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Sex is presented in ribald material more for the purpose of poking fun at the foibles and weaknesses that manifest themselves in human sexuality, rather than to present sexual stimulation either excitingly or artistically. Also, ribaldry may use sex as a metaphor to illustrate some non-sexual concern, in which case ribaldry may verge on the territory of satire.
Like any humour, ribaldry may be read as conventional or subversive. Ribaldry typically depends on a shared background of sexual conventions and values, and its comedy generally depends on seeing those conventions broken.
The ritual taboo-breaking that is a usual counterpart of ribaldry underlies its controversial nature and explains why ribaldry is sometimes a subject of censorship. Ribaldry, whose usual aim is not "merely" to be sexually stimulating, often does address larger concerns than mere sexual appetite. However, being presented in the form of comedy, these larger concerns may be overlooked by censors.
Ribaldry is present to some degree in every culture and has likely been around for all of human history. Works like Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Menaechmi by Plautus, Cena Trimalchionis by Petronius, and The Golden Ass of Apuleius are ribald classics from ancient Greece and Rome. Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale" from his Canterbury Tales and The Crabfish, one of the oldest English traditional ballads, are classic examples. The Frenchman François Rabelais showed himself to be a master of ribaldry (technically called grotesque body) in his Gargantua and other works. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne and The Lady's Dressing Room by Jonathan Swift are also in this genre; as is Mark Twain's long-suppressed 1601.
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