It’d be a pretty dull day at the office if no one ever cracked a dirty joke. But, some say, years of zero tolerance sexual harassment policies in the workplace have produced a frigid climate where everyone has to check their sexual beings at the reception desk (without making an inappropriate comment to the receptionist, of course).

Well, a new study has broken the ice… sort of.

Researchers at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Management discovered that some employees say they actually, gasp, enjoy the occasional sexually charged joke, discussions of sexual matters or flirtation around the office.

But before you go patting your co-worker on the butt, the study also found that the same workers who said they enjoyed some sexual banter in the workplace also withdrew from work, felt less valued and reported depressive symptoms more often than employees who experienced little to no sexual behaviour at the office.

In other words, a little sexual innuendo might be good for a laugh, but it’s lousy for morale and productivity.

“In our culture, sexuality has connotations of domination, subordinance and vulnerability,” said professor Jennifer Berdahl, co-author of the study.

“Often a dominating behaviour is a way of making someone squirmy. Why bring this into the workplace?”?

Considering how quickly most dinner party conversation eventually gets around to the topic of sex, it’s unrealistic to think that people who spend eight to12 hours a day together aren’t ever going to go there.

But you only have to watch an episode of Mad Men to see how bad things might still be if we hadn’t put on the brakes. Sexual harassment laws did much to eliminate the day when it was okay to make “bosom” cracks in front of your female secretary.

Sure, harassment laws can be applied overly zealously — using them to stop a man from putting a picture of his wife in a bikini on his desk, something that apparently happened somewhere in the U.S., for example.

But, as far as I’m concerned, as long as men and women are too daft to recognize behaviour that makes another person squirmy, we still need rules to keep the workplace from feeling like a singles’ bar or, even a dinner party.

And no, I don’t think that’s funny.

– Josey Vogels is a sex and relationship columnist and author of five books on the subjects. For more info, visit

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