What’s with all the HPV punch­lines?

Metro Canada (Toronto) - - VIEWS: - Genna Buck & melita Kuburas Metro Canada

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.”

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