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Paging Dr. Ruth: A Brief Encounter with America’s Best Sex Therapist

I am going to ask Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the legendary 79-year-old sex therapist who stands no taller than Frodo Baggins or Yoda the Muppet (four feet, seven inches), if she is the perfect Blowjob Height. Before I harass the near-octogenarian … Read More

By / November 16, 2007

I am going to ask Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the legendary 79-year-old sex therapist who stands no taller than Frodo Baggins or Yoda the Muppet (four feet, seven inches), if she is the perfect Blowjob Height.

Before I harass the near-octogenarian about whether she can perform oral sex while standing, however, I listen to her November 7 speech at the Museum of the City of New York on the Jewish Daily Forward's "Bintel Brief" column. Forward Web editor Daniel Treiman explains in his introduction that the Brief was the first newspaper advice column, started in 1906 to address the questions of the immigrant Jewish community. Typical questions included how to get a get (Jewish divorce decree), how religious spouses could share a home with nonreligious spouses, and sometimes whether others in the community would adopt babies that poorer families could not support.

The Brief was the Craig's List of its day, and illiterate Jews would often pay professionals to write letters for them. The Forward revived the column as the "Bintel Brief Blog" this year, with Dr. Ruth as the inaugural poster. Yes, Dr. Ruth is Jewish-her parents were "killed by the Nazis" and then she fought in the Israeli war of independence as a sharpshooter. "I was a sniper," she tells the audience. "Watch out!"

When the Forward announced Dr. Ruth's guest blogging, "There were so many comments of delight and excitement, itching to hear what she has to say," Treiman says. (When I think of GILFy Dr. Ruth, I feel delighted, excited and itchy too.)

Dr. Ruth says that the Brief paved the way for American advice columnists and celebrity therapists. "Bintel Brief replaced uncles and aunts and grandparents who would have given that advice," she says in her thick, luscious German accent. "People like myself couldn't do these comments-on TV, on radio-if not for our ‘grandparents.'" The Brief writers were "not trained psychologists, not trained social workers," but "trusted friends" who doled out wisdom to "poor Jews, not educated, like we see on Fiddler on the Roof, whose primary goal was to survive."

She believes that modern society is lacking the kind of community that the Brief fostered.

"With Bintel Brief, people didn't feel alone," Dr. Ruth says. "I see the danger [today] because we don't live anymore like people on the Lower East Side. People don't know their neighbors or talk to others on the subway. But don't start a sexual relationship on the subway! Please, at home!"

After her speech, the audience asks questions. She acknowledges the "tremendous issue of intermarriage," but dismisses it because when young Jews go to college, "We shouldn't be so surprised that they meet other people." Orthodoxy can be an aphrodisiac because waiting a week after menstruation to have sex "can mean a fantastic sexual experience after." Even some Hasidim come to her for advice because "[i]n the Jewish tradition we should not spill the seed in vain, so there are ways to discuss premature ejaculation," Dr. Ruth says with a laugh. "The sages in the Jewish tradition, sex was not considered a sin-it was considered a mitzvah. That permits someone like me to speak about orgasm and erection." (Oh, you naughty girl.) I want to ask my question-about Dr. Ruth's physical stature-but I chicken out during the Q&A. She races out of the room like a munchkin on PCP to get to another event, but I follow her outside to her car. I haven't shaved in a week, and I look (and feel) incredibly creepy stalking her like this. But I must know.

"Dr. Ruth," I say, "I've always wanted to ask you something. A short woman and a tall man, when she's–"

"It's OK," Dr. Ruth says without any hesitation, clearly answering the question for the billionth time. She ducks into her sedan and vanishes into the Manhattan night.

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