Did Dr. Ruth Just Okay Rape?

On the "Diane Rehm Show," the famous therapist says people can't change their minds once their partner is aroused.
Dr. Ruth. Photograph via Featureflash/Shutterstock.com.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer visited the Diane Rehm Show Monday to plug her new book, The Doctor Is In: Dr. Ruth on Love, Life, and Joie de Vivre. During the interview the famous sex therapist expressed her views about consent. “I know it’s controversial, but for your program I’m going to stand up and be counted and, like I do in the book, be very honest.”

She continued:

I am very worried about college campuses saying that a woman and a man–or two men or two women, but I talk right now about women and men—can be in bed together, Diane, and at one time, naked, and at one time he or she, most of the time they think she, can say “I changed my mind.”

No such thing is possible. In the Talmud, in the Jewish tradition, it says when that part of the male anatomy is aroused and there’s an erection, the brain flies out of that and we have to take that very seriously, so I don’t agree with that.

(Bolded text indicates the point at which a famous sex therapist appeared to OK rape.)

Rehm called a break and later asked Westheimer to revisit that point: “that is, young people on college campuses and the concern about at one moment being in an aroused situation and then hearing the young woman say ‘No.’ What you’re saying is it’s already gone too far.”

Westheimer agreed. “You’re putting it very well.” After a digression about people having sex under the influence of alcohol, she continued:

I’m saying people who think about when they want to go and have a sexual experience to make sure they’re protected from sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies and that they cannot say at one time at the height of arousal just when he is very aroused, strong erection, when she’s very aroused, either he or she cannot change their mind.

I know it’s controversial. But I have to stand up and believe for what I believe in. I know it has something to do with Title IX, the money that goes to universities. I’m very worried about that. And people like you and me, who have this power who have this power, especially you right now on NPR, of the airwaves, do have to talk about that.

“Indeed,” Rehm told Westheimer, “I think there is a great deal to what you’re saying.”

Westheimer has expressed these ideas previously: In an interview with Haaretz this past March, she made the Talmud point and said, “The idea of consent is nonsense. Except consent before they are naked in bed.”

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously the news editor and lead media reporter for the Poynter Institute, arts editor for the now completely vanished TBD.com, and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.