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Sue Johanson, who spoke out about sex with authority, dies at 92

Sue Johanson, who spoke out about sex with authority, dies at 92

Sue Johanson, the outspoken, bawdy, and popular Canadian sex educator and host of the long-running television call-in show “Sunday Night Sex Show” and its American counterpart, “Talk Sex With Sue Johanson,” died June 28 at the hospital facility up north torontos. She was 92.

Her death was confirmed by her daughter, Jane Johanson.

Sue Johanson dressed demurely, often in blazers and wire-rimmed glasses, but she had the timing and instincts of a comedian, which defused the hot topics she broached. (At demonstrations, she had a way of spreading condoms—she was an evangelist to them—like a clown making balloon animals.)

And like dr. Ruth Westheimer, the Holocaust survivor and former Israeli sniper-turned-sex therapist, became a midlife media star for Ms. Johanson, a registered nurse and mother of three who had run a birth control clinic in a public high school for nearly two decades .

“I wasn’t young,” she said in Sex With Sue, a 2022 documentary about her, directed by Lisa Rideout, with Jane as her mother’s interlocutor and creative advisor on the film. “I wasn’t beautiful. I didn’t have great tatas. I was a mother with a lot of information.”

Is it weird putting body glitter on your boyfriend’s testicles? Is hot tub sex safe? Could a Ziploc bag double as a condom? Are condoms still good if left in the car and frozen? Answer: No. No (chlorinated water is too aggressive for the genitals, especially those of women). Definitely not. And yes, once they’re thawed.

Questions poured in every Sunday night about straight sex, gay sex, masturbation, and all sorts of fetishes, fantasies, and fears. At the show’s peak, in the early 2000s, almost 100,000 calls were answered and screened by operators, although only 10 or 12 were aired on any given night.

Manufacturers of sex toys shipped their goods by the box. Ms. Johanson divided them up for road testing among her young crew — “The Unofficial Sex Toy Testing Facility of Canada,” as she called them — and demonstrated their attributes at her desk by stuffing them into her “Hot Stuff” bag, a black tote , grabbed adorned with flames to snag the latest deals. “The good, the bad, and the ugly,” she liked to say. (Makers tended to gild the lily, like the company that made a vibrator with a camera on top. “It gives a whole new meaning to ‘I’m ready for my close-up,'” Ms. Johanson said flatly.)

As a child of the Great Depression, she was frugal and cost-conscious, often presenting homemade alternatives. Why not turn on your cell phone ringer to vibrate, put it in your panties and let your friends call nonstop?

“I remember her giving a cucumber a hand job,” Russell Peters, the Canadian comedian, said in the documentary. “I’ve never seen a cucumber like this.”

Ms. Johanson began her radio broadcasting career with a hugely popular show on a rock station that ran for more than a decade. Sunday Night Sex Show first aired on Canadian television in 1996. In 2002, broadcaster Oxygen commissioned an American version to run right after the Canadian show so American callers could have their chance. US audiences are more shy and naïve than Canadian audiences, Ms. Johanson told The New York Times’ Mireya Navarro in 2004; They seemed to lack basic knowledge. Many young callers wondered if they could get pregnant through oral sex.

“MS. Johanson said she couldn’t ride the subway in Canada or stand in a grocery line without being asked an answer that would make even the frozen chicken blush,” Ms. Navarro wrote. “But in the United States, a much larger market, her growing fanbase seems almost shy but mostly grateful.”I find Americans to be so polite and respectful that it’s wonderful to be recognized,” she said. “People will look at me and say, ‘Hi, I love your show.’ And that’s where it ends.”

However, she was celebrated on the American talk shows, where she appeared with Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, whom she scared one night with the contents of her hot things bag: Inside was a vibrating one Rubber ducky, a dildo she strapped to her chin, and a handmade, hand-powered vibrator she made out of a bubble-wrapped tin can and a tube sock.

“You’re like a perverted MacGyver,” said Mr. O’Brien, appalled.

“I see sex as a gift from God,” Ms. Johanson told Ms. Navarro. “We’re the only ones who can really enjoy sex, so we have a duty to learn about it and enjoy it.”

Susan Avis Bailey Powell was born on July 29, 1930 in Toronto. Her mother, Ethel (Bell) Powell, was a homemaker. Her father, Wilfred Bailey Powell, was in the Royal Canadian Air Force and held various jobs. Her mother died when Sue was ten and she was largely raised by an aunt.

She met Ejnor Karl Johanson, an electrical inspector, on a blind date just before she attended nursing school at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg; They married in the early 1950s and moved to Toronto to take over her aunt’s real estate business.

Ms. Johanson opened her birth control clinic in 1970 after a friend of her eldest daughter became pregnant in high school and performed an abortion, then largely illegal in Canada. “Children engage in sex without their parents’ consent,” she told a reporter in 1983, “so they should be able to get contraceptives without their parents’ consent.”

Throughout her career, high school and college students have been her greatest concern. She was a tireless speaker, regularly attended the freshman orientation each fall, and visited hundreds of high schools each year. Her husband, Jane Johanson said, was a reserved, reserved man, the opposite of his social wife, but he handled her career and fame with grace and “took it like a champ.” He died in 2014.

In addition to her daughter Jane, Mrs. Johanson is survived by another daughter, Carol Howard; two grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Their son Eric died in 2021.

Ms Johanson also wrote a magazine column and was the author of three books: Sex, Sex and More Sex, Sex Is Totally Natural But Not Inherently Perfect and Talk Sex: Answers to Questions You Didn’t Tell Your Parents can ask”. .”

In 2000 she was awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honor for pioneers in her field.

Ms. Johanson’s Canadian show went off the air in 2005, and the American version in 2008. It was about time: the internet had become the go-to place for sex solicitations. As Dan Savage, the sex columnist, put it in the documentary about Ms. Johanson, there was a Wikipedia page for every device and every sex act, and Ms. Johanson felt she couldn’t keep up with the times. At 77, she was ready to end it but was sad.

“There’s going to be a big hole in my heart,” she said in a broken voice as she presented her final episode in May 2008. “I love doing this show.”

She added, “I’ll close with the same condom quickie we ended the first show with 174 episodes ago: Sex gets sweeter when you wrap your Peter.”

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