If you were exposed to mass media in the last few decades and ever thought about sex, you probably know who Dr. Ruth Westheimer is. Good Ol’ Freda director Ryan White’s documentary Ask Dr. Ruth tells the story of the diminutive, nonagenarian sex therapist who was a fixture in pop culture in the 1980s and 1990s. White delves into how losing her parents to the Holocaust, a fate Ruth narrowly avoided when her parents sent her to a Swiss orphanage in 1938, ultimately led to her becoming professionally sex-positive long before that term existed.
Ask Dr. Ruth never comes across as hagiographic because it never feels like there’s much dirt on her in the first place, and she certainly had some good ideas that never caught on, such as “blue lips” as the female equivalent of blue balls. The film points out that her success spawned further televised Doctors Firstname — mostly quacks like Laura, Oz, and Phil, unfortunately — but that doesn’t change the fact that she came along at a time when she was most needed. The election of Ronald Reagan sent the cultural pendulum swinging back toward repression, and most Americans weren’t comfortable talking about sex in the first place, but Dr. Ruth made it OK — and you can’t ask for a better legacy.
Not rated. Opens Friday at the Clay Theater
[Note: Ask Dr. Ruth was originally slated to screen at Opera Plaza.]