When I was first introduced to the Decameron, my mother warned me that the stories are bawdy and inappropriate for a teenager to read. Of course, I immediately reshelved the book and waited for another decade when I could handle "the truth." Some zillion years later, The Spanish Medievalist and I are now teaching Boccaccio to teenagers. The Medievalist tells the Freshman BICers the same thing. "These stories involve adult situations, inappropriate for a young audience. Read the few stories we have screened, but DO NOT read anything else in the book."
Sex overshadows the story... the META-story. And, I guess that is the point. The interlocutors tell stories to each other to forget about the fact that friends and family have died from an unprecedented out-break of the Plague. There was not only the sorrow of death, but a tremendous fear... no one knew why or how people were dying. This is how Boccaccio begins the Decameron:
I say, then, that in the year 1348 after the Son of God's fruitful incarnation, into the distinguished city of Florence, that most beautiful of Italian cities, there entered a deadly pestilence. Whether one believes that it came through the influence of the heavenly bodies or that God, justly angered by our iniquities, sent it for our correction, in any case it had begun several years earlier in the east and killed an innumerable mass of people, spreading steadily from place to place and growing as it moved west. No human wisdom or provision was of any help.
So, in light of this (and the suffering in Japan and Libya today), I ask you why do we seek out humor and comedy in times of great suffering?