Midterms in university suck. Studying constantly for "Developmental Psychology: Childhood Through Adolescence" or "A Survey of Modern Asian History" really gets to you after a while, and drives pretty much everything else including your name and social life from your mind. One thing that, try as I may, I couldn't seem to forget was this image in the back of my mind of an 83-year-old lady testing vibrators on actor Tom Selleck's (rather nice) mustache. Now, this isn't some weird confession to a daydream I've once had, it's a video I saw on YouTube. To top it all off, Conan O'Brien was in the background making a variety of disturbed faces and the 7 foot, 425 pound wrestler "Big Show" was giving a booming laugh overtop of it all. But hey, that's just Sue Johanson for you, no boundaries. She then went on to teach Big Show exactly why "bigger may not be better" when it comes to sex, and teach Conan some basic sex toys he can make at home. Keep in mind that when I watched this, I was an 18-year-old (just turned 19!), and Sue was 83. It wasn't weird to hear what she was teaching, just weird because of her age (no offence, Sue). But I'd have to say the thing that topped the whole video off was the knowledge that I would be calling Sue Johanson the next day. All I could think was "what the hell am I getting myself into", little did I know it would be my funnest interview to date.
Now, it seemed that everyone over the age of about 23 knew just who Sue Johanson was, including my parents. When I called my mom one day to catch up, I mentioned I'd be interviewing her. "You know, the lady from the show 'Talk Sex with Sue', my mothers reply was a laugh, and an 'of course I know who Sue is! How couldn't I'! Well, I was sort of confused. I guess she may of been more well known than I expected. From then on, when explaining my interview work to others, I'd bring up Sue and everyone would laugh and give the common 'really?! have fun with that one'! I was getting confused. I mean, an 83-year-old sex educator, I knew it would be interesting, but I didn't know just why everyone loved her so much. So I went to the ever trusty YouTube to see some clips of her show, and, well, Sue's just Sue. Let's say that. Finally, I had a way to explain her to people my age. The time had come, it was time to call Sue. "The Sex Lady", as my friends had come to refer to her as. So I sat down in my room, arranged my questions, and rung up her cottage number. Hilarity ensued.
Sue Johanson, photo retrieved from
Back in 1970, Sue Johanson started part one of the journey that, in my eyes, makes her a Canadian icon. I had read online (ever handy Wikipedia) that the then forty year old nurse opened "the first birth control clinic of it's kind in North America." But that's really all it said, which doesn't really explain anything. So, I started off our chat by asking just what that meant. It was a clinic just for kids, and it was 100% free. It provided services related to sex that children may of felt uncomfortable approaching family doctors for, with full anonymity, based out of a high school in the North York area of Toronto (Don Mills Collegiate). It provided children on the spot with contraceptives, pregnancy diagnosis, referrals, counselling, all without needing to talk to their parents. Now, I didn't really think that was allowed, or how a clinic like that would of been viewed, but in the span of the three minutes I had been chatting with Sue, I understood she wouldn't be offended in my asking. I learned two valuable things from her: first, in Canada, children of any age can be prescribed birth control without parental consent, and secondly, nobody ever voiced a concern about the clinic. According to Sue, "kids were having sex without a single clue about anything", so the free service was appreciated by many. Sue continued "we didn't even have to advertise, the grapevine among teenagers is absolutely awesome." An 83 year old describing anything as awesome is awesome in my books, this was the start of "that sex ladies'" journey. In the following 25 minutes, I learned Sue was so much more than that.
The realization of her's remained in her mind. Kids were having sex, but didn't know a thing. Schools weren't teaching anything, "and parents sure weren't", so she decided to go back to school herself and take all the courses she may need to teach it sex, in a school, but not as a teacher. She felt by not going in as a teacher, she could have more freedom. That's how Sue started speaking in schools as a nurse from the Department of Health, with one goal in mind. Teach sex, no boundaries.
She told me she started in high schools, but the real enjoyment came from public school. To Sue, the best was grade sixes. She told me she "LOVES, LOVES LOVES" grade sixes. She continued; "They're just so spontaneous, weren't shy, weren't bashful, just asked anything. They'd just put up their hands and say, Sue.. what's balls? So we went through... what's another word for balls? Nuts, they may say. Plunkers, they may say. Good. What else have you heard about them? Someone would say dink", and she would correct them, "No, that's not testicles, that's a penis". Just like that, no boundaries. Well, she was becoming more and more known, time for colleges and universities.
