I had my third date with Dr. Ruth Westheimer—at BookExpo America, the annual publishing bash at the Javits Center. OK, “date” is a bit of bar-stool bravado; it was just the third time we met.
The first time was when I had a day job, as the president/editor in chief of Discover magazine, and we found ourselves seated at the same table for lunch at some industry function. When the waiter struggled to uncork a bottle of champagne, there was the predictable snickering around the table about how Dr. Ruth might have some advice for him.
Our second meeting was in Central Park. She was sitting by herself on a bench, and we had a brief chat.
A few years ago, I felt I really got to know her from her call-in radio show. I don’t think I would have discovered the show had it not been for my self-imposed experiment in seeing whether I could play chess as an adult without spiraling into the kind of solipsistic obsession that had haunted me as a child—the subject of my book King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game. On Wednesday evening I’d drive an hour and fifteen minutes from Woodstock to play in a tournament at the Middletown Chess Club. On the drive home, I’d often unwind from the game by listening, at 11:30 P.M. or midnight, to Dr. Ruth’s show.
But I remember only one question. A young woman called in and asked Dr. Ruth whether it was too kinky to indulge her boyfriend’s fantasy of threading donuts—glazed not powdered—on his you know what. The good doctor told her to go for it.
And, so at BookExpo, after roaming the convention floor for three hours, overwhelmed by the myriad of titles on display, I came across a mile-high stack of Sex for Dummies. I was amused by this addition to the Dummies line. Incredibly, there are 1,300 different Dummies titles, which have sold more than 150 million copies; I was told that Dr. Ruth’s book, which is now in its third edition, is the most viewed title at dummies.com. In Sex for Dummies, the speech bubble on the Dummies Man—the thoughtful-looking, triangular-faced dude who graces the cover of every book in the Dummies line—says “Try new sexual positions.” And to think that the whole series began with DOS for Dummies.
I happened on the stack of Sex for Dummies half an hour before Dr. Ruth was scheduled to sign them. But I was tired of walking around and, as someone who was freshly single after a decade of marriage (apparently I had failed to read Relationships for Dummies), I thought the book might even do me some good. It was a bit embarrassing, though, to be waiting at the front of the signing line (which soon numbered hundreds of people) among a group of matronly Midwest librarians. I passed the time perusing a copy of the book, and the unattractive person in line behind me kept apologizing for trying to read it over my shoulder.
When the diminutive sex expert finally arrived, one of the librarians said, admiringly, “Look at her! She’s looks great. She’s still alive and kicking.”
“I’m sure she’s doing a lot more than kicking,” a middle-aged man chimed in.
“Will there be demonstrations, Dr. Ruth?” a woman cackled. “We want demonstrations.”
Dr. Ruth ignored her. When she signed my book, I asked her what was new in this, the third edition.
“You’ll have to read it,” she teased, in her familiar energetic voice.
“But I don’t have the second edition. I want to know what’s changed.”
“Just read it!” she commanded.
There must be new material, I thought, in chapter 15, “Keeping up with Cybersex and Other Hot Stuff.”
Today America’s most beloved sex therapist and author turns 79. Happy birthday, Dr. Ruth!