“All adventurous women do.” This is the title of an episode and line from the critically acclaimed series on HBO called Girls season 1 episode 3 that is loosely based on Millennial, Lena Dunham‘s life. Lena Dunham is known as the poster child of her generation, based on a line she had her character Hannah say about herself. Hannah can come across as a narcissistic, spoiled, whiny, opinionated writer that lives in New York City. Lena plays and writes Hannah in a Woody Allen like persona. She is not conventionally attractive, she is awkward in many social situations, and she rarely finds joy in life. Her mainly middle class upbringing is what she pulls from to develop several storylines. Lena has tackled sufficient controversial topics that left her open to major criticism.
In the “All Adventurous Woman Do” episode, Hannah faces a diagnosis of a sexually transmitted infection/disease, STI/STD. During this highly provocative episode, Hannah is diagnosed with a Human Papilloma Virus, HPV and feels the need to share her diagnosis with her past sexual partners. In the episode prior to receiving her diagnosis, Hannah is a notorious hypochondriac and while she was accompanying a friend’s abortion, she decides to schedule a gynecological exam to rule out the possibility of acquiring a sexually transmitted infections/diseases.
PHOTO CREDIT: WikiCommons
Hannah suffers from various forms of mental health disorders particularly obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD and has an irrational life long fear of acquiring the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, HIV despite her claim of rigorous usage of condoms. When she receives the actual telephone call from her gynecologist informing her of the official diagnosis of HPV, she is profoundly relieved. Hannah’s best friend was more upset than Hannah when she heard of her HPV diagnosis. Due to Hannah’s tendency to become obsessed with sexual safety precautions, the notion that she would be the one to get a STI/STD is really baffling to her best friend. For Hannah, since she did not get the worst sexually transmitted infection or disease, the news of acquiring HPV is taken in stride.
Later in the episode, Hannah shares her HPV status with another younger friend, and her friend responds by saying “All adventurous woman do.” In this statement, her friend was offering a way to put her newfound diagnosis into perspective.
In other words, she asserted all woman with a healthy and natural sex life will get HPV. This statement may not be too much of an exaggeration. HPV is the most broadly acquired sexually transmitted infection. Some affected individuals do not know that they are infected, due to a lack of symptoms unless women are specifically tested.
The majority of strains of HPV will dissipate on its own, but some forms can be more aggressive. Infection with the HPV virus affects at least 50 percent of all people who have sex at some time in their lives. This statistic is staggering, since the majority of the population is sexually active at some point in their lives.
There are over 100 forms of HPVs and each papilloma (wart) is given a proper name. From the 100 forms of HPV, 60 are transmitted in warts located on the hands or feet. The other 40 types of HPV are transmitted via sexual interaction. These strains are spread through the mucus membranes located in the vaginal and anal area. There are certain strains of HPV that are a higher risk than others. High-risk HPV strains include HPV 16 and 18, which cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers. Other high-risk HPV viruses include 31, 33, 45, 52, 58, and a few others. Low-risk HPV strains, such as HPV 6 and 11, cause about 90 percent of genital warts, which rarely develop into cancer.
PHOTO CREDIT: R McGuire/ Gratisography
There is a vaccine that protects against HPV 16 and 18, which are the strains that can turn into cancer. The vaccine can also protect against HPV 6 and 11, which is less risky and manifests into warts.
This series of vaccines was the result of a monumental drive towards protecting young lives from the possibility of acquiring certain strains of HPV. The guidelines as to when to administer these vaccines has recently changed. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), boys and girls should receive the first vaccine at 11-12 years of age. The second vaccine should be given 6 to 12 months after the first one is administered. There is a third vaccine that is recommended for young adults around 24 years of age to maintain the needed antibodies to stay at a certain level in their system.
Returning to the show, Girls: No reference was made as to why the vaccine was not given to any of the characters. Lena made such an effort to weave prominent facts about HPV throughout the character’s dialogue that for her to completely overlook the vaccine option is puzzling. When the vaccine first came out in 2006, the characters of Girls were eligible to have received it as long as they had not had sexual interactions. The vaccine is not given to individuals who have participated in any sexual behavior.
In fact, the same friend that offered Hannah solace on her HPV status, complained throughout the episode about still being a virgin. Since being a virgin is a criteria for eligibility for the vaccine, public health officials and physicians are recommending the age to be as young as 11 years old.
Some parents and guardians are reluctant to have their child vaccinated due to the possibility of introducing the idea of sex at such a young age. They believe that children may be more careless in their sexual behavior due to a false sense of security of being vaccinated. Hannah has extremely educated and involved parents and she lost her virginity at a later age. They had the resources and knowledge to have protected their daughter. So, borrowing from the colorful language of Hannah and the rest of the Girls cast: “What the fu#%?”
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Once Hannah receives her STI/STD stamp of approval from her friend as a womanly rite-of-passage, her friend recommends she tell her current sexual partner, Adam, of her newfound diagnosis. Hannah assumes that Adam was the one to give her HPV because she only had slept with one other boyfriend.
When she finds out that Adam just had a sexual panel review in the past week and was found to be completely healthy, she believes she has to contact her old boyfriend. Hannah has not spoken to her ex boyfriend, Elijah in years and she chooses to meet at a bar to confront him about her HPV status. As the conversation progresses, Hannah is becoming annoyed. Elijah is recounting his coming out experience to her and his appreciation to Hannah for helping him decide that he is gay.
As Hannah was completely unaware of his homosexual experiences, Hannah blurts out, in true form, to Elijah that he gave her HPV and he had better share this information with his various sexual partners. Elijah informs Hannah that she better look to her current boyfriend as the carrier of HPV, whereupon Hannah informs him that he was tested and he is fine. Elijah correctly tells Hannah that there is no definitive test for HPV for males. There is a tendency in these characters to shift blame onto others and there is no ownership of responsibility. Elijah is a man who sleeps with other men unbeknownst to Hannah while they were together, which puts her at a slightly higher risk of attracting a more serious STI/STD like HIV and many others.
There is a relaxed approach to major life event’s on Girls. Sexually transmitted infections/diseases are usually considered serious and complex concepts to contemplate. Lena attempts to bring light to heavy issues that most shows would shy away from. She is brave to address these highly charged health issues that are usually addressed in dramas rather than in comedies.
What is concerning is the lack of growth Hannah and the other Girls characters refuse to embrace. There is a certain frivolous approach to life that is embedded in each character. No one on the show is emotionally healthy or financially aware. They are white, privileged and do not have the skill set to face life’s challenges. Being diagnosed with HPV was an opportunity for Lena to make Hannah grow. If anything, Hannah stagnated and used it as an excuse to be even more selfish with her romantic partners. Every character on Girls vacillates between their purpose in life and endless opinions on everything, hence a show with little character growth. Lena Dunham has compared her show to the series Seinfeld, the only difference is the characters on Seinfeld were addressing issues like soup and poet shirts, not sexually transmitted infections/diseases and abortions. One thing is clear, Lena Dunham created a show filled with adventurous women.
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