Today, when I read the news headline that Sue Johanson died, I did not anticipate how fast and hot the tears would come. I did not foresee that her death would resonate with me like it did or that the grief would come from somewhere so deep. I could never have known because it was not until today that I realised: Sue Johanson was who I most wanted to be when I grew up.
As a Canadian teen in the 1990s, tuning into The Sunday Night Sex Show was a weekly ritual. It was a way to supplement the mediocre sex education we got at school, or at home, and it made for juicy discussion at school on Mondays. Personally, I was lucky to have had a very practical mother, the daughter of a nurse, who never minced words when it came to sex. But, as much as my mother was clinical and accurate and taught me more than many of my peers, as a generation, we collectively filled in the blanks from Sue Johanson.
Sue Johanson And The Order of Canada
Sue was a Canadian pioneer of sex education for more than 50 years, and opened Toronto’s first birth control clinic in 1970. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 2000 for being “a strong, successful advocate for sex education in Canada.”
“Best known for her nationally televised Sunday Night Sex Show and for her Toronto-based radio call-in show, she is a popular figure with adolescents and young adults. A registered nurse, she opened one of the city’s first birth control clinics and has talked to thousands of students in high schools, colleges and universities across the country. Listening without judgement and candid in her responses, she helps Canadians to improve their understanding of sexuality and their ability to make wise health choices.”
Empowering And Enigmatic
As a public personality she was a natural. [Watch Sue test a vibrator on Tom Selleck’s moustache here] Down to earth, articulate, and bawdy, she spoke with authority and confidence, cutting through the potential embarrassment or awkwardness. She spoke frankly about the realities of sex, and the responsibilities, but she did so in a way that made you feel empowered, not encumbered. With Sue there was no such thing as a stupid question, no matter how taboo the topic.The first time I ever heard of kink and BDSM was on Sue’s show. She talked about everything! She said, in plain language, that lube was your friend, that sex didn’t have to be awkward, that pleasure was okay to want. She told us in a million small ways that sex and desire are fundamental parts of what makes us most human.
The Work Never Ends
Despite the incredible work that educators like Sue have done, we still have such a long way to go. When I think of how much work is still left to be done, I wish that I had found this calling sooner in life. It wasn’t until my mid thirties that I had really found my own voice and processed some of my own experiences. Only then could even consider being of any help to anyone else. Now that I’m in this world, and now that I’ve been reminded of how powerful this kind of work can be, I feel reignited. So much of how I approach this work and the sense of purpose I get from it, was informed by Sue’s no nonsense style and courageous sex positivity. What a legend.
Sue Johanson Walked So We Could Run
Although I never met her, I feel a debt of gratitude for how she has touched my life. Without a voice like Sue’s, a voice that stands out from the crowd, a voice that’s unapologetically strong, and clear, and relentless, I don’t know if I would ever have found my own voice. She spoke so plainly about the hardest topics and she managed to destigmatize them. She advocated for safety and sexual health, and she taught us to advocate for ourselves. Without question, every generation needs a Sue Johanson.
Did Sue Johanson make an impact on your youth too? Share your stories in the comments below!