Dr. Ruth Gives a Lesson in Sex Ed at the Metropolitan Museum

She found much evidence of arousal in a painting by Courbet.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer.Photo:Patrick McMullan.
Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
Photo:Patrick McMullan.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, sex therapist, Holocaust survivor, trained sniper, and memoirist, found herself at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art recently, as we learned from a video that popped up on YouTube yesterday. She was talking about—what else?—sexual arousal in art.

The minute-long video shows Westheimer checking out Gustave Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot, which was exhibited at the Salon in 1866, the year it was made, and, according to the Met, drew critiques of poor taste. The canvas shows a full-figured woman with loose, wavy hair, lying nude, a colorful bird perched on her fingers.

Westheimer, Andrew Lear, and a detail of Gustave Courbet's <i>Woman with a Parrot</i>. <br>Photo: YouTube.

Westheimer, Andrew Lear, and a detail of Gustave Courbet’s Woman with a Parrot.
Photo: YouTube.

“How do I know that she’s aroused?” Westheimer asks. “Because her nipples are erect, which is an important lesson to be taught.” She goes on to explain that men, too, experience erect nipples. This sometimes scares them, she says, but they shouldn’t panic.

It all happened as part of a titillating museum tour, “Shady Ladies of the Metropolitan Museum,” led by Andrew Lear, president of Oscar Wilde Tours, which offers gay-themed educational visits of cities around the world. Lear has taught at Harvard, Columbia, and New York University. “Shady Ladies” focused on high-end prostitution in places like ancient Greece and during the Renaissance, French and English royal mistresses, and fallen women.

Westheimer recommends Lear’s tours, and adds, “Take your time. Don’t rush it. Have a cup of coffee before.”


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