The Current

Your smartphone is ruining your sex life, says renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth

Dr. Ruth Westheimer has been offering advice on sex and intimacy for decades, and she's not done yet. She speaks to Anna Maria Tremonti about a new documentary on her life and career, and why she thinks our smartphones are ruining our sex lives.

People are too addicted to screens to have a conversation, radio personality warns

Dr. Ruth Westheimer says people are too focused on digital devices to make space for sexual arousal. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)
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Originally published on May 13, 2019.

Our obsession with technology is ruining our sex lives, warns the globally respected sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

"Everybody is lonely, watching a screen and getting addicted to it, because they think, 'Who knows what's going to happen on that screen that I'm missing,'" said Westheimer, who became famous in the 1980s for her frank discussions about sex.

"They don't have a free thought to get sexually aroused, to make time for sex," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

As a result, people aren't having conversations and we "lose looking at each other," she said.

"We have to tell people … put that iPhone aside, make sure that you talk to each other, because it has an impact on your relationship and it certainly has an impact on sex."

She is the subject of a new documentary, Ask Dr. Ruth, which goes on general release May 17.

Westheimer is the subject of a new documentary that charts her life from Nazi Germany to answering the world's questions about sex problems. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

Westheimer, now 90, started her career as a celebrity sex therapist with a midnight slot on a New York City radio station in the 1980s. She quickly became known for her frank and honest answers to people's questions about their sexual problems.

She credits her success to her training — at Columbia and Cornell universities in New York — and her distinctive accent, which meant listeners recognized her voice as soon as they turned on the radio.

"I had what's called in Hebrew chutzpah — which means nerve — to really talk openly about things that people did not talk about."

Escaping the Holocaust and becoming a sniper

Westheimer was born in Germany in 1928, where she said she spent "10 and a half years in a loving family."

That happiness was shattered when she went to live at a children's home in Switzerland in 1939.

Watch Westheimer recall the last time she saw her father:

Westheimer remembers the ‘horrible black boots’ of the men who took her father away 1:41

As a child, Westheimer was part of the Kindertransport, where thousands of predominantly Jewish children were sent from Germany to Great Britain, Switzerland and elsewhere to hide from the ravages of the Second World War, and the horrors inflicted on Europe, and European Jews, by Adolf Hitler.

Her father had been arrested by the Nazis the year before, and he and Westheimer's mother would both die in the Holocaust a few years later.

"I sometimes as a child had the fantasy that if I had stayed in Frankfurt, that maybe I could have saved my family," she told Tremonti.

"Nonsense — if I had stayed, I wouldn't be around."

After the war, she went to Palestine, where she served as a scout and sniper in the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary group that was a precursor to the Israeli Defence Forces.

Westheimer speaks to The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. She says she doesn't want anyone to be lonely. (Andrew Nguyen/CBC)

"I had never had to kill anybody, however I could have," she said.

"I knew that Jews have to have a country of their own."

She thought she'd live her life in Israel, but left to study in France and eventually settled in the U.S. in the 1950s.

Her experience of the Holocaust, Westheimer said, made her feel she had "to make a dent in society."

"I have to make some kind of contribution because over a million Jewish children were killed by the Nazis and I was saved because I was sent to Switzerland," she said.

Watch Westheimer describe why it's important to put your phone down:

People need to make time for conversation, Dr. Ruth Westheimer tells Anna Maria Tremonti 2:31

Westheimer turns 91 in June and is still working and writing. Last year she published three books and has another one due this year.

She explained that her traditional Jewish upbringing once made her favour married, heterosexual relationships, but now she just hopes no one is lonely.

"One of my aims in life is to see everybody in a relationship. I don't care if they do get married or not married, [or are] homosexuals," she said.

"We have to make sure that every person gets respect, respect is not debatable."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler.

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