Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the diminutive, 86-year-old sex therapist whose frank discussions of sexuality delivered in a high-pitched German accent made her famous in the 1980s, told an audience of Israelis in Tel Aviv last week that they can “have a great time” having sex during war, even in a bomb shelter.
Dr. Ruth delivered her talk to the Tel Aviv International Salon on Wednesday, July 16, the day before Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza. Westheimer, who was raised in a Swiss orphanage to escape the Nazis but whose parents were both killed in the Holocaust, made sure to tell the crowd of about 600 who gathered to hear her latest round of sex advice that they shouldn’t have sex in a bomb shelter if there were other people present.
Her comments came in response to an audience-submitted question, “What is the appropriate best position for sex in a miklat?” with “miklat” being the Hebrew word for bomb shelter.
“I would say never in the miklat if there are other people,” Dr. Ruth replied. She added, however, that she was skeptical that people could achieve the state of arousal necessary to perform sexually during a rocket attack.
“I doubt that you can have an erection while worrying about the siren,” the psychologist said. “But if you are one of those men or those women who can switch off their worries and think about sex, then have a good time.”
Dr. Ruth, before she was “Dr. Ruth,” served as a sniper in the Haganah — the underground paramilitary organization that existed in Israel before the country was officially founded. In Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, she was severely wounded by an artillery shell and was left unable to walk for months.
“For Jews, sex has never been a sin, it’s always been a mitzvah,” she told the audience. But she urged the Israelis to practice sex only while in committed relationships.
“I’m talking about relationships and commitment. Did you hear me? Commitment,” she stressed.
Dr. Ruth also addressed whether the perils of wartime actually increase the human sexual desires.
“Not necessarily,” she said, in a one-on-one conversation with a reporter from Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper. “Sometimes they go down, it really depends on the person.”
For all of her blunt discussion of sexuality, Dr. Ruth suddenly became coy when confronted with questions that could have uncomfortable political ramifications. One questioner asked, “If Hamas focused on getting laid now instead of after they die, would there be less war?”
Dr. Ruth responded, “I am never embarrassed to say I don’t know.”
When a Jewish audience member in a relationship with an Arab asked Dr. Ruth what to do when the war puts a strain on the relationship, the iconic sex therapist said, “come and talk to me in my office.”