At 4’7”, Dr. Ruth Westheimer is officially a midget — but though she had to stand next to Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld in order to get the attention of the audience at yesterday’s Master’s Tea, she still got a rise out of the audience.
Westheimer addressed a packed crowd in the Davenport common room Monday afternoon at a talk entitled “Speaking Sexually with Dr. Ruth.” Westheimer, who is teaching a Davenport and Calhoun college seminar this semester, discussed a variety of provocative issues, including masturbation, abortion and homosexuality.
Westheimer repeatedly described herself as “old-fashioned and a square,” but said issues of sexuality had to be described in “very explicit terminology” to make understanding possible. She pointed to the example of unintended pregnancy, arguing that there are fewer unintended pregnancies in the United States because of a relatively open atmosphere that does not exist in other countries.
She also said that no age was too early to begin educating a child about human sexuality, and that parents should respond truthfully — and immediately — to their children’s questions.
“There is scientific data and knowledge available to us that we can use to dispel myths about sexuality,” she said.
Westheimer was born in Germany and sent to an orphanage in Switzerland at the age of 10. When she was 17, she moved to Israel and was trained as a sniper in the Israeli military. After her military career, she moved to France to teach, before arriving in the United States and obtaining a degree in sociology and education .
Westheimer did not hesitate to answer questions from the audience about sex. While most audience members chose to ask their questions starting with the phrase “I have a friend who,” others asked questions on their own behalf.
Donte Donald ’09 said Westheimer’s appeal lay in her willingness to discuss issues that were often regarded as uncomfortable and inappropriate for a large group setting.
“She is an elderly woman who is incredibly frank about sex,” Donald said.
Many students said they appreciated Westheimer’s forwardness.
Casper Defeux ’10 said that he was pleased with Westheimer’s approach and that the presentation benefited from her light, humorous approach.
Schottenfeld, in line with student opinion, said the issues Westheimer addressed were “critical topics that needed to be talked about in a wider audience.”
Westheimer was the author of “Sex for Dummies” and has made appearances on radio and television programs like “The David Letterman Show.”