What Heroes Are All About: Susan Quilliam

By OBOS — April 20, 2009

From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011

Entrants: Laura Bates and Joy Haughton

Nominee: Susan Quilliam, Sex and Relationship Psychologist


Susan Quilliam is an author, relationship psychologist and broadcaster, and an expert in women’s sexuality. Throughout her career she has raised awareness of issues surrounding women’s health and particularly women’s sexual health, and has worked tirelessly to break the taboos surrounding it.

We, the undersigned, having worked with Susan for almost four years, are still continually impressed at the depth of her commitment to women’s health issues and the breadth of her knowledge. She is a born educator and uses her talents to bring greater understanding of women and women’s health to a huge range of people, including health professionals, counsellors, policy makers, pharmaceutical companies, charities and, of course, women themselves.

Reacting to a deeply personal experience, Susan wrote her first book, “Positive Smear,” to challenge the deeply harmful social assumptions surrounding positive cervical smear results, shattering the myths that a positive smear is a result of promiscuity. It was a groundbreaking book which provided emotional support for the first time to women going through this traumatic experience.

Through tireless work with the Journal of Family Planning, the Family Planning Association, Relate and many other charitable organisations, Susan has dedicated a huge amount of time and effort to the cause of women’s healthcare, from her long personal replies to every woman who writes to her with a problem, no matter how obscure, to her support of cervical cancer sufferers and women in abusive relationships.

For many women suffering from sexual or reproductive healthcare problems can be deeply traumatic, not just due to the condition itself, but due to the social taboos surrounding these problems. Often the women I’ve seen turn to Susan have come to her as a last resort, with nobody else to confide in, nowhere else to turn. Her response is always warm, compassionate, swift and encouraging, and the depth of gratitude and happiness in the replies we receive from those she has helped are the strongest testament to the importance of the work she does.

We have watched Susan bring rooms full of hardened pharmaceutical reps to tears as she impressed on them the impact cervical cancer has on women’s lives. We have sorted the piles of delighted letters and emails that flooded in after Susan presented a psychological model for dealing with pre-menstrual syndrome at a charity conference. We have seen the light dawn in the eyes of doctors, nurses and even patients as Susan explains that no, erectile dysfunction doesn’t just affect the man – it is a couple problem.

But perhaps what impresses us more than any of these, is that although we didn’t see Susan take on the medical establishment twenty years ago in London, to persuade them of the emotional significance of a positive smear (pap) test – we’ve heard about it… from the doctors themselves. And that, for us, is lasting impact. And that is what Heroes are all about.

8 responses to “What Heroes Are All About: Susan Quilliam”

  1. Susan is a wonderful advocate for women’s health and emotional wellbeing. As Press and Campaigns Manager for fpa (Family Planning Association) I have had the pleasure of working with Susan over a number of years on issues as diverse as the effect of pornography on relationships, to new advances in contraception. Professionally, Susan’s opinion on sexual health issues is one I value highly and actively seek out. On a personal level she isn’t just supportive – but a joy to work with. She meticulously ensures her advice is thoroughly researched and evidencially correct (having checked up on a few facts for Susan I can verify this personally). Whether she is answering a problem page letter in a magazine or writing an article for a medical journal she brings a warmth to the subject and a real sense of understanding and integrity. She cares deeply about the women she writes for and passionately believes in the issues she writes about.

    Well done Joy and Laura for nominating Sue.

  2. When one of our writers at The Erotic Review wrote up two of Susan’s books he called her a “‘safe pair of hands’ sexologist'”. Although this was by no means a negative criticism, he went on to balance it by saying that “she was certainly not lacking in sexual imagination” either. It was precisely this powerful mix of meticulousness, imagination and experience in her work that I admired and subsequently prompted me as editor to ask Susan if she would write for us. To my delight she agreed and she now pens a regular column for ER, ‘Susan Quilliam’s Casebook’, which is much appreciated by readers of both sexes. We consider ourselves very lucky to have her contribution and I congratulate Laura and Joy for nominating her.

  3. Susan has been an inspiration to our organisation. Her very personal presentations on the subject of cervical cancer and the early stages of the disease were literally breath taking and incredibily moving. She is passionate about women’s health and will stop at nothing to ensure that women have the right information and support to help them through the many challenges that they face, both in terms of their health and the impact it can have on their quality of life.

    Susan is a warm, patient and considerate person and is always ready to offer me advice and support to ensure the work I do is shared widely with the public to better improve women’s understanding of cerivcal cancer. She is a champion for women and deserves more recognition!

  4. I, Barbara Grote, want to vote for Susan Quilliam, and in addition to all the good things that the nominator mentioned below I would like to express my appreciation to my co-counselling teacher and long-standing friend Sue Q for “walking her talk”, i.e. whatever she advises other people to do she does herself and I love her for that, too.

  5. Susan is a great advocate for plain speaking when it comes to sex and

    relationship issues. Her advice and insights are always spot on and she

    has done much to help every day people get the most out of their


    Cath Allen, Head of marketing, Relate

  6. Susan is quite unique and our organisation is incredibly lucky to have benefitted so much from her expertise and support with training and PR. She has the ability to treat any subject seriously and with respect and although her focus is on women’s issues, men are never left out of the picture. No one deserves this nomination more than Susan.

    Sarah Maddocks

    Centre Director – Relate Cambridge

  7. Susan has always been an avid supporter of Scarlet, the magazine I edit, which is designed with one key goal in mind: to make women feel good about themselves. Over the years she has supported the title and its ethos, writing features to help repair low self-esteems and boost egos, as well as inspiring women in the bedroom and beyond. For that I salute Susan, and consider her a hero at the frontline of female sexuality.

    Sarah Hedley, Editor, Scarlet Magazine

  8. Sue has worked as agony aunt for that’s life! magazine since its launch in 1995. In that time, she has reached out to so many women with her solid, practical and heart-felt advice. Sue’s a champion of recognising how hard life can be for today’s woman and is able to delve into the very nitty-gritty of the problem without being patronising or condescending. Women trust her and that’s about the highest accolade you can give an agony aunt. Heroes don’t need Lycra suits and superpowers but understanding, warmth and sincerity — and that Sue has by the bucket-load.

Comments are closed.