Ask Dr. Ruth
By David-Elijah Nahmod, June 2019 Issue.
There are a few
things that Dr. Ruth won’t say. In Ask Dr. Ruth, a delightful new
documentary from filmmaker Ryan White, the good doctor assures the camera that
no one will ever know who she’s sleeping with or how much money she has. Beyond
that, you can expect just about anything from Dr. Ruth.
“You should insert the penis into the
vagina from behind,” she says matter-of-factly during one of her television
appearances. Her bluntness makes some audience members giggle. Talk show host
Arsenio Hall blushes as he’s prodded by the doctor to say “vagina” on the air.
One man is so shocked by Dr. Ruth’s frankness that he tries to put her under
But most people adore the cute, folksy
grandmotherly type with the thick German accent. She makes it okay to talk
about topics some consider to be forbidden.
She doesn’t judge. And the advice she gives
“Don’t worry about her past,” she says to
one young man who’s concerned that his girlfriend has had too many bad relationships
before she got together with him.
You can say anything to Dr. Ruth. One man
bemoans the size of his 14 inch penis, which he says frightens the women he
Ruth tells the whole
story of this unusual woman’s life. Born Karola Ruth Siegel to Orthodox Jewish
parents in 1928, the film recalls what began as an idyllic childhood in
Frankfurt, Germany. But young Ruth’s innocence was shattered when the Nazis
forcefully took her father to a labor camp. Ruth’s mother and grandmother sent
her to an orphanage in Switzerland where she was able to escape the horrors of
the Holocaust — she never saw her family again.
In one of the film’s most moving sequences,
Ruth visits Yad Vashem, the world Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, where
computer files verify what she already knew: that her entire family were
murdered by the Nazis.
As someone who understands all too well the
harm that hatred and bigotry can do, Ruth becomes a champion for people who are
viewed as “subhuman.”
Her rise to fame in the 1980s, which began
with a midnight radio show called “Sexually Speaking”, coincided with the onset
of the AIDS epidemic, which hit the gay community especially hard. Ruth finds
herself answering a question from a man whose girlfriend has a lot of gay
friends. He’s afraid that she’ll pick up the disease from them and pass it
along to him. Holocaust survivor Ruth refuses to stigmatize anyone.
“I don’t waste my time blaming people,” she
For all her celebrity, Dr. Ruth is a simple
woman. She still lives in the same cluttered, two bedroom apartment in New York
City that she’s called home for 54 years, the apartment where she lived with
her husband of nearly 40 years and raised her children. It’s a comfortable
apartment, filled with mementos of a life well lived. Though her husband has
since passed on, she maintains a close relationship with her children and
“He would love to have seen his
grandchildren grow up,” she says of her husband, one of the few times she lets
her private emotions show.
Now 90 years old, Dr. Ruth has yet to slow
down. She continues to make television appearances, write books, teach college
courses, and speak frankly about everyone’s favorite topic, sex. You can still
ask Dr. Ruth anything about sex, and she’ll cheerfully give you a
As a film, Ask Dr. Ruth is a
treasure. It’s a peek inside the mind and psyche of a remarkable woman who’s
made a memorable impact on society.
There’s never been anyone quite like Dr.
Ruth. It’s highly unlikely we’ll see anyone like her again.
Ask Dr. Ruth begins
streaming on Hulu on June 1.