In an article on humor in Sexuality, Society, and Feminism,
Michael Mulkay examined the representation of women in men’s sexual humor by
analyzing dirty jokes collected by folklore researchers and comic routines in
British pubs observed by ethnographers. He identified four basic themes in this
male sexual humor:
1) The primacy of intercourse—all men want is sex.
2) The availability of women—all women are sexually
available to all men even when they pretend not to be.
3) The objectification of women—women exist to meet men’s
needs, and are, or should be, passive.
4) The subordination of women’s discourse—women must be
These themes articulate why this
type of sexual humor is offensive and hurtful to women personally and also
detrimental to healthy relationships between men and women. I want to be
careful not to over-generalize from the two studies listed above, which reflect
a fairly small segment of English-speaking males. However, the fact is that
there is an over-abundance of jokes that reflect these themes. I will not
provide examples here, and I assume you don’t need to be convinced of the harm
this kind of humor can do to relationships.
Nevertheless, we have to remember
that some sexual humor can be healthy and appropriate. In the United States
there seems to be a tendency to label humor either dirty or clean, with
anything sexual belonging to the dirty category, thus perpetuating the
unfortunate notion that sex is dirty. I am not opposed to humor with sexual
innuendos, as long as it doesn’t use the themes outlined above. Mulkay’s
identification of these themes can be useful in distinguishing between sexual
humor that is harmful and that which is healthy.
There were three engineers discussing
the design of the human body. The mechanical engineer insisted that it must
have been a mechanical engineer who designed it since without the skeletal
structure we would be like jellyfish. The electrical engineer claimed that an
electrical engineer designed the body, given the importance of the brain and
the nervous system. The civil engineer said, “No, no, no! It had to be a civil
engineer. Who else would put a waste-water treatment facility in the middle of
a recreational area?