Ruth Westheimer

How a Jewish grandmother forever changed America's ideas of sexual education and literacy.

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Musically Speaking: A Life Through SongAfter working in a number of positions involving sex education, family planning, and sex therapy, Westheimer found her niche when she did a guest appearance on a local radio show. The audience response was so positive that she was soon hosting her own show, Sexually Speaking. Beginning in 1980 as a fifteen-minute embellishment to the station's schedule, it quickly expanded to an hour and finally to two hours.

Westheimer proved to have a real genius for communicating joy in human sexuality while at the same time informing her audiences about responsibility, sexually transmitted diseases, and safe sex. The diminutive woman with her appealing accent was equally successful on television. She hosted her own program--variously called Good Sex! with Dr. Ruth Westheimer, The Dr. Ruth Show, and Ask Dr. Ruth--but her national reputation came from appearances on such network programs as Nightline, CBS Evening News, the Tonight Show, and Late Night with David Letterman.

In 1983, Westheimer published her first book, Dr. Ruth's Guide to Good Sex. Since then, she has written twenty-six others, including her autobiographical works All in a Lifetime (1987) and Musically Speaking: A Life through Song (2003).

Sex and Judaism

In 1995, Westheimer coauthored Heavenly Sex: Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition, with Jonathan Mark. Drawing on traditional Judaic sources, it grounds the famous sex therapist's philosophy in Orthodox Jewish teaching. While some have suggested that the authors ignored the darker side of the classical Jewish dialectic on the subject, it is difficult to ignore the cultural significance of both the book and Dr. Ruth.

As David Biale asked, "What does it mean for America's best-known sex therapist to make Judaism the basis of a contemporary sex ethic? If Freud had claimed to have created the science of sexuality by destroying the 'illusion' of religion, Dr. Ruth reverses the course: It is precisely on the basis of religion--Judaism--that a truly healthy contemporary science of sexuality might be constructed."

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Kathleen Thompson

Kathleen Thompson has worked for 20 years in education and publishing and is the author of more than 100 books for juveniles, including Portrait of America, a 53 volume set of books that accompanied Turner Broadcasting's television series. She received Best Books for Youth award from the American Library Association in 1974 and the Gold Camera award from the U.S. Industrial Film Festival.