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How Sue Johanson, Canada’s ‘grandma with a pottymouth,’ became the country’s leading sexpert

What does an old lady like Sue Johanson know about sex toys?

“The answer? A lot,” she tells the audience Sunday night sex showa colorful selection of adult products on the desk in front of her.

The scene will be familiar to generations of Canadians, who tuned in to hear the renowned sex expert talk about the birds, bees and more on Sunday nights. But this time it appears in the new documentary, sex with Sue, which looks back on the career and impact of the 92-year-old Toronto-born nurse on sex education.

“I was older, I was never seen as a sex kitten, I had the gift of the mouth,” explains Johanson in sex with suewhich premieres Monday on the W Network.

The documentary features interviews conducted between 2016 and 2018 with the popular Canadian personality, along with a legion of her admirers in media, comedy and the adult entertainment industry.

Since saying goodbye to her TV shows in 2008, Johanson has passed the baton — she’s always loved a good phallic object — to a new generation of savvy sex educators, using podcasts and TikTok to deliver the goods.

CBC News spoke to the creators of sex with sue and a new generation of sex educators walking the path Johanson paved for them.

Johanson appears on an episode of Talk Sex with Sue Johanson, an American spin-off of her Canadian call-in show Sunday Night Sex Show. (W network)

A granny with a pottymouth

The project began when Johanson’s daughter, Jane, decided to capture her mother’s memories through a series of home interviews. When she realized she wanted to professionalize her chats, she hired a director and documentary team.

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“She was able to teach in a way that had a bit of a shocking sense of humor,” the younger Johanson said, “so people would go, ‘Oh, what? Did she just say that word? Did she just do that with her hands? Did she just put that on a dildo with her mouth!?’ “

Johanson, a sprightly woman with curls of gunmetal gray and glasses on her nose, was an odd character on Canadian television: a “grandma with a potmouth,” as her daughter described it in an interview with CBC News.

In the live call-in program Sunday night sex show Beginning as a radio show and transitioning to television, Johanson answered pressing questions from a curious audience, tested sex toys from her “pleasure box” and spoke candidly about sex without a filter to viewers across the country.

The show aired for almost a decade, and an American offshoot called Talk about sex with Sue Johansoncatapulted her from a quirky Canadian phenomenon to international fame.

CLOCK | Sue Johanson Talks Sex Toys to Conan O’Brien:

She became a frequent guest on US nightly talk shows, sharing her “gift of vernacular” with the likes of Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and David Letterman.

“I grew up with it Sunday night sex showand Sue was my only meaningful form of parenting,” says Lisa Rideout, the Canadian director of sex with suesaid CBC News.

“You know, I was taught in school, ‘Don’t do it until you’re married.’ So I watched Sue sleepovers under the covers with my friends.”

“Her age has helped her speak openly about it”

A proponent of an informed, sex-positive public, Johanson addressed issues and demographics that were ignored by mainstream sex education in the 1990s and 2000s.

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While training to be a nurse in Winnipeg, Johanson was tutored by nuns who didn’t talk about sex. This repression shaped her approach in her later years and encouraged her to be open, honest and non-judgmental.

From left: Sex with Sue, producer Jane Johanson, and director Lisa Rideout. Rideout says Sue Johanson’s childhood TV show was her only meaningful form of sex education. (W network)

She opened a birth control clinic at her daughter’s high school in the 1970s and ran it for nearly two decades. Jane Johanson recalls that her friends felt more comfortable asking her mother her sex-related questions than she did.

“Sue approached everything like it was just normal,” Nadine Thornhill, a Toronto-based sex educator, told CBC News. “She said all the words she said, all the taboo sex words. She talks about penises and clitoris and orgasms.

“But she was just very matter of fact and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about sex like that.”

She said all the… taboo sex words. She talks about penises and clitoris and orgasms. But she was just very matter-of-fact.– Nadine Thornhill, Toronto-based sex educator

Like Rideout, Thornhill grew up with Johanson hiding under the covers with her clock radio. She says Johanson was the first person she met who normalized talking about the body and sex in a casual way, like many do now.

Johanson was in her 70s and 80s when Sunday night sex show aired, and according to Rideout, that was a key part of her appeal and ability to disarm her listeners.

“Her age has helped her to just be open about it and not really want to shy away from anyone or throw her out of thin air,” the director said.

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Social media sexperts follow in Johanson’s footsteps

sex with sue also highlights Johanson’s successors — a new breed of sex educators who are using TikTok and Instagram to speak openly about sex with teens and young adults.

“I think the way we understand sex, sexuality and the language that goes with it has changed a lot since Sue was on the air. So it was really important for me to show who the new suits are, who’s doing the work, who’s pushing the boundaries and being progressive,” Rideout said.

Sex educators from around the world — like Chantel Oten, Ericka Hart, Daniella Noël and Felicia Gisondi and Michelle Pound — are building online platforms to teach young people about sex.

Canadian TV shows like CBC’s about sex and The big sex talk with Shan Boodram reinventing the subject for a new generation.

But navigating sex education on algorithmic social media platforms can be difficult, says Tess Vanderhaeghe, a Vancouver sexual health educator.

On TikTok, Vanderhaeghe posts informative videos about sex and sexual health, such as how to put on a condom, how to stimulate the clitoris, or where to place a menstrual pad.

As seen in the documentary Sex With Sue, sex educator Nadine Thornhill shows episodes of The Sunday Night Sex Show to high school students, who react with amused admiration. (W network)

“Even on these platforms, there’s still a lot of censorship around sex education,” she said, adding that other videos with misinformation about sex are “mostly” pushed to people’s feeds.

Dornhill agrees. “On the internet, you don’t necessarily have people reviewing and curating information for us in the same way that Johanson did on her shows.

As shown in sex with sueThornhill shows episodes of Sunday night sex show to high school students who react with amused admiration.

“Going public like this is easier than you think,” Johanson says in the documentary. “I’m not embarrassed, I’m not uptight. I’m not afraid of it.”

Sex with Sue premieres Monday, October 10 at 9pm ET/PT on W Network and STACKTV.

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