If you hear the word “rhythm” in the same sentence as “Dr. Ruth,” you may be more inclined to think about sex than music. But judging from her latest book, “Musically Speaking: A Life Through Song” (Penn Press, 2004), renowned psychosexual therapist Ruth K. Westheimer is just as eager to discuss songs as sexuality.
At a talk and book signing at the Penn Bookstore on March 25 the effusive author and New York University professor stood before a rapt audience to chat about the music that has accompanied her colorful and nomadic life and given her hope when she’s needed it. Westheimer recalled fond memories of her childhood in Frankfurt, Germany, through the songs she heard in the synagogue. Patriotic Swiss songs marked a more tumultuous period when she lived at a children’s home in Heiden, Switzerland, during World War II. “In those days I didn’t know I would become a sex therapist,” she said, adding with characteristic good humor, “but I was already very interested in boys.”
While teaching in Israel, Westheimer met her first husband and moved with him to Paris, where she fell in love with the songs of Edith Piaf and Marcel Mouloudji. “It was another way of getting to know the French,” she said.
When that marriage ended in divorce and she moved to New York, Westheimer told her audience, she was too busy attending grad school and raising her daughter to pay attention to much of the jazz and popular music of the late 1950s. “There was a whole time in my life when music was not important to me at all,” she said, adding that one exception was the John Denver ballad, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” made popular by Peter, Paul and Mary. “The words, ‘don’t know when I’ll be back again,’ really resonated.”
Answering questions about both music and sex, Westheimer insisted that despite her hardships, she remains an optimist. “Cut a CD for the people in your life,” she said, and then added with a smile, “and have good sex for the rest of your lives.”
Originally published on April 15, 2004