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Cult Vault Winona Ryder on safe sex
Illustration Marija Marc

Remember the time Winona Ryder told us to use a condom?

Baby Wino had a strong stance on safe sex in this uncovered interview from the 90s

That people have s-e-x was the big secret writ loud in the 90s, when celebrities were not only expected to openly discuss bedroom behaviour, but have a stance on it. Was Britney really a virgin? Did River Phoenix really go down on girls who ate meat? And who can forget beloved R&B trio TLC pinning condoms to their clothes as “a fashion statement to make it easier to talk about sex”?

As the 80s bled into the 90s, misinformation about how AIDS was contracted was rampant. At the height of the epidemic, the stigma surrounding PWAs was only abetted by ignorant rumours that HIV could be spread by something as inane as sitting on a public toilet seat. As with anything that dominates the news cycle, celebrities were asked their POV. Luckily, Winona Ryder – who admitted to being “pure virgin” before meeting Johnny Depp – was informed enough as a 19-year-old to underscore the importance of safe sex at a time when that message was radical.

“Everyone was aware of AIDS but it seems – and I'm speaking for myself and I'm also speaking for the people I know, not for everybody – it seems like when you're in a sexual situation with someone else in your school, you just don't think of a condom, you don’t think of AIDS,” she says. “There’s this big rumor [that] guys don’t like to wear condoms. That’s what you’re thinking. So it doesn’t come up and you end up, you know, risking your life. And it’s really pretty scary that that doesn’t enter your mind in those situations. And it's really important because it's life and death.”

Like other A-list celebrities, Ryder’s relationship to AIDS wasn’t just telegraphed conjecture. She partially grew up near The Castro neighbourhood in San Francisco, and her mother, Cynthia, “made the first documentary about AIDS, and I was in it,” Ryder once told Harper’s Bazaar. She was also notably spared jail in her highly publicised 2002 shoplifting case (she stole $5,560 worth of merchandise) if she volunteered at the Foundation for the Junior Blind and Caring for Children & Families with AIDS. “Winona Ryder may be a double felon, but she's a double felon with a heart," one of Ryder’s supporters told reporters outside of court at the trial.

Though journalists have generally pivoted away from shock-value virginity questions that defined the media checklist of the 90s and early 00s, Ryder navigated the quagmire of answering such a question with intention and eloquence. For that we say, Wino Forever. And wear a condom.