Volume 94, Issue 44

Thursday, November 16, 2000


A conversation with... Sue Johanson

Same old Sandler

Play wimpers softly

Chowns knows his blues

A conversation with... Sue Johanson

By Rebecca Morier
Gazette Staff

From gonorrhea to dildos, there is perhaps no other person more trusted for answers to sensitive sexual queries than Sue Johanson.

And rightly so. For one thing, Johanson, a registered nurse who has been tagged "the Sex Lady," established the Don Mills Birth Control Clinic in 1970, the first of its kind in a North American high school.

Even after 30 years, Johanson clearly recalls the events leading up to this significant opening. "I was not working at all and I was a wife and mother. I became aware of this need and decided to open a birth control clinic for kids," she explains.

Upon recognizing this need in her community, Johanson wasted no time to act. "I read about one [clinic] in Sweden where they had used the health room of a high school, so I decided that was what we were going to try the same thing. I went to the Medical Minister of Health, who was also a Winnipegger and she said 'Yeah, that's a good idea,'" Johanson recounts. "I phoned the Board of Education, got a school and away we went. It all happened in one day."

Since then, Johanson hasn't looked back. To date, she has written three books (1988's Talk Sex; Sex is Perfectly Natural, But Not Naturally Perfect in 1990; and 1995's Sex, Sex and More Sex) and her columns also appear regularly in newspapers and magazines across the country. She has been teaching sex education for over 24 years, informing approximately 20,000 students each year in her presentations across Canada, including a visit to Western's campus last month.

Jeremy Brace/Gazette

But what really established her as a prominent figure in the Canadian sexual consciousness was The Sunday Night Sex Show, which first aired on radio from 1984 to 1998 and has appeared on the Women's Television Network since 1986. As Johanson describes, first getting her own radio program was exciting.

"In the very beginning, just the simple fact that it was a Toronto station [that aired the program] was exciting enough and then the fact that it was picked up and the ratings went sky high," Johanson says, enthused.

"Of course, Sunday night is prime time for radio because people are in their cars – kids going back to university from skiing and coming back from the cottage – it was just the perfect way to reach all those kids at 8 o'clock in the evening. They would tell me they plan their trip home so they catch The Sunday Night Sex Show," she boasts.

With an escalating listenership and an equally-growing number of regular viewers, Johanson wasn't phased in the least. "I didn't feel more pressure. What's the difference between one and a thousand? The pressure's the same," she contends. "You gotta be fast, you gotta be accurate, you can't lecture, preach or moralize and you can't schlep around."

In fact, Johanson has been hailed for her dedication to promulgating facts without barring judgement in a frank and often humorous manner. When asked whether or not her dispensing advice on the birds and the bees to many young people makes her feel like a surrogate mother, she responds with a chuckle, "More like a surrogate grandma."

So who taught Johanson the "ins and outs" of sex? "Nobody – that's why I decided to do it," she states, adding she can't imagine herself doing anything else. "But before I started, I had no idea where I wanted to go. I just stumbled into this."

As many of her faithful followers would argue, she couldn't have stumbled into a better field. Although she has been professionally answering sex-related questions for over 30 years, Johanson doesn't get tired of answering many of the same questions.

"Whenever I go to speak, I always get the G-spot question and the bum sex question, but that's fine. And if there's a question I can't answer, I always write it down and do the research during the week so that I can give the answer on the following Sunday's program."

Johanson's dedication to her work is apparent. Despite receiving a plethora of questions on a regular basis, she still recalls some callers and their particular queries. "The ones that register in my brain are the ones that hit me and hurt," she states, recounting an incident where a young man, who was sexually assaulted on a Friday, held off from seeing a doctor and instead, waited until Sunday night to call in to Johanson's show for advice. "This young man was sexually assaulted anally, had his genitals put to a lighter and was afraid to urinate," she explains. "He didn't go to a doctor – not even an emergency room – but waited two days until he could call in to the show. That really stuck with me."

Jeremy Brace/Gazette

Realizing the impact she has made on the lives of many people, Johanson remains humble. "Kids say to me, 'You've taught me everything I know about sex. If it wasn't for you, it would've been awful.' Those are things that I hear but, you know, it's impossible to gauge whether I can take credit at all," she says, almost sheepishly.

Still, Johanson doesn't deny her own popularity and recounts what happened to her one morning while shopping in Toronto. "I was driving along Yonge Street when a cop car on the opposite side of the street swerved his car and began driving on the wrong side, headed toward me," she begins, obviously tickled.

"I pulled over and the cop came out of his car and walked toward me. Then he asked me if I was Sue Johanson and when I said 'Yes,' he told me that he and his wife watched my show together every Sunday! It was funny."

Although Johanson acknowledges that she can't go to the post office or grocery store without being stopped and asked questions, she takes it all in stride. When asked if a sense of responsibility or an onus to the public as an educator is what keeps her going at a haywire pace, she chalks it up instead to a personality trait.

"I'm a ham – it's as simple as that," she announces, matter-of-factly. "I wish I could say it was something else. When I go onstage, crack a joke and get that first laugh, there's no better feeling. I just love hamming it up."

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Copyright The Gazette 2000