Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who has been dispensing sexual advice to adults for years, is now going to host a cable-TV talk show for teen-agers.
"Sex is not the main thrust," Westheimer said of the weekly series that debuts today at noon on the Lifetime channel. "What I'm really after is a celebration and an exploration of the teen-age years. . . . I hope adults watch it: They are going to learn how great our young people are despite the pressures."
The main purpose of "What's Up, Dr. Ruth?," she said, is to help teen-agers overcome the conflicts and questions they encounter during their often intense and confusing adolescence.
"Adolescence is a very stressful period," Westheimer said. "Many (teen-agers) experience the height of their sex drive, and they have anxiety about what to do with their lives."
It's a new twist for the internationally known psychosexual therapist, who in the past has directed her sexual advice to adults through a variety of outlets, including her now defunct radio show "Sexually Speaking," the TV series "Good Sex!," the board game "Terrific Sex" and her most recent book, "Sex and Morality: Who Is Teaching Our Sex Standards?"
She is no stranger to teen-agers, however: In last year's Heroes of Young America poll of 8th- through 12th-graders, the 61-year-old Dr. Ruth was named favorite female news maker.
She said her own children--Mariam, 32, and Joel, 25, whom she raised alone for about six years before she married Fred Westheimer--played a large part in preparing her to host a teen show.
The sex talk in her new show, the German-born therapist claimed, will be mitigated by an exploration into a wide variety of subjects--from how teen-agers cope with living in broken families to steroid abuse and the pressures they face trying to achieve high scores on their college entrance exams.
Lifetime says it has not heard from anyone complaining because it was using a sex therapist to host a show for teen-agers.
"We feel the program is providing a valuable service to today's teens and a forum for their special concerns," senior vice president Pat Fili said. "Parents can actively use the program as a starting point for conversations with their teen-aged children. We support the program wholeheartedly and do not feel that it is offensive."
On the first of the 26 shows that Lifetime has ordered, Dr. Ruth will talk about how teens and their parents react to heavy-metal music. Members of the heavy-metal band "Anthrax" will be on hand, along with their mothers, to discuss their music.
"How does a mother react when her child joins a heavy-metal band?" Westheimer asked. "I probably would hit the roof, but the parents (on the show) said they know they have to leave some freedom to the kids."
Though guests will occasionally appear, she said, the series will consist for the most part of discussions among the teen-agers in the audience.
On next Saturday's program, Westheimer focuses on peer pressure, discussing with the audience how to respond to sexual pressure on dates, the differences between sex and love, and roles in relationships.
"I don't have the answers," she said. "I just raise the issues. . . . Well, maybe I have some answers."
She said that her stand on abortion, for example, will never change: "Abortion must remain legal. Especially for kids who can't afford to fly to Europe. I don't believe in it as a contraceptive, but when there is a contraceptive failure, the decision should be left up to the individual."
Another public stand she has taken is the matter of premarital sex: She said she believes in it only in loving and committed relationships.
Westheimer said that she is not worried that young viewers with emotional problems might be left hanging at show's end: "If they are truly unhappy, I stress ongoing therapy," she explained. "I tell them to go and look for help."