Viewers Sold on ‘Talk Sex’

Mar 1, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Call-in cable talk host Sue Johanson is busy working the phone. She reassures a caller about changes in her partner after a vasectomy and takes a call from a woman whose husband has a urine fixation.
And so it goes for a full hour on “Talk Sex With Sue Johanson,” now in its second season on cable’s Oxygen network. There are also regular segments in which Ms. Johanson displays sex toys, reviews books and offers the latest information on sexually transmitted diseases and sexual disorders.
Some calls are shocking, some poignant, some more mundane. But none of them rattles Ms. Johanson, the show’s grandmotherly host.
This is sexual healing Oxygen-style, wherein Ms. Johanson, a registered nurse and sex educator, helps participants strive for the emotional and physical benefits a healthy sex life can bring.
One of Oxygen’s top-rated shows, “Talk Sex” airs three times a week. The 11 p.m. Sunday time slot tied with the Saturday 8 p.m. movie as Oxygen’s top-rated program for January, each averaging a 0.5 household rating. Ms. Johanson also hosts a second Oxygen series, “Sunday Night Sex Show,” making her the 4-year-old network’s highest-profile on-air personality.
“As long as she wants to be here for us, we’ll be here for her,” said Debby Beece, Oxygen’s president of programming.
As unlikely a television star as you will ever find, Ms. Johanson is candid about everything but her age. “I am a mature female,” the married mother of three and grandmother of two said during a phone call from Toronto, where she lives and tapes her shows. “I have wrinkles, gray hair-naturally curly hair you can’t do one thing with. I like my glasses. They’re part of me. I don’t have bodacious ta-tas. I have terminal flats. My clothes are from my closet. They don’t make Versace in my size, and I don’t care.”
Ms. Johanson’s call-in career began in 1984 with “Sunday Night Sex Show,” when it was a Canadian radio program. She took the show to community cable and later to Canada’s Women’s Television Network, which aired it nationally.
When Ms. Johanson’s producer came to Oxygen with a tape, Ms. Beece recalled watching it for the first time and breaking into a smile.
“She’s funny and real and sincere,” Ms. Beece said. “She said, `Well, it’s Sunday night and here we are again and thank you for your support. And if it weren’t for you, I’d be home knitting. Now the telephone lines are open.”’
The show caught on immediately with Oxygen viewers. “It took about a week-the ratings popped,” Ms. Beece said. Because the show was designed to serve Canadian callers, the network soon added a companion show, “Talk Sex With Sue Johanson,” that allowed Americans to call in.
Ms. Johanson said that nothing callers ask surprises her. “You do get a shocker-a person wondering if it’s normal to have sex in a truck on a railway track before the train comes. And the kid who wants to know if it’s OK to [masturbate] in the peanut butter jar. There’s nobody else to ask. Do you ask your mom? Nooo. Do you ask your P.E. teacher? Nooo. Do you find it in a book? Nooo. Because I’m older, I seem safe, grandmotherly. And grandmothers always accept their children.”