The stereotypical bachelor party (and by extension, bachelorette party) is a salacious night, featuring heavy intoxication, the presence of strippers, and other sexual themes. But according to recent reports, younger generations are planning cleaner bachelor parties, without strippers and sexual themes, and with a greater focus on spending time with friends than on drinking as much as possible or getting intoxicated in other ways.
So how is it that bachelor parties became so extreme, and why is that trend now reversing?
The History of the Bachelor Party
Bachelor and bachelorette parties can be traced back thousands of years; in Ancient Greece, before a wedding, a bride would gather her closest friends and relatives in a celebration paying tribute to Artemis, the goddess of childbirth. In Sparta, a groom would gather his closest friends for a pre-wedding banquet.
Over the past several hundred years, these types of premarital parties remained important traditions and evolved to suit the needs, desires, and possibilities of the cultures adopting them. Bachelor parties in Western cultures began to symbolize a passage from one phase of life to another, or from childhood to adulthood, in place of a “real” adulthood ceremony. It’s also an extension of rituals and gatherings meant to prepare people for the traditional duties of marriage (i.e., creating children), which is probably why sexual imagery and themes continue to pervade these parties in modern culture.
Factors for Escalation
It’s easy to see why gathering friends, drinking, and featuring some level of sexual imagery have all become features of the modern bachelor party, but why has the level of these features grown to become so extreme?
• Travel availability and disposable income. For starters, wealth in Western cultures has increased significantly over the past 100 years. It’s far easier and cheaper to travel to exotic destinations, and the average person has more disposable income they can afford to spend on indulgences. More money to spend means more purchases of alcohol, and more high-cost indulgences, like gambling, nightlife, and erotic entertainment.
• The snowball effect. Bachelor parties have also fallen victim to one-upmanship. When someone in a group of friends has an all-out bachelor party with heavy drinking and debauchery, that sets a bar—and other friends in the group can’t help but want a party that’s bigger and better. Over the course of just a few generations, it’s easy for the snowball effect to take a relatively tame bachelor party and turn it into something downright scandalous.
• Marketing and advertising. There’s a lot of money to be made in hosting and providing the goods for bachelor parties, and companies in the entertainment, nightlife, and alcohol industry know it. Accordingly, marketing and advertising campaigns have pushed for imagery of more indulgent, higher-cost bachelor parties to drive more revenue.
Factors for De-escalation
Remember, despite the past couple of decades of debauchery, the raunchiness of the average bachelor party is actually decreasing. But why is this?
• The urge to be different. Up-and-coming generations always strive to be different than the generations that came before them, so when millennials see the extravagant and raucous parties of generations past, they can’t help but strive for something a little tamer, or at least something a little more original. They’re more likely to participate in a hobby they find enjoyable, or celebrate around a specific event, than to simply go to a bar.
• Frugal spenders. Millennials are more frugal spenders than their previous generational counterparts, for a few different reasons. For starters, they make less money, which means less disposable income and the need to watch their spending habits closer. They also tend to be less materialistic, which means they’re less inclined to spend money on things that aren’t important to them. Combine these trends, and you have millennial brides and grooms who simply aren’t willing to spend the money on an all-out bachelor party.
• Attention to marketing and advertising. Millennials have grown up bombarded with marketing campaigns and advertisements, and have less trust in corporations accordingly. That distrust of companies and advertisements makes them less likely to buy into the cultural narrative that you need to have a sinful, indulgent bachelor party to have a good time.
Regardless of how tame or extreme the average bachelor party is, bachelor parties themselves are likely to remain a staple of Western culture—and of cultures all over the world—for the foreseeable future. As long as couples are still getting married, or affirming their commitments to each other, there will be a desire for a ritual among friends and family members to prepare the bride and groom for their transition moving forward; how that ritual unfolds will change based on the preferences and zeitgeist of the people attending it.