Beloved Sex Educator Dr. Ruth Westheimer Is Getting Her Own Documentary

This may be hard to imagine in these dick-laden times, but not very long ago it was rare to even hear someone say the word “penis” on television, much less get an eyeful of one. To quote Lindsay Lohan: Oh, the story changes.

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As a sex educator with her own show and inimitable presence in pop culture, Dr. Ruth Westheimer was one of the few reliable “penis”/“vagina”-sayers on television in the ’80s. Thank god for her then, thank god for her now. She’s 90! She fled the Holocaust! And, like Joan Rivers, Carol Channing, Olympia Dukakis, etc., she’s hit that win/win milestone of being immortalized in a biographical documentary that we all get to enjoy.

Ask Dr. Ruth is set to premiere in a few weeks at the Sundance Film Festival and will stream on Hulu later this year. Ryan White, best known for directing/producing Netflix’s The Keepers, directed it and the trailer is above. “I have an obligation to live large and make a dent in this world,” she says. “At 90, still talking about sex, from morning to night.”

Some Pig. Terrific. Radiant. Humble.

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DISCUSSION

Jerry-Netherland
Jerry-Netherland

This promises to be really good. Dr. Ruth is the cat who’s lived several very distinct lives, all successfully (and hopefully she’s got a few left).

I imagine it’s hard for today’s under-40 crowd to grasp just how significant her contribution to normalizing open discussions about sex was. Nobody talked frankly on television (or in “polite company”) about the myriad sexual identities and sexual problems that are today discussed fairly openly. In fact, prior to Dr. Ruth’s TV breakout in the 80s, such things were always the subject of late night jokes (which would not be considered funny anymore because - thanks in a large part to her efforts - most people realize we’ve all got some unique quirk or kink or problem, and thus, she liberated the butt of the joke to being a matter for empathy). But to show a variety of dildos and discuss why you need the right one - and do it cheerfully but in absolute seriousness? This was a wall she busted down.

Oddly enough, she emerged at around the same time as The Golden Girls hit TV. That show was considered groundbreaking because by putting sharp and edgey dialogue in the mouths of familiar and beloved older actresses, TV censors allowed them to get away with material that couldn’t have been touched on any other network sitcom by younger actors.

Bravo Dr. Ruth for really making a difference.

One more thing: I remember visiting with my in-laws in Spain in the 1980s, and my MiL had a half-read women’s magazine (like a Ladies’ Home Journal sort thing) sitting open to a page she’d been reading. It was Dr. Ruth’s column (in either Catalan or Spanish). Dr. Ruth had gone totally global, so it’s fair to say that her achievements reached way farther than just the North American audience.