Old School

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Ahat is it about sex that makes us lust for advice from septuagenarians? You can’t help but wonder that while watching the wheezin’-but-still-kickin’ Oxygen network’s surprising new hit, Talk Sex, a call-in chat show hosted by a spry seventy-something (she won’t give her exact age) named Sue Johanson. Friendly and fluent in everything from oral to anal to triple-pronged vibrators, this registered nurse from Ontario, Canada, is poised to become America’s next resident sexpert — you know, right after that other straight-talking spring chicken, the seventy-four-year-old Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

Johanson: previously young

    Actually, autumn-of-life sex pundits aren’t so hard to explain. It’s a comfort thang. If you’re young and sexually active, and you’ve got a sensitive question — you’re wondering if you can stick that there — do you really want to consult a wise-assed contemporary? Like Dr. Ruth, Johanson comes across like a super cool mom — a really super, super cool mom with an encyclopedic knowledge of sexual positions and an insane porn collection.
     Instead of innuendo, the host-caller exchanges on Talk Sex have a straightforward feel. Callers aren’t trying to be coy with Johanson, and she’s not playing coy with them. It’s just plain and frank info. Johanson, who speaks with a bouncy, Canadian-inflected lilt — she pronounces “clitoris” like it’s a Amazonian insect, and you practically wish that Mike Myers was back on Saturday Night Live just so he could parody her — is refreshingly non-judgmental and preach-free.
Consider this exchange between Johanson and a caller named Joanne:
    “I have a question,” Joanne said to Johanson. “Me and my fiancé, when we’re having sex, he likes to go into the sixty-nine position. But I’m kind of afraid I’m going to suffocate him. How do I get over that fear?”

    At this point, I was pretty sure this “Joanne” was going to break character and you’d hear an entire dorm room explode in raucous laughter. Johanson listened and replied, earnest as iced tea on a summer afternoon:
    “Sixty-nine position — so you’re going to suffocate him?” she asked. “So he’s on the bottom, and you’re on the top?”
    “Yes,” Joanne said.
    “Switch!” Johanson said.
    Sounded good to me.
    “He doesn’t like it,” Joanne protested. “He likes me on top.”


What a lazy doof, I thought. Johanson was more forgiving:
    “That’s fine,” Johanson said. “He takes his choice. Either he gets what he wants, or he takes a chance of suffocating.” She paused for a moment. “Can we just go back? How are you going to suffocate him?”
    “I just feel because I am a heavier-set person, and I feel very uncomfortable with it.”
    “Does he complain?”
    “No, he never complains.”
“Okay, why would you worry about it,” Johanson said. “He’ll tell you. If he’s gasping for breath, turning blue, and you need to do CPR, then you’ll know he’s got a problem. Other than that, I wouldn’t worry about it. He’ll tell you. Guys don’t hesitate to tell females what they like. We’re the ones who are reluctant to tell a guy what we like. Because nice girls aren’t supposed to know what they like.”
    It was good, common-sense, positive advice. And it’s harder to deliver than it looks. When a prepubescent caller asks if she can get pregnant by wearing her undies inside-out, or if ejaculate tastes like ranch dressing, Johanson can’t take her index finger and make a ding-a-ling motion next to her head. Thankfully, Johanson, who started a sex-education clinic in her hometown during the ’70s, is from the no-dumb-questions school. Joanne, bless her, got her sixty-nine question addressed respectfully. Seems nothing can faze Johanson: when one caller requested a reasonably classy adult film, Johanson instantly recommended the Candida Royale oeuvre. “It’s not heavily into the whoomph whoomph whoomph bits,” she said.
    Not to get all judgmental and preachy after praising Johanson for being neither, but there’s a flat-out value in this kind of programming. Sure, Talk Sex can be silly, like when Johanson bounced around in an Adult Jolly Jumper sex swing (“I feel like Peter Pan!” she exclaimed). No doubt Oxygen is having it both ways — people will tune into Talk Sex (and reruns of Johanson’s previous Canadian program, The Sunday Night Sex Show) both to laugh and to learn. But there’s education to go with this entertainment, and it’s the kind of education that, if STD and HIV rates are any indicator, remains fearfully inadequate. Surely, some will object to Johanson’s frankness, claiming that thirteen year olds with basic cable are going to get pregnant or run out and buy glass dildos. But those objectors are, frankly, dopes.
    I still remember the first time I heard Dr. Ruth. Once I stopped laughing about the way she said ‘PEEEE-nis’ — it took about a month — she made a major impact on my curious but profoundly sex-ignorant brain. Given that my chief source of sex information was a bunch of other twelve-year-old boneheads, I was struck by Westheimer’s poise and the seriousness with which she treated her callers; every query was granted the kind of dignity that was impossible to find in a junior-high cafeteria. Did listening to Dr. Ruth turn me into a raging juvenile horndog? No. I just was a little smarter about sex, and a lot more respectful. Will Talk Sex ruin the morals of American kids? No. Whether it’s from a parent or a teacher or a TV star, everyone can afford to know a little more about the whoomph whoomph whoomph bits.

©2003 Ryan Tuthill and Nerve.com.