How Far is Too Far?

Despite easing tension around taboo subjects, sexual humor is too often used to undermine and sexualize others.

If I got a nickel every time I heard something sexual being joked about while in the presence of adolescents, I’d get a few bucks a day.

Even some of my friends would contribute to my nickel collection, for they share perfectly placed, yet still out of pocket, “That’s what she said” jokes and out-of-context conversations turned sexual innuendos. I’m not denying that sexual humor if used appropriately, can be funny, but oversexualizing situations and prompting sexism moves beyond the limit of an acceptable “joke.” Using this genre of humor as a means to validate immature and degrading comments should not surpass the potential laughs it may gain.

Humor on its own is good. It allows the release of serotonin and dopamine and can additionally create a more comfortable pathway to talk about taboo topics like sex, but that is often manipulated. This makes it easier for a controversial topic to be misrepresented and uses humor to normalize sexual bias under the guise of comedic expression. Sexual humor shouldn’t be used to get away with oversexualizing conversations and women.

Illustration by Lola Diehl

According to Antony J. Chapman and Nicholas J. Gadfield of the University of Wales’ Department of Applied Psychology, sexual humor is funnier to men than to women. This type of humor is thereby more commonly presented and promoted by men and designed for male entertainment. Their article, “Is Sexual Humor Sexist?” expands on the idea that this humor is more “derogatory to feminine than to masculine values” based on its higher appreciation by males in general. How is a man supposed to be able to present a woman’s perspective in everyday life, let alone express a feminine point of view on sexual topics, if they never truly understand what it’s like for females? I for one have heard plenty of boys try and fail.

Telling “jokes” that turn casual conversations into openings to bring up sexual situations and stereotypical expectations makes men seem immature and sexist rather than funny. Also, some continue to make these jokes as if they don’t understand their offensiveness, and that masculine bias has consequences.

This male-dominant perspective on a topic involving both sexes can turn acknowledging mature situations with comical banter into an excuse to degrade females and cover it up with humor.

Traditional theories of Aristotle and Plato in “The Poetics” and “Philebus” first introduced the idea of superiority influencing humor thousands of years ago. This kind of humor is reflected when people laugh at the misfortune or insulting of others, and in doing so heightens our individual sense of superiority.

Teenagers joke about sex because they’re still learning about it and may not be comfortable with it. Additionally, some men use sexual humor to express misogynistic views, and their insecurity shows when they try to gain superiority over their female counterparts with immature disrespect.

This is where sexual humor infiltrates simpleminded jokes that can cause harm on a more serious level. Humor is a weak alibi for harmful statements.

In Carlos Yela’s “Encyclopedia of Applied Psychology,” he explains that social norms are dependent on a person’s interactions with the world and the things they are exposed to. A person’s perspective of those social norms can affect their behavior about them, or in this case, their jokes. What’s playful to one teenager may be offensive to another, so best to tread lightly.

Everybody may not agree with what I find funny and that sense of humor differentiation is perfectly ok, but in terms of what is acceptable joke material, people should have some decency to know when a “joke” isn’t actually a joke but downright disrespectful.

While aiding sexual topics with humor can tackle an uncomfortable theme and gain a few good laughs, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to promote misogyny and undermine the presence of sexism behind a punchline.