Ask Dr. Ruth

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Ask Dr. Ruth Movie Poster Image
Docu about famous therapist has sex talk, cursing.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There is no "normal." Don't be embarrassed about who you are sexually. If two consenting adults are involved, everything is OK.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dr. Ruth has always been a bold, unashamed, encouraging voice who sees no shame in discussing sex and sexual dissatisfaction. She may have gained her strength from enduring the trauma of losing her beloved family and surviving the Holocaust.

Violence

The Nazis killed Dr. Ruth's family. Although she was sent to a Swiss orphanage for protection, she was treated like a second-class citizen there because she was Jewish. She was forced to clean the house and care for Christian children who were also residents.

Sex

No sex or body parts are shown, but sex talk is frank. Dr. Ruth has worked as a sex therapist in private practice, through her radio and TV shows, and through her books, with intention of putting people at ease with what were once thought of as embarrassing situations and terms not uttered in polite company. She asks people what arouses them and encourages them to communicate with their partners to achieve sexual pleasure.

Language

"Vagina," "penis," "sex toys," "vibrator," "orgasm," "clitoris," "erection," "ejaculate," "breasts," "blue balls," and "s--t."

 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ask Dr. Ruth is a 2019 documentary about sex therapist, radio host, television pundit, and author Ruth K. Westheimer. At 91, she's a pioneer of frank sex talk, famous for schoolmarm-ishly forcing talk show hosts to utter such words as "erection" and "vagina" in her quest to ease a squeamish American public into comfort with their own bodies and with the ordinariness and universality of sex. No sex or body parts are shown, but the sex talk is direct. Dr. Ruth helpfully describes sexual positions with exacting specifications in response to radio show callers looking for help in achieving satisfying sexual lives. Language includes "penis," "blue balls," "clitoris," "orgasm," and, briefly, "s--t." The Nazis killed Dr. Ruth's family. Although she was sent to a Swiss orphanage for protection, she was treated like a second-class citizen there because she was Jewish.

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What's the story?

At four-foot-seven, German-born sex therapist, author, and talk show host Dr. Ruth, as she has been called since radio audiences first had trouble pronouncing her three-syllable last name, likes to remind us that "size doesn't matter." In ASK DR. RUTH, her unrelenting buoyancy, good cheer, optimism, and sheer physical stamina are clearly not diminished by her age (91) or stature, and she likes to assure everyone that the dimensions of the male phallus have nothing to do with a man's ability to sexually please a woman. The pleasure of sex is her focus, assuring callers to her show and readers of her books that everyone can achieve sexual satisfaction. She encourages the use of "marital aids" (sex toys, vibrators) if one is so inclined and especially recommends both partners articulate their needs and preferences rather than suffering dissatisfaction in silence. "Show how you need to be touched," she suggests to the reluctant. She offers sex positions designed to make both partners happy, and for decades she has assured listeners and readers that "there is no such thing as normal." Gay or straight, she's for it, as long as both partners are consenting. And she has long seen denial of sexual realities as a public health hazard, teaching young students about AIDS and condom use and arguing in favor of abortion rights. Her courage in the face of disapproval and her enthusiasm for helping everyone achieve pleasure may come out of the loss of her parents to Nazi violence and her own survival of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. She continues to follow a breakneck travel schedule and associates decades her junior complain it's hard to keep up.

Is it any good?

One can't help but love a grandmother who's out there stumping for universal pleasure, and there's plenty of that in this film. "Don't just sit and suffer," Dr. Ruth exhorts. "Don't fake it. Do something about it!" In the 1980s, when she first started publicly offering solutions to people's sexual woes, her advice was startling and embarrassing to some, but Ask Dr. Ruth reports how often she hears from fans who credit her with "saving" their lives, marriages, and self-esteem.

Although she tells Gloria Steinem that the feminist's pioneering work "allowed people like myself to talk," Ruth's daughter and granddaughter still wrestle with Ruth's refusal to call herself a feminist because she takes issue with radical stridency and mythical "bra burning." She wants men and women, gay, straight, trans, to stand up for their rights to be healthy, happy sexual beings in a society that has long kept sex, female desire, homosexuality, and gender otherness under wraps. "Give her an orgasm!" she advises one puzzled guy. "If you don't know how to do that, I'll teach you."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how much more common candid sex talk is today than it was 40 years ago. What forces do you think have contributed to it? Do you think overall it has improved lives, degraded them, or had no effect one way or another? How did you feel about the sex talk in Ask Dr. Ruth?

  • Do you listen to music with openly sexual lyrics? How do you feel about them?

  • Do you think Dr. Ruth's efforts to make people less embarrassed about getting help for sexual problems has helped some people accept themselves in a way they couldn't achieve before she opened up the discussion?

  • Why are so many people uncomfortable talking about sex? 

Movie details

  • On DVD or streaming: May 3, 2019
  • Director: Ryan White
  • Studio: Hulu
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run time: 100 minutes
  • MPAA rating: NR
  • Last updated: June 25, 2019

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