Dr. Ruth has interviewed thousands of people about their sex lives -- and she says the most common relationship problem hasn't changed since the 1980s

Courtesy of Amazon PublishingIt’s important to be realistic, says Ruth Westheimer.
  • Ruth Westheimer, a psychosexual therapist, started the public-radio program “Sexually Speaking” in 1980.
  • Westheimer, widely known as Dr. Ruth, says too many people have unreasonably high expectations for their relationships and sex lives – and that it hasn’t changed since the 1980s.
  • Westheimer emphasised the importance of being realistic while still being hopeful.

The world of sex and relationships has changed a lot since 1980 (see: Tinder).

And yet, in some ways, it’s stayed very much the same.

I recently spoke with Ruth Westheimer – better known as Dr. Ruth – and she told me that as long as she’s been a psychosexual therapist, people’s expectations for their relationships have been too high.

Westheimer, 89, started the public-radio program “Sexually Speaking” in 1980, and it catapulted her to international fame. She’s now an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College and the author of dozens of books, including, most recently, “Stay or Go: Dr. Ruth’s Rules for Real Relationships.”

Too many people have “expectations that cannot be met,” Westheimer said, adding that those expectations often are influenced by media.

“Hollywood and the movies tell us that the stars have to be twinkling every night,” Westheimer said. “That’s not reality of life.”

Westheimer’s thoughts on tempering your expectations echo those of Diane Sollee, a marriage educator who was interviewed by Ellen McCarthy for the book “The Real Thing.” McCarthy writes:

“[Sollee] wants couples who are getting ready to walk down the aisle to know – really know- that it will be hard. That there will be times when one or both of them want out and can barely stand the sight of each other. That they will be bored, then frustrated, angry, and perhaps resentful.”

These unattainable expectations play into people’s sex lives as well. Westheimer said people tend to expect multiple orgasms or think that “a man can have an erection like you see in sexually explicit movies” – though she says she hears these complaints slightly less often today than she did 37 years ago.

It’s crucial, she said, for people to be “sexually literate.”

That said, Westheimer isn’t advocating low expectations for relationships or sex lives. Her philosophy? It’s important “to be realistic, but to still have hope.”

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