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Sue Johanson, beloved Canadian sex educator, dead at 93

Sue Johanson, the beloved Canadian broadcaster who in her golden years enraptured a generation with straightforward sex advice, has died at 93, a representative confirmed on Thursday.

Broadcaster was known for Sunday Night Sex Show and Talk Sex With Sue Johanson

An elderly woman sits at a desk with a pen and pad of paper. A screen behind her showing the words "talk sex."

Sue Johanson, the beloved Canadian broadcaster who in her golden years enraptured a generation with straightforward sex advice, has died at age 93, a representative confirmed to CBC News on Thursday.

Johanson died in a long-term care home in Thornhill, Ont., just north of Toronto, surrounded by her family, the representative said.

The broadcaster was best known for hosting the Canadian call-in radio and then television program Sunday Night Sex Show, which led to a successful U.S. spinoff called Talk Sex With Sue Johanson.

Born in Toronto, Johanson began her career as a nurse, receiving her training in Winnipeg. During the 1970s, she opened a birth control clinic at a Toronto high school and ran it for almost two decades.

"She was a groundbreaker pioneer trooper. And she broke all the rules. And it was fabulous," her daughter Jane Johanson said Thursday during an interview with As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

WATCH | Sue Johanson's daughter speaks about her mom:

Awkward, then proud: Sue Johanson's daughter on her famous mom

4 hours ago

Duration 1:19

Jane Johanson, daughter of beloved Canadian broadcaster Sue Johanson, describes what it was like growing up with a mother best known for her straightforward sex advice.

"She never brushed people aside. She treated everyone absolutely the same. She was never judgmental, nor was she condescending or disapproving of any question that came her way.… I think everybody felt like they had another mother or another grandmother with Sue."

Johanson's Sunday Night Sex Show premiered as a live call-in program on Toronto radio in 1984, with a television version of the show airing on W Network from 1996 to 2005. The U.S. spinoff, Talk Sex With Sue Johanson, began in 2002 and concluded in 2008.

"My mom was amazing. She could be anywhere at any time, and people would recognize her voice," Jane Johanson said.

She offered callers advice on everything from how to use sex toys and ways to spice things up in the bedroom, to navigating the taboos of the birds and the bees — always with her signature humour and candour.

"It didn't matter who you were, what your sexual preference was, how you identified, what you might be dealing with in terms of the time of AIDS — like, she embraced everybody and who they were. And that just … made me so proud. We are so proud of our dear Sue, my mom," Jane Johanson said.

LISTEN | 'She broke all the rules':

As It Happens6:19Sue Johanson's daughter: 'She broke all the rules — and it was fabulous'

Unlike millions of viewers around the world, Jane Johanson simply couldn't bear to hear sex advice from her mom. Nevertheless, she tells As It Happens host Nil Köksal that she could not be prouder of what Sue Johanson did for a living, and all the people she helped along the way.

Nothing off-limits

A champion for a well-informed, sex-positive public, Johanson covered topics and demographics usually ignored by mainstream sexual education in the 1990s and aughts.

While training to be a nurse in Winnipeg, Johanson was taught by nuns who didn't speak about sex. That repression informed her approach in her later years, emboldening her to be open, honest and non-judgmental.

"Sue approached everything as though it was just normal," Nadine Thornhill, a Toronto sex educator, previously told CBC News. "Like, she said all of the words she said, all of the taboo sex words. She talks about penises and clitorises and orgasms.

"But she was just very matter of fact about it, and I don't think I had ever heard anybody talk about sex in that way."

Johanson never had an agenda to become a celebrity or a big name, according to her daughter. She was just passionate about filling what she saw as a gap in the public health system. And that just slowly morphed, Jane said.

"She loved what she did. She cared about people's sexual health, sexual information, and she just wanted to be of assistance to people in that way," she said.

"She just invented a niche for herself and did a beautiful job teaching people about sex and sexual health."

In 2000, Johanson was awarded the Order of Canada for being "a strong, successful advocate for sex education."

On the Governor General's website, she's praised for her decades of work. "Listening without judgment and candid in her responses, she helps Canadians to improve their understanding of sexuality and their ability to make wise health choices."

Condolences, memories pour in

Condolences for Johanson poured in online Thursday, as Canadians remembered "an absolute icon" and "national treasure."

"Canada has lost an absolute icon. Sue Johanson did more for sex education in this country than anyone. When the government failed to educate the public on the risks of HIV, Sue filled the gap. And she did it with empathy," one person tweeted.

Sue Johanson passed away at 93 years old. Sue paved the way for how we talk about sex and sexuality today, unafraid of shattering taboos. Canada lost a national treasure today but Sue’s legacy will continue to make positive change for decades to come. We love you Sue. <a href="https://t.co/bmUjPZR44G">pic.twitter.com/bmUjPZR44G</a>

&mdash;@sexwithsuefilm

"Not gonna lie … I learned how to properly put a condom on watching Sue demonstrate it on her show," wrote another.

"I loved Sue growing up … I used to listen to her every night before I went to sleep. She taught me to have a healthy attitude around masturbation & gave me the sex education schools wouldn't," another person tweeted.

WATCH | How Sue Johanson became the country's leading sexpert:

Sex education with Sue Johanson in 1986

37 years ago

Duration 2:53

On radio, on TV and on tours across Canada, the plain-spoken nurse uses humour to talk to her audiences about sex. Aired Oct. 3, 1986 on CBC's The Journal.

The official Twitter account for the 2022 Sex with Sue documentary wrote Thursday that Johanson paved the way for how we talk about sex and sexuality today, noting she was unafraid of shattering taboos.

"Canada lost a national treasure today but Sue's legacy will continue to make positive change for decades to come," they tweeted.

In that documentary, Johanson admitted the work she did was "a little bit controversial," but necessary. And her age only helped.

"I was older; I was never seen as a sex kitten, I had the gift of the gab," she said.

Jane Johanson said Thursday she believes it was her mother's sense of humour that clicked with so many people, and recognizing that the topic of sex would make lots of people uncomfortable or shut down.

"She knew that if she used humour antics — you know, jumping around the stage, stretching condoms, being light about it — she knew that she could break the ice and then make people comfortable," Jane said.

"As soon as she made people comfortable, then she could get into the real nitty gritty of the topic."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenna Benchetrit

Journalist

Jenna Benchetrit is a web and radio journalist for CBC News. She works primarily with the entertainment team and occasionally covers business and general assignment stories. A Montrealer based in Toronto, Jenna holds a master's degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at jenna.benchetrit@cbc.ca.

    With files from Morgan Passi

    *****
    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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