‘Ask Dr. Ruth’– Pioneering sex therapist and Holocaust orphan
She’s been called “Grandma Freud,” a diminutive, German-accented author, academic and TV and radio personality who set people straight with frank sex advice and preached that “there is no such thing as normal.”
But Dr. Ruth Westheimer – aka Dr. Ruth – is also a mother, grandmother and German Jewish refugee who lost both parents during the Holocaust but went on to a productive life and career as one of the country’s best-known sex therapists, a story told in the Hulu documentary “Ask Dr. Ruth,” premiering Saturday, June 1.
Directed by Ryan White (“The Case Against 8”), the 100-minute film follows Westheimer as she approaches her 90th birthday in her longtime New York City home and revisits her painful past and unlikely path to a career at the forefront of the sexual revolution. Footage, animation and interviews with family and friends help tell her story.
What comes through is a woman who has managed to live a happy life despite the troubles and tragedy she has experienced, which, as she told a recent gathering of journalists in Pasadena, Calif., she attributes to her upbringing.
“The first 10 years of my life, we’re in a loving family,” she explains. “A mother, a father, a grandmother that lived with us – we lived with her – another set of grandparents. So the early socialization of my life was very successful in terms of religion, from an Orthodox Jewish home. … I believe that’s what helped people to survive becoming an orphan … .”
Back in the 1980s when Westheimer was a mainstay on radio and TV with shows such as “Sexually Speaking,” “Good Sex! With Dr. Ruth Westheimer” and “You’re on the Air With Dr. Ruth,” much of her advice revolved around performance issues such as premature ejaculation and female orgasm. But today, she finds Millennials have more emotional concerns.
“Most questions are (about) loneliness,” she says, “about not finding somebody to share their lives with or their experiences with, not just sex. And also, what I’m very concerned about is … that young people are going to lose the ability, the art of conversation. Everybody is sitting with their phones.”