Dr. Ruth Westheimer, noted therapist, author, and visiting professor at Princeton and Yale, discussed her two new books, Musically Speaking: A Life Through Song and Conquering the Rapids of Life: Making the Most of Midlife Opportunities, at the Wilson Center on Wednesday, November 12.

Musically Speaking is a warm and contemplative book about the role music has played in her life and the ineradicable traces it has left on her thoughts, emotions, and life experiences. Dr. Ruth was the only child in an Orthodox Jewish family in Germany. For the first ten years of her life, the comforting melodies of childhood helped drown out the anthems of Nazism to be heard elsewhere in her native Germany; as an adolescent refugee in Switzerland, she came to be aware that, however loudly she sang the patriotic songs of the land that gave her shelter, she could never truly be at home there.

Present at the creation of the modern state of Israel, she sang and danced to the new music of a new nation; as a young woman eagerly absorbing all that Paris had to offer in the way of romance and worldliness in the early 1950s, the songs of Edith Piaf, Mouloudji, and Yves Montand were her tutors. An almost accidental emigration to America brought new challenges and new stability, as she became a wife, mother, and professional; tremendous and unforeseen celebrity came later, and with it the giddy opportunity to indulge her love of music as never before.

Dr. Ruth emphasized the tremendous capacity music has had to humor her, arouse her passions, and uplift her in difficult times. She strongly urged everyone to create a CD containing the music that has filled their own lives, as a record for themselves and their children and grandchildren.

In Conquering the Rapids of Life, Dr. Ruth discusses the key differences (and similarities) in the physical and emotional experiences of men and women in the midlife and senior years, how to develop healthy feelings about aging despite popular social attitudes, how to cope with changes in fertility, sexual performance, and desire, as well as decreased physical sensation, and a host of other topics relevant to middle aged persons.

Dr. Ruth pointed out that there has never been more scientifically validated data about sexuality than there is today. Unfortunately, she said, too many people are unaware of important information regarding aging and sexuality. Dr. Ruth argued that better sexual education programs—both for children and the public at large—are essential tools for combating numerous social and personal problems relating to sex. The desire to educate, Dr. Ruth explained, is what has motivated her throughout her own successful career.