First of all, I’d like to welcome everyone who arrived here by Googling “dirty jokes.” You will probably be disappointed. This was not, however, a gratuitous attempt to increase my page views; I actually do have something to say on the subject.
During my time in college, especially near the end, I was spending time with two very different groups of people. First, there were the Easties, inhabitants of a Harvey Mudd dorm known for its tight (and nerdy) community. I had lived there one year and continued to spend a great deal of time there. Its common room, virtually always inhabited by at least a few people studying, chatting, or playing Settlers or Super Smash Brothers, was ideal for wandering through when I was bored and looking for someone to hang out with.
I was also beginning to get to know people from my church. Several recent alumni I’d known through Intervarsity Christian Fellowship had moved from Claremont to the Pasadena area, which left them close enough to easily visit, and they’d begun attending Sovereign Grace Pasadena. This was irrelevant to me until I began dating one of them. I began attending this church with him. Because I already knew a handful of other attendees, I began to fit in more easily than I generally do at churches, and gradually got to know a good number of the families there.
These two groups, of course, were utterly unlike each other. The one was highly intelligent, goofy, ribald, and bad-mannered. The other was of ordinary education, serious, prudish, and socially skilled. The latter group was designed, almost mandated, to help and support each other. Yet it was with the former, who had no such obligation, that I felt more comfortable sharing with about my life. If I had had a problem, I would have gone to my college friends for help before my church friends. I just felt more comfortable there.
Partly, of course, I just had more in common with my fellow nerdy college students. Another aspect also isn’t a failing of the church community. In a group like the Easties, which contained belligerent atheists, non-practicing Jews, a Muslim in a headscarf, and a Baha’i who was always trying to get us to see how much we all have in common, we survived by being non-judgmental. This doesn’t mean we didn’t argue. In fact, we argued a great deal, especially over email. However, these arguments managed to never spill over into real-life condemnation of someone else’s beliefs or actions, let alone actual ill-feeling. This live-and-let-live would actually be irresponsible in the church, which acts as a moral authority and therefore should condemn wrong actions and beliefs. Still, East made the better listening ear; if you have a serious problem that you know is your own fault, you may have an easier time confessing it to someone who wasn’t going to immediately point out that what you did was wrong.
The other reason East made the better environment for sharing was, you guessed it, dirty jokes. You can’t put fifty college students together without a lot of off-color humor popping up as well. Needless to say, that never happened at church care group. I think care group lost out. Dirty jokes actually help build community, especially Christian community, as I intend to show.
Just about every Protestant church these days is in favor of sex and teaches that it is a gift from God to be enjoyed within marriage. Then just about every Protestant church shuts up and never talks about it again. Sex is a black hole in Christian culture, where everyone is encouraged to get married and have babies and there are premarital counseling groups and married couples’ groups and parenting groups and mothers’ groups women’s ministries* and so on–virtually all of which will scrupulously avoid mentioning sex. If it is mentioned, the conversation is vague and awkward. We just don’t know how to talk about it.
Sex is also a part of many divisive topics that the church engages in current events, both those addressed ad nauseum, gay marriage and abortion, and less chewed-over topics like the AIDS epidemic and the HPV vaccine. The awkwardness that still surrounds sex makes these topics difficult to discuss in Christian circles and we sometimes reach potentially dangerous mistaken conclusions, such as not letting girls get the HPV vaccine**, because although our beliefs about sex have change, our attitude is still that sex is a Bad Thing that Other People Do.
Sex is a major element in most people’s lives, so our unwillingness to address it creates a major hole in our ability to act as a support network for each other. Intervarsity Christian Fellowship encouraged students to join accountability groups, where you were supposed to be able to openly share the sins and temptations you were struggling with, but these groups suffered from a problem: there was still an aura of taboo surrounding sexual sins. Regardless of how common they were or how easy to fall into, they seemed a thousand times worse than the standard gamut of getting annoyed at people and forgetting to do your nightly Bible study. Problems can also arise in non-sinful contexts. A married couple could be having a hawk/dove problem, which can be highly damaging to a relationship. I don’t think I’m the only one who would have trouble voicing problems like these.
We need to get more comfortable talking about sex, and there’s no better place to start than with jokes. Joking is a way to engage the topic while distancing ourselves from it a little bit. It gets us comfortable with the topic and the fact that we all have parts and use them frequently. After that, it’s easier to move on to serious conversation.
Part of the pressure against dirty jokes is no doubt because people think that talking freely about sex in front of unmarried people, especially teenagers and college students, will be interpreted as permissivity. Perhaps, but it will also dispel the mystery and taboo surrounding sex, making young people less likely to experiment out of curiosity or rebellion, and it will help clearly define the role sex plays in life, leading to a more healthy attitude towards sex. Besides, there are plenty of other things teenagers aren’t allowed to do yet–driving, smoking, drinking–that we don’t feel the need to never talk about in front of them.
Of course there will always be situations where talking about sex is inappropriate: visiting the grandparents, talking to young children, and so on. Discretion is always advisable. But half of discretion is knowing when it’s okay to talk about something and, yes, to joke about it.
*This is unfortunate. I’ll do a short post on it next.
**The argument is that vaccinating girls against HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, will promote promiscuity. Not so. Have you ever met a girl who wanted to have sex, but didn’t because she was afraid of getting cervical cancer? No? That’s because no one thinks that way. Since risk of cervical cancer isn’t a factor that stops people from having sex, taking away that risk won’t cause people to have sex. Additionally, a girl could contract HPV some other way than through casual sex. What if her husband is a carrier? What if she gets raped? The latter would suck, but if she then also got cancer, it would suck even more. In the end, the only real argument against the HPV vaccine is that it’s a new vaccine and it might have side effects. Fair enough, but this factor will disappear over time. So let your daughters get the HPV vaccine.