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Sex Grandma not so sweet

Kimberley Burkart | Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The subject matter I am about to address makes me very, very nervous. I am, you remember, the writer who was too squeamish to print the first letter of the [expletive] word in her last column. Let me say up front that this column will include the word “sex” as well as occasional references to the male anatomy. Somehow, I feel better if everyone knows I’m ashamed.

Here it goes: Every Sunday night after Mass, I watch the television program “Talk Sex With Sue Johanson.” For those of you living under a rock, Sue Johanson is an elderly Canadian nurse/marital relations counselor who hosts a weekly cable television program during which she answers viewers’ questions about sex. As for the nature of the questions – well, we had fine sex education in my parochial schools but Sue takes it up a notch. Augmenting the Sue experience are commercials advertising assorted conjugal playthings. Lovely.

Every Sunday my roommates turn it on, and every Sunday I die a little. Okay, so it’s not that bad. But Sue’s digressions on artificial methods for the enlargement of the male anatomy are not my background music of choice when cramming The Canterbury Tales. Or writing columns. Actually, I must admit that I do not protest nearly as much as I used to. The last time it was on I could even tell it was a rerun.

Sue Johanson’s charm, as it were, is that Sue Johanson may well have been present when God invented sex. The woman is at least sixty-five years old. She looks like – well, she looks like a grandmother, and according to her Web site she is one. Evidently there are some young men among us suffering from a deformity known as “bent penis.” Sue can discuss this with the same candor and earnestness that my own grandmother has when she talks about dress patterns. I swear they have some of the same turtleneck sweaters.

The show becomes a viewer’s sick fascination and I, for one, believe that Sue exploits this reality shamelessly. Anyone who styles herself the Sex Grandma has got to know what she’s doing. Heck, she can claim people like me as regular viewers, and the information she gives is of no use to me. But that’s another column.

Even though I watch it, I do not, in any way, shape or form endorse Sue Johanson’s program. I do not want to turn this column into a commercial for Talk Sex With Sue Johanson, Incorporated, and I do not particularly want anything nice to happen to Sue Johanson.

Humor or medical value aside, some of the stuff she deals with is just indicative of greater societal problems. When this sort of thing comes up it renders debates over whether she belongs on Comedy Central or the Discovery Channel immaterial. Like the father who called in asking what to do about his 12-year-old wanting to have sex with a high school-age girlfriend. Sue’s answer: Condoms. It seems that afterward she received so many e-mails questioning her judgment that she had to give an I-was-just-answering-the-question disclaimer in her next show. Classy.

Or the time a caller reported some nasty goings-on in her nether regions. Apparently she was with a cheating boyfriend and made sure to use condoms. Sue’s diagnosis? The caller was allergic to those particular condoms and should try a different kind. Maybe that’s why women love Sue so much -she almost never tells them to see a gynecologist. Or a counselor.

Sex sells. It sells so well that grandmothers can make careers out of holding up plastic models of assorted body parts on cable TV and solemnly suggesting that a woman may be allergic to her boyfriend’s ejaculate. She claims, of course, that her only goal is to educate the public at large, and many people buy it. According to her Web site, the Canadian government has even officially recognized her for her contributions to sexual health awareness.

But personally, I don’t think that catchphrases like, “Before you bang, cover your thang” count as sex ed.