“Sex is a joyful thing,” says Watsa, “but a number of writers tend to become rather medical and serious.” Rather than taking the scientific or moral high ground, he prefers to put the reader at ease with a witty one-liner. As a columnist for the past 50 years, Watsa has been privy to the deepest, darkest sexual fears of his countrymen and women. His replies are short, sharp and to the point – occasionally bruising, often hilarious. But whether he chastises or reassures, with every shared reply he educates his readers. “I’m talking their language, they accept it better,” he says. “The man talking to you is one of you.”
He gets about 60 letters and emails a day and responds to them all. “People who got married and are unable to consummate, or women writing they are no longer in love,” he says. “I try to help them.” Over the years he reckons he has answered more than 35,000 queries – long enough to spot the fake ones. “One knows when someone is trying to pull your leg or whether they are really genuinely in trouble,” he says.
Watsa was first asked to write a Dear Doctor column back in the 1960s by a woman’s magazine. He was in his late 30s and had recently qualified as a doctor. “I didn’t have much experience, I must confess,” he says.
For the first few months the questions were of a general medical nature – about childhood diseases and so on – but then a different kind of letter began to arrive, from distressed young women in remote areas. They told him that an uncle or an elder had interfered with them when they were teenagers, and now they worried that they would not be married because they’d lost their virginity. “Many even suggested that they’d commit suicide,” says Watsa. “This thing about the hymen being intact is very important in this part of the world.”