Sue Johanson, Canada’s beloved and renowned sex educator, passed away at the age of 93. According to a family representative speaking to CTV News Toronto, she peacefully departed in the company of her loved ones at a long-term care facility in Thornhill.
Initially a nurse, Johanson established a birth control clinic at Toronto’s Don Mills CI high school in 1970. Her pursuit of knowledge in family planning and human sexuality led her to further her education at the University of Toronto and the University of Michigan, ultimately launching her illustrious career as a sex educator.
Johanson gained widespread recognition as the host of the highly popular Sunday Night Sex Show, which began as a radio program in the 1980s and later evolved into a TV show on Rogers in 1985.
In 2022, Johanson was named as one of our most inspiring women, and her influential role served as the central focus of the acclaimed documentary Sex with Sue, directed by Canadian filmmaker Lisa Rideout. Below, Rideout shares her personal insights and reflections on Johanson and the profound impact she had on her documentary.
The Activist | Sue Johanson
In the late 1980s, Sue Johanson’s TV and radio program, Sunday Night Sex Show, was one of the only sources for accurate and inclusive sex education in Canada. Talking about everything from sex within the queer community to sex toys and fetishes, Johanson’s show led her to international press coverage, including appearances on Arsenio Hall, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk shows. Now, a feature-length documentary that premiered this year called Sex With Sue has examined her impact with appearances from people including George Stroumboulopoulos and sex columnist Dan Savage. Though she decided to stop her show in 2008, Johanson has created a lasting legacy of progressive sex education for Canadians and the world that can still be felt to this day.
By Lisa Rideout, director of Sex with Sue
Like many Canadian millennials, I grew up with The Sunday Night Sex Show, and Sue Johanson as my only form of meaningful sex education. In Catholic school, I was taught sex was something a man and a woman did, to make a baby, after marriage. In contrast, little old Sue shuffled onto the set of her call-in show with her hot stuff bag that she pulled vibrators, butt plugs, anal beads and, of course, the Fukuoku out of. Sue talked about sex in a way I’d never heard of before. She was open, honest, shameless and pleasure focused. Sue’s legacy spans decades and mediums. She opened the first birth control clinic in Toronto, taught sex education in high schools and universities, had a call-in radio show on Q107, a Canadian television show and an American television show. Sue’s American show was broadcast internationally across South America, Europe and Asia. It’s hard to fully summarize Sue’s impact. She helped millions understand their desires, accept their sexuality, learn how to achieve pleasure and how to have safe sex. In the 1980s and 1990s, she provided essential sex information throughout the HIV/AIDS epidemic and supported the LGBTQ community when politicians were openly condemning them. Sue was pro-choice and sex positive before these were mainstream ideas. Sue has not only made our sex lives better, she has helped us accept ourselves and in turn made the world a safer place.