One might not expect a 4-foot-7-inch former sniper in the Israeli army to become first a kindergarten teacher and then a sex therapist, or to quote from the Talmud before talking about sex.
But Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who spoke at a Calhoun College Master’s Tea in Calhoun College yesterday, manages to contain all of these amusing incongruities. In a lively talk to more than 60 people, Westheimer discussed her goal of educating students about the myths and realities of sexuality.
“I already know where the freshmen go in the library,” she interjected before Calhoun Master William Sledge got the chance to give his formal introduction.
Westheimer took a circuitous route to her present position as psychosexual therapist and host of “The Dr. Ruth Show,” a syndicated radio show.
“I don’t know if the walls of this Calhoun College have ever heard the words I’m going to speak,” Westheimer began, explaining that she speaks openly about sexual topics so that people will be informed.
“Everybody must be sexually literate,” she said, citing what she calls the “still too high” one million unintended pregnancies per year in America.
“I was really impressed with how comfortable people felt asking questions and talking about their problems,” Liana Epstein ’05 said. “I think that spoke well of the campus.”
Westheimer said that increased awareness of sexual issues has reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies. She added that people are becoming more informed both in the United States and in countries like Israel, Germany and France, where she also gives talks.
Westheimer said that society has progressed from the days of Victorianism, when sex was not discussed openly and women were not expected to enjoy sex.
“The Victorian Puritan mother told her daughter, ‘Lie back and think of England. Don’t expect orgasms,'” Westheimer said.
While she repeatedly said she would not tell anyone when or if to become sexually active, Westheimer warned against having sex while drunk or because of peer pressure. She also said she supported people’s decisions to follow religious teachings about sexuality.
But when asked about the healthiness of celibacy, and how celibacy might related to the current sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, Westheimer demurred.
“I know that I don’t know,” she said. “In the Jewish tradition a man is supposed to be married, but I could understand if someone said, ‘this way he doesn’t have the burden of his wife and children.'”
She was not hesitant, however, to make clear her stance on the controversial issue of abortion.
“Abortion must remain legal, not as a contraceptive but as an aid for contraceptive failures,” Westheimer said. “I do believe that the more that we talk about these issues, the less [abortion] will be needed.”
Westheimer said it is important to debunk myths about topics like masturbation, saying that masturbation will not cause blindness or cause hair to grow on the palms of one’s hands.
“I talked to the Harvard Law School and plenty of those attorneys looked at their hands,” she joked.
During the question period, Westheimer spoke about a wide variety of issues related to sex and sexuality. She said she had not found evidence of the existence of the G-spot, explained that she is “old-fashioned” because she believes that a relationship is preferable to one-night stands, and said she watched “Sex and the City.”
“God forbid there should be something about sex and I don’t know about it,” Westheimer said.