What’s with all the HPV punchlines?
Back in 2012 on an episode of HBO’s Girls, Hannah Horvath, played by Lena Dunham, comes home crying from the gynecologist after being told she has HPV. Her friend Jessa pooh-poohs the whole problem, declaring, “All adventurous women do.”
Since that day, the not-at-allfunny sexually transmitted virus has become an unlikely source of comedy gold.
A vast majority of sexually active women, and most men, get the potentially cancer-causing Human Papilloma Virus at some point, but not everybody finds out they’re infected. Still, it’s so common that it can be easy to relate to. Hence the (ahem) proliferation of HPV jokes.
Women claiming gross-out humour is actually pretty feminist, explained UOIT media studies professor Andrea Braithwaite.
“We can think of HPV jokes as part of a larger constellation of body humour that has a long history of resonating with feminist scholars and audiences,” she said.
We use humour, she said, as a kind of relief: “What we laugh at can actually tell us about what makes us anxious.”
And culturally and historically, nothing is surrounded by more anxiety and baggage than women’s bodies and sexuality.
“All the jokes you listed have this in common; they all emphasize women’s choices to have
“If you’ve had sex after the year 1991, then you do have HPV,” says Pippa (Kate McKinnon). “Oh, well then I have a sh— ton of HPV. Clumps and clumps of it,” responds Alice (Jillian Bell).
“Unless you want the HPV you better close them legs, girl. That sh— is everywhere. It’s in the walls,” says Lionel (RuPaul). “Everybody has HPV, OK? If you don’t have it yet, you gon’ get it. It’s coming.” and enjoy sex, which is still a pretty radical idea today.”
Judd Apatow, who created Girls with Dunham, told Metro, “I think it was just something that women talked about that hadn’t been represented on TV. Quietly people were concerned about HPV, and it probably was in the closet ... just like in the old days no one wanted to talk about herpes, then suddenly it became a little bit of a joke.”
He credits Dunham for tackling serious issues in a way that made people more comfortable to discuss them.
“I feel like she changed television,” Apatow said. “No one went that deep about relationships and especially sex as Lena. As a result, all these shows, in a great way, have run through the hole in the wall that she made.”