Sex & Jokes: The Great (and Free!) Recession Stress Relievers

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You might think that a financial crisis and a dreary, prolonged economic downturn might be a total bummer. People wouldn’t find much of anything funny, and they wouldn’t exactly be in the mood for other kinds of fun, either. Actually, it appears the opposite is true: In tough times, people seek out releases more than ever—and what are better stress relievers than good sex and bad jokes?

Perhaps it’s the other way around? Bad sex and good jokes? Either way, enjoying some laughs and getting it on are both free activities—unless, that is, you’re going to a comedy club or if you’re Eliot Spitzer—and they’re guaranteed to break the tension during tough times. So we shouldn’t be surprised when people are indulging in both in great numbers.

A snippet from a recent article from the highly esteemed Maxim magazine called (quite subtly) “Riding Out the Recession”:

If you’re looking for the upside of the economic downturn, here it is: Women are horny as hell. You’d think that living in perpetual dread of being laid off would make our libidos shrink like our 401(k)s. Paradoxically, though, this acute anxiety may have the opposite effect. “Fear elevates dopamine levels,” says biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, Ph.D. “For some people, going through a traumatic experience can actually stimulate their sex drives.” Circumstantial evidence backing up that claim: Condom sales ballooned by five percent at the end of last year. There’s even been a spike in 
online sex ads. Postings in Craigslist’s “casual encounters” leaped from 1.4 million in October 2007 to 3.1 million in October 2008. A typical one from a female poster: “Down in the dumps during this recession, layoffs at work, more stressful at my job, weather sucks…is there any cute, down-to-earth, d/d-free guy out there willing to let me forget about all this BS for a night?”

I know what you’re thinking. Maxim, the mag with how-tos on one-night stands and photo galleries just shy of Penthouse, is not exactly the trusted authority that, say, the BBC is. Well, the BBC pretty much agrees with the theory—and seeing as it quotes the same source and published its piece well before Maxim, the BBC’s reporting probably provided Maxim with the idea for its story:

Given the economic downturn, is passion too in recession? Or will couples fling themselves into each other’s arms to compensate for their inability to spend, spend, spend?

Professor Helen Fisher, of Rutgers University, holds this latter theory.

The sheer stress of money worries in general, and fear of redundancy in particular will, [she argues, elevate levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain – and dopamine is associated with romantic love.

“Times of stress can trigger feelings of attraction – quite simply, you’re more susceptible,” she said…

A YouGov survey of 20,144 British adults in November 2008 found sex was the most popular low-cost activity…

Surely when people feel alone, they reach out for connection, seek out pleasure in the form of skin-on-skin contact?

Surely when people need relief from their financial worries they reach for the natural medication created by body contact, which releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin?

One more indicator that sex is hot (in the trend sense) is that, during a time when most products are suffering steep sales declines, condom sales are up, alongside strong sales of things like donuts, smartphones, vegetable seeds, and lottery tickets.

Laughter serves pretty much the same purpose as sex, but (most likely) with your clothes on. Stress dissipates, at least for a little while. It’s a particular brand of joking that’s primed for the recession: gallows humor. From the WSJ:

Psychologists say that gallows humor can be an important way to relieve stress.

“Humor makes you feel in control and it can give you that feeling that everything is okay even when it’s not,” says James M. Jones, a psychology professor at the University of Delaware.

Psychologists say that just because you’re laughing doesn’t mean you’re wasting time. You’re actually making yourself—and those around you—better employees. Occasional teasing and banter among colleagues, particularly if it revolves around things associated with the job, can boost creativity, departmental cohesiveness and performance, they say.

“There are a lot of stressors out there,” says Ed Dunkelblau, a psychologist and corporate consultant with the Institute for Emotionally Intelligent Learning in Chicago. “Humor is a way of making difficult things a little less difficult.”

The story mainly concerns gallows humor at the workplace, but I still dipped into that medium well after I’d lost my job. I’d listen to people who were still employed talking about how everyone in their office was paranoid, working frantically in a terrible atmosphere in which they all knew their jobs were on the line and could disappear in a moment. “Jeez,” I’d say. “Thank God I already got laid off so I don’t have to deal with all that.”

So laugh it up. Find a partner and have some fun. And think: What wonderful times they must have been having in the Great Depression!

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