Photo: Courtesy of Adrian Mesko

On an episode of her hit Comedy Central show “Broad City,” Ilana Glazer’s character tells co-star Abbi, played by Abbi Jacobson, that even though she already has the human papilloma virus (HPV), she’s going to get the vaccine that protects against it anyway.

"Don't you already have HPV?" Abbi asks. Ilana responds, laughing: "Of course I have HPV. I'd almost be embarrassed not to have HPV at this point. But now, I don't have the three strains that can cause cervical cancer.”

The dialogue may seem insignificant, but because HPV — which affects 80 percent of sexually active people at some point in their lives — can be spread through sexual intercourse, it was radical in some people’s eyes.

From politics to positivity

“It’s just so upsetting that girls’ bodies and women’s bodies are this property as a political tool, when really were just trying to not get cancer,” Glazer says, referring to her character’s line.

It all circles back to a concept Glazer is passionate about raising awareness of: sex positivity. And thinking about sex positively can make people healthier and happier.

“To me, sex positivity is a spirit of curiosity, forgiveness with oneself, and also a little bit of comedy,” Glazer said. “It’s also something we draw from inside ourselves. It’s something we all do … but we’re conditioned to have shame about it.”

Glazer grew up in the ’90s, when boys and girls got sex ed separately. “It was pretty binary then,” she says, adding that more positive attitudes around sex are needed. “I think it needs to be approached with comedy, and I think young women and men need to hear the same thing,” she adds.

“Raunchy” for a reason

But even as younger people have begun letting go of gender norms and opened their minds to new ideas around sexuality and talking about sex, Glazer has faced criticism when some have deemed her jokes “raunchy.” That doesn’t faze her, she says, because it's “up to the viewer” to draw their own conclusions — though she hopes her comedy inspires self-reflection.

Sex is so much more than intercourse.

“If you think my comedy is raunchy I would ask why,” she says, but at the same time, adding, “I would hope that it would push them to think about themselves and get to know themselves better.”

That gentle and introspective approach is what sex positivity is all about. 

“Sexuality is just one slice of the pie of who we are,” she adds. “I think of sex positivity as a beautiful thing that deserves nurturing and focus and attention, and also that [everything] changes over time throughout our lives — it’s about listening to yourself about what your sexuality is today, this week, this month, this year, or these 10 years.”

Making the personal public

For Glazer today, that’s evolved. “My partner David has really helped me let go of so much of sex being a joke and taking it seriously,” she said. “That’s been a huge thing for me. But also, I’ve had success in comedy, so why not let it break the tension during sex? If I’m feeling a little vulnerable, why not lean into that because I’m good at comedy? But it’s also seriousness — it’s a practice for me to take myself seriously.”

Glazer believes that practicing this open-mindedness and acceptance in the bedroom is how young people can practice sex-positivity themselves. 

“Sex is so much more than intercourse,” she said. “You could count making out as sex; it’s a wide range of beauty to be had and experience to be enjoyed.”