"When I got the numbers -- 3000 young people under 25 being affected daily -- I would never have thought that would be the statistic," says Solange Knowles about HIV/AIDS-related unprotected sex.
solange knowles: yes to safe sex
Singer/songwriter Solange Knowles helped to kick off the global Yes, Yes, Yes to Safe Sex event for MTV and The Body Shop in New York City on Tuesday. "Initially I thought this was a really heavy, scary topic, but it must be talked about... There are so many campaigns that preach wrap-it-up, wrap-it-up, condom, condom, condom, but the numbers aren't going down -- they're rising," she told me at the press event. "Collectively, we have to figure out a way to make this less uncomfortable to talk about, to state the facts and bring awareness so that young people can react."
MTV and The Body Shop are doing their part with campaigns to benefit MTV's Staying Alive Foundation, which works to empower the 18 to 25 set when it comes to safety-first sex issue. With each $8 purchase of The Body Shop Yes, Yes, Yes Tantalizing Lip Butter, $5 goes toward the foundation to help create HIV prevention programs.
Knowles, 22, firmly maintains that advocating abstinance isn't enough. "My parents did a really great job at giving us what I call 'the real deal holyfield' so that we could be in the position to make decisions on our own," she says. For her, education and being armed with all the facts about risks and consequences is key. "The reality is that young people are having sex," she insists. And getting a no-sex-before-marriage message from one side and uninformed input from a young peer group on the other side can result in confusion.
safe-sex talk should happen at age 10
Knowles says she was about 13 when she first learned about safe sex. "My mother was very protective of letting pop culture dictate our views on issues, even going as far as covering my eyes in movies. She wanted to be the one to tell us," she laughs. But on a more serious note, she says these days the safe-sex talk needs to happen sooner, that the age of 10 or 11 is more realistic. "Today kids are getting information from their friends and classmates, who aren't good resources."
On the subject of being a role model for today's young people, Knowles is quick to credit her mother as a positive influence in her life. She's had great role models, she says, but ultimately people have to make their own choices. "Obviously, me having a child at 18 may not be someone's perception of a role model, and some people could quickly say where was your mother," she admits. "But it's decision-making you have to live with, that you have to be happy with. No matter how many people you have telling you what to do, it's a personal thing. You need to have the facts and education to make an educated decision."
teenage girls who lack confidence
Knowles is planning to hit schools to talk about safe sex, and hopes to help youth celebrate diversity as a foundation for personal strength. She sees acceptance of all cultures and pride in one's individuality as the key to self-confidence in a world in which young people still feel intense pressure to conform. "Those girls, teenagers who are sending questionable text messages and photos are lacking confidence, something in themselves," she says. "If you can stand strong in your own identity, you won't be so easily influenced."
For herself, Knowles is continuing to develop herself as an artist, focussing on her music. Proud of her 2008 album, Sol-Angel & The Hadley St. Dreams, she's heading back into the studio this summer. "I'm really lucky to be in this place," she says.
A version of this story appeared in METRO News Canada.