February 21, 2006

Dr. Ruth Entertains

Print More

When Jewish student leaders announced that a “Hook up with Hillel” carabiner keychain was part of a goodie bag they had put together for the visiting speaker, said famous sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer. “Don’t hook up, just fall in love.”

Despite Westheimer’s reputation for candid and often explicit discussion of sexual practice and health, love and healthy relationship-building were recurring themes during the 78-year-old Jewish grandmother’s talk yesterday evening to a standing-room-only Statler Auditorium crowd.

According to Westheimer, the point is “sexual literacy,” to know about sex so that knowledge can be used in the context of a relationship.

Broaching topics from orgasm, to penis size, to oral sex – “some men think that it’s dark down there” – Westheimer also drew vigorous applause for comments in support of abortion and women asking men out on dates.

“I checked out the bar mitzvah box, the box to stand on, and it’s fine, I can see you,” the sex-pert said to an eager and engaged crowd. Westheimer is 4’7″ tall.

The goal of the talk, said the doctor, was to convince her audience that by discussing the subject of sexual literacy, they could change culture and society.

“The one thing I’ve learned is to stand up and be counted for what I believe in and that is in part why I am able to talk about this so explicitly.”

Standing up for one’s principles was a theme that Westheimer, who escaped Nazi Germany as a child, sounded throughout the night.

“Coming out of Nazi Germany,” she said, “I told you I’ve learned that you have to stand up and be counted. So, the two things that I’m going to tell you are controversial. But it does not matter where I talk, if it’s at Notre Dame university, if it’s in Washington to a republican breakfast, I say the same thing that I’m telling you.”

Commenting,”I would be very upset if abortion has to be illegal again,” Westheimer elicited a thunderous round of applause to die down before continuing.

“Not as a contraceptive, but if there is a contraceptive failure. Before July 1, 1970, before abortion was legalized in New York State for example, only women with money could obtain an abortion, because they could fly to Mexico and to Europe. The others resorted to abortionists and to coat-hangers, and I would be very upset if we had to go back to those years.” she said.

Another major topic addressed was that of homosexuality. The doctor urged respect for people of all sexual orientations and discussed different aspects of sexual practice and health, with a focus, in keeping with her theme of sexual literacy, on dispelling myths.

On the relevance of the size of a man’s penis to his ability to pleasure a woman, Westheimer said, “The vagina accommodates penises of all sizes – except if it’s miniscule.”

She also discussed STD’s and the fallacy of using the so-called withdrawal method of contraception.

“Before any ejaculation occurs, there is a preejaculatory droplet of liquid. That droplet of liquid contains thousands of spermatozoa. And how many are needed to get pregnant?”

“One,” was the lackluster answer from the crowd.

“One fast one,” Westheimer replied to laughter.

Despite her candid treatment of sexuality, Westheimer stressed that she was at heart “old fashioned and a square,” citing the Hebrew word, “tzniut,” for the Jewish concept of modesty.

“I don’t want any student to call home and say to your mother, ‘Do you have orgasms?’ I don’t want any student to call home and say to your father, ‘Did you get it up last night?'”

That said, giggling, according to Westheimer, is perfectly permissible. Citing a Jewish tradition, she commented that a lesson learned with humor is one that is retained.

Beyond sex, the talk delved into relationships.

“It’s perfectly all right for a woman to ask a man out. She just can’t fall to pieces when he says, ‘No, I have to wash my hair,’ ’cause that’s what she pulled,” Westheimer said. The doctor likened asking a crush out on a date to being a turtle. If a turtle wants to move forward, she said, it has to stick its neck out.

Westheimer hosted a dinner before her talk for students who had won seats in a Hillel raffle. Students who would be unable to attend Westheimer’s later lecture were allowed to write anonymous questions for Westheimer out on index cards. The questions were read out loud by Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director of Hillel at Cornell. “See how I can talk about ejaculation while I’m eating? It’s an amazing thing,” Westheimer said.

The event was organized by Cornell Hillel and sponsored by David ’91 and Cheryl ’91 Einhorn, who also sponsored the Shabbat 1000 event, a giant Shabbat dinner in Barton Hall, and an appearance by Jerry Greenfield, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s, earlier this year. Malka Benjamin ’07 and Daniel Baer ’08 organized the event.

“[Westheimer] was adorable,” said Stephanie Herschaft ’08, who attended the dinner. “I heard she was short, but she was tiny