don't want to hear that there is medication against Aids, I don't want anybody to have Aids. I also don't want people to be disappointed. For example, you have a one-night stand and you have wonderful sex and they are not going to call again? That's it? So, I am saying, "Don't be stupid, don't go to bed with somebody who tells you how wonderful you are without having a relationship." Women think, "Oh, he gave me a wonderful orgasm, so he must be calling the next day." Not true. It is true that women today don't have to get married in terms of survival and it is true that they are professionals. They don't need to have a man in order to have a child either but I think that most people want to have what is called is "a significant other" and want to have somebody in their life. That is true for both the gay community and the heterosexual community, they want someone they can rely on.
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The documentary Ask Dr Ruth starts screening at cinemas later this month.