Photo retrieved from: http://www.nndb.com/people/699/000044567/sue-johanson-1-sized.jpg
Popularity for Sue was gaining fast, and soon speaking engagements in schools took her nationwide. After a while, she began her own radio call in show on Q107 out of Toronto, opening up her straightforward education to adults as well, which in itself was a hit. With it's affiliates across the nation, Sue was being heard around the nation, from St. John's, Newfoundland to Yellowknife, to Vancouver and US border cities, she didn't really care though, it was fun. From this, she started a television show (solely voluntarily, earning no income from it) on Rogers Television, doing about 50 shows a year. Although the show was only supposed to air in Toronto, she noticed something odd. She'd be walking down the street in Regina, Saskatchewan (whoa, just spelled Saskatchewan without spell-check), and people would notice her. It was then she learned her show was being "bicycled" around the nation. Meaning, they were showing it Canada-wide due to popularity. Man, Sue Johanson was becoming a big deal.
The Women's Television Network (WTN) asked Sue if she wanted to start a weekly show, which she agreed to (this was the show, I learned, that made her big). The Talk Sex with Sue program was a massive hit. I watched some clips, and needless to say, learned a lot. I mean, I'm sure anyone would. The problem with having radio and television programs 'simocasted' at the same time though soon arose. If she was using a flip chart to explain reproductive organs, or explaining the use of a sex toy, she'd have be way more descriptive on television than was needed for those listening on radio. Therefore, after 13 years, the radio show ended, "which was a shame." On record, I laughed when Sue mentioned sex toys. It may be immature, but hey, I'm young. It's funny when a senior mentions sex toys. From there, Sue was picked up by the Oxygen Network in the States. Over the span of half a decade, she was running two shows at once. A Canadian one, with Canadian callers, followed by an American one for American callers to call in with their questions. Sue was explaining sex North America wide, and couldn't be happier doing it. It's like a mindset I've always had, you never know if somethings going to work unless you try it. After 17 years on television though, things came to an end. New rules were implemented stating certain guidelines for what can be aired at certain hours, bumping Sue's show back many time slots. Unfortunately, her whole crew was volunteer and had other jobs to consider. A good thing came to and end, and she misses it terribly, more so, she misses the people she spent nearly two decades working with. I guess you never really think of things like that when a show ends.
I had to ask, "what were some of the things talk about most." Sue told me it all depended on age. For young boys, it was how to make their penis longer. For girls, either how to make their boobs larger or smaller. For women? Well, Sue just told "us women should receive an Academy Award for how dramatic we made our orgasms seem. They were cataclysmic, well at least that's what the men thought." So essentially, how to reach that better orgasm. She told me though today the emphasis is on intimacy and emotion (from both sexes), something she's very glad to hear. Two things I learned from Sue, that quite frankly are two of the most amazing things about her, I didn't find online. I would love to share them.
In season six of Sue's show, she introduced Dr. Keith Loukes to answer questions from homosexual viewers, an amazing addition in my opinion. She informed me if sex wasn't getting enough sex, homosexual sex was getting even less, so she was happy to include it. But the thing that touched me the most was a story she told me about her time during the AIDS epidemic. She knew many affected, and took them in to stay at her cottage where she was able to provide full care to them, whenever they may be in need. She told me she was a nurse, it was the least she could do. I think it's inspiring. Another thing she did was amazing in my opinion, and that was speaking in jails. In a complete volunteer role, she spoke at anywhere from Don Jail in Toronto to Kingston Penitentiary to groups of prisoners, explaining sex. To her, she say groups of uneducated men who really never learned the true, meaningful role of sex. Sue told me "those boys were so poliete to me, and I never had an issue. They always had great questions, and I was glad to answer." Sue saw people, as people. That's whats great about her. After her years of sexual education, Sue Johanson was awarded the Order of Canada in 2001 by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, an honour that meant the world to her.
But wait!! This is Sue Johanson we're talking about. We can't leave without something no-boundaries sexual. I asked Sue if their was anything that ever made her uncomfortable, and she replied no... but there was one question that sticks out, that when asked, she had to try as hard as possible to hold in her laughter. When I asked what it was, I couldn't hold mine in...
"Well, it was this 80 year old lady who phoned in. She asked me, 'Sue, what's the best way to give my husband good head with my fake teeth in.'"
Yup, that's Sue Johanson for you.
Sue leaving nothing to the imagination, retrieved from