Doctors and nurses should initiate discussions about sexual problems with their patients if they think such difficulties are relevant, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the world-famous psychosexual therapist told professionals at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem on Wednesday.
Westheimer, the diminutive, 81-year-old German-born Holocaust survivor who has helped make talking openly about sex legitimate in the US and elsewhere, was informed that only now had the medical school introduced a course for third-year students on sexual issues - and that there had still been "some problems."
As Israel has such conflicting value systems, beliefs and cultures, she advocated introducing such courses carefully.
"I'm old-fashioned. I don't believe in putting blatant photos on the walls to desensitize the audience. Just talking is enough... You should have multidisciplinary teams for sex education," she said.
A former Israeli who fought with the Haganah and was wounded in 1948 - requiring treatment from orthopedic surgeons at Hadassah Hospital - Westheimer stressed to the packed auditorium the importance of sexual literacy for physicians and others in the healthcare. She was introduced by HU Medical Faculty dean Prof. Eran Leitersdorf, who noted that she was an associate professor at Cornell University and is now at New York University, as well as a fellow at Yale and Princeton universities and an active researcher, therapist, speaker and teacher.
"You doctors don't have to be sex therapists," she said (preferring English after a few sentences in fluent Hebrew), "But you have to be able to talk about it," as healthy sexual functioning in the family is very important.
Westheimer added that she had noticed positive changes in the US in recent years: The number of unwanted pregnancies is declining and women are more aware of the fact that they have the "right to be sexually satisfied and have to take responsibility for it."
However, she was very worried about the growing presence of of "sex clubs" for heterosexuals and homosexuals in the US that she predicted would undoubtedly increase the prevalence of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
She added that Jewish sages over the generations "had many good ideas" about sex and what men and women want and need. The "Woman of Valor," which praises the woman of the house and is sung before the beginning of the first Shabbat meal, was a perfect way to put her in the mood for intimacy later that night, as was the reading of the Song of Songs, she said. But there were also some that weren't so good, such as Judaism's strong condemnation and punishment of homosexuality, which was not a voluntary chosen lifestyle, she added.
Westheimer, who confessed that as a child in Frankfurt she thought that "babies were delivered by storks when you left a cube of sugar outside the window," said that doctors - as well as parents - should always be open to questions about sex.
Although in some cases, she said, such as when clients come to her office with problems such as depression, alcoholism or sadistic or masochistic tendencies, she sends them straight to a psychiatrist because she does not feel able to treat them.
After answering a number of written questions submitted by the captivated audience, "Dr. Ruth" was left speechless by the last query: "How come you don't come to teach at Hebrew U?"