(Editor’s note: Coinciding with World AIDS Day, CMT.com spoke to Wynonna about her calling to educate young people — and their parents — about the dangers of HIV and AIDS.)
In her role as a national spokesperson for YouthAIDS, Wynonna has grown certain of one thing: “Parents are terrified to talk to their children about sex.”
Wynonna recently donated a portion of her proceeds from her 20th anniversary tour to the organization, which educates 15- to 24-year-olds around the world about HIV and AIDS.
During her tour, Wynonna visited college campuses to discuss the disease with the very generation most likely to be infected.
“I walk onto a college campus, and I sit down and talk to 100 students about, ‘Did you know you can get AIDS by giving a blow job?’” she says. “And they look at me like, ‘Thank you for saying it like we think it.’”
Not everybody will condone her candid approach, of course, but she thinks it’s the only way to go.
“You have to say ‘blow jobs,’” she insists. “You can’t say, ‘Let’s talk about oral sex.’ That’s the hard part, because I’m very traditional and I felt like, ‘Oh, gosh, can I do this?’ But I thought, if the parents get mad at me, I’m sorry, but these parents have to talk on their level.”
Wynonna’s sister, actress Ashley Judd, is the international spokesperson for YouthAIDS, and she and founder Kate Roberts have educated the singer on the facts about HIV and AIDS. Now she considers it her mission to pass that knowledge to others.
In the U.S., most people get HIV through unprotected sex with an infected partner or sharing a needle that has been contaminated. The HIV virus causes AIDS, a disease that harms the body’s immune system by attacking certain kinds of cells that defend the body against illness.
During her travels, Wynonna has found that many parents and their children don’t have the first clue about HIV.
“They don’t know it’s a virus,” she says. “It’s like saying to someone, ‘Do you know where your pancreas is?’ Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts. They completely don’t have any information. The parents are looking at me like, hhmmmm? They don’t even know how to talk to their children about sex, for crying out loud.”
Privately, she has discussed sex with her two children (Grace is 8 and Elijah is nearly 10), as well as the 15-year-old son of her new husband, Roach. Publicly, she recalls one presentation when an 18-year-old student announced he talked to his father about sex, and his father then replied, “Man, you’re teaching me some things.”
“The whole audience laughed,” Wynonna recalls. “But that’s pathetic. It really is. We have to get real here. Put this in capital letters: If you think that talking to your child about sex is going to promote them to have sex, that’s not true.”
She adds, “We are so afraid if we hand this kid a condom, he’s going to go out and do it. I don’t know why we have that fear. They’re going to have sex. My whole thing is: Their parents aren’t talking to them. They’re looking at the floor, like ‘Hurry up and get this over with.’ They don’t have an open dialogue with their kids. This is the saddest thing I see. They don’t talk to their kids at all about anything. Very few of the kids said that they had an open dialogue system with their parents. They said they found out through their siblings, friends, dirty books and, God bless, the Internet.”
Quoting the proverb that charity begins at home, she says, “This is the most important thing I could say: If you don’t tell them, someone will.”
Wynonna became active in the YouthAIDS organization after Roberts — whom she had met at a Youth AIDS banquet with Ashley — told her about the disease’s crushing effect around the world, especially on young women. About a half-hour into a conversation a few months later, Roberts recounted a visit to a brothel in Asia and telling the teenage girls there about HIV and safe sex. Roberts said one of the girls, age 12, tearfully begged Roberts to take her infant daughter to America.
Shaken and touched at the story, Wynonna dedicated herself to YouthAIDS, speaking to young adults about how AIDS is contracted and how to prevent infection. She encourages them to set boundaries for themselves and to feel confident in saying no — two lessons she did not learn when she was their age, she says.
“I love them so much, and I want them to have so much more,” she says. “That’s why I’m doing this. I don’t care about the dinner, the banquet. I care about the people as much as I’ve ever cared about anything in my life.”
She adds, “I’m not doing this because I’m liberal. I’m doing this because I believe in Jesus, and I believe that Jesus would want me to do this in love. This is not a sermon. This is not preaching. This is a teaching opportunity to me.”
She talks about the “Christian blinders” that most parents wear, how they insist that their children aren’t having sex — and how those parents are dead wrong.
“We have to realize our kids are having sex, and they’re hiding it from you,” she says. “Ages 15 to 25. … This isn’t 25 to 35. This is 15! I’m meeting these people, and I’m amazed at the ignorance level of all age groups. We expect them to be ignorant at 10, 15 and, OK, 20. I’ll give you that. But 25-, 30-, 35- and 40-year-olds don’t know what’s going on. They think it’s that homosexual disease. People are still afraid to hug someone with AIDS. It’s so crazy.”
She knows what she says is controversial, but she’s not backing down.
“However many yucky letters I get is worth it,” she says, “because if I’m upsetting the parents, maybe it will convince them in some way to get off their high horse and get on the level of their kids. Sit down and say, ‘I love you, son — enough to tell you about this.’”