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TV Preview: Talk show offers intimate advice

Thursday, October 16, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

She looks like a grandma but doesn't talk like one. Instead, Canadian registered nurse Sue Johanson sounds like a blunt sex-ed teacher on Oxygen cable network's call-in show, "Talk Sex With Sue Johanson," which returns with live weekly episodes Sunday night.


'Talk Sex with Sue Johanson'

When: 11 p.m. Sundays on Oxygen.

Starring: Sue Johanson.


"We've been off the air since the end of May and I miss it," she said by phone from Toronto this week. "I can't believe it! I'm such a ham!"

A sex educator for 25 years, Johanson began answering callers' questions about sex on the radio and on a Canadian cable access channel in 1984. In 1996, a Canadian cable network debuted "Sunday Night Sex Show," which airs on Oxygen weekdays at midnight.

In addition to appearing on TV to answer questions and reveal the results of tests on various sex toys ("Late Night" host Conan O'Brien recently dubbed her "the perverted MacGyver," which she took as a compliment), Johanson speaks to college students, writes a newspaper column and has published several books, including, "Sex Is Perfectly Natural, but Not Naturally Perfect."

The combination of her down-to-earth, just-the-facts demeanor (shades of Dr. Ruth Westheimer), frank answers and commentary on sex toys has won her a loyal cult following in Canada and now in America. Just don't ask her about her age. That's the one question she wouldn't answer.

Q: Are you surprised at the interest in you and your show?

A: Surprise is putting it quite mildly. Shock would pretty well describe it. You mean to tell me, there's nobody else doing this kind of show? And if so, why not?

It is amazing the recognition I get when I walk down the street in Chicago.

Q: Do people approach and ask you sex questions?

A: Oh, no, Americans are too polite for that. They're very respectful of your space. They may ask, "How do I get ahold of you?" or "What's your Web site?" (, but they don't tell me their partner is a premature ejaculator. Not in the middle of the street.

Q: Do you think your age plays into your appeal?

A: Absolutely, because I'm safe. I'm a grandma and I'm harmless, well, relatively, but I'm an experienced mother, grandmother and I know what I'm talking about. I'm a good yapper. I've taken the training and I've got the background.

Another thing that's important is I don't look perfect. If you watch me on television, there is always something wrong. I'm not one of those people who looks perfectly put together. There's always some hair out of place or a collar that's scoogey. Something is amiss and that makes me more approachable.

Q: You're a wife, mother and grandmother. How old are your grandchildren and what do they think about your show?

A: They're mature teens and they've grown up with it. We've been on the air nine years here in Canada, and I was on the air before that on a community cable channel, so they don't pay attention. I'm grandma, that's all there is to it. I make great pie, that's what I'm famous for -- not for talking dirty.

Q: Do you ever hear from people who cannot deal with candid discussions of sex on TV?

A: I'm shocked that it is not happening.

It's called the remote and you have a thumb, and if you don't like it you can move [to another channel]. Most people have figured that one out.

We've been there so long now [in Canada] people have gotten used to it. Besides, you compare me to "Sex and the City" and all the rest of the programs on these days and I'm tame, I'm boring. I'm saying, if you're going to do it, know what you're doing, whereas half of them don't know what they're doing. I'm saying, "Practice safer sex." And they don't always do that.

Q: What's the most popular part of your show?

A: The hot stuff bag. It's certainly most popular with my crew. They're the ones who have the most fun with it because my crew gets to test all the toys. I don't test them all, believe me.

Q: Do you get different reactions from American and Canadian viewers?

A: Americans are extremely polite. They will say, "Thank you for taking my call." Canadians never say that!

Q: Are Americans as well-informed about sex?

A: This is probably controversial, but your sex-ed programs are not as extensive, in-depth or comprehensive as ours, so your population doesn't have the basic knowledge. You've got George Bush's "Just Say No" and that doesn't do it in today's world, so I find that questions are much more basic. It's kind of a reality check more than anything else.

Q: What was the worst prank call you ever got?

A: The guy who liked to lie on a footstool and stretch out facing upwards and have his girlfriend walk on his abdomen and genitals with high heel boots. I don't know about most guys, but I don't think that's a form of S&M most people are really going to appreciate.

Q: What's the wildest call you've gotten?

A: Probably the couple who had sex in a truck on the railway tracks and had to [climax] before the train came. I told them to get off the track and find another way. That wasn't a good one.

Q: Ever get calls you're uncomfortable dealing with?

A: We don't take calls on bestiality and we don't take calls on necrophilia, sex with dead bodies. And we do cut out the drunks and people who have a huge party in the background.

Q: If you and Dr. Ruth faced off in a battle of knowledge about sex toys, who would win?

A: Me, hands down, if you'll pardon the expression.

Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to under TV Forum.

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