"Men on bachelor parties always say, 'This will be a funny tale to tell my grandchildren.' But would you really tell your grandchildren how you got so drunk you passed out? And then some waitress wrote 'shit cunt' on your forehead and the whole bar was laughing at you, and someone took a picture and posted it on Facebook?"
I'm speaking to Dr. Daniel Briggs, an ethnographic researcher from the Universidad Europea in Madrid. He's the co-author of a new ethnographic study that finds that—for all of the bravado, strippers, and dollar bills—many men don't enjoy the bachelor parties and really just want to go home.
Conducted over several years in bachelor party hotspots like Ibiza, Magaluf, and Eastern Europe, Dr. Briggs' research came out of other studies on tourism, masculinity, and violence. He says that very little research exists about the social dynamics underpinning bachelor parties, and the potential damage they can cause.
Thanks in part to the popularity of films such as The Hangover and ever-cheaper international aviation, the bachelor party industry is a lucrative one. One survey found that 1.3 million Britons headed overseas in 2015 to celebrate a bachelor or bachelorette party, and individuals spend an average of $850 each on the occasion. But there is a darker side to the pre-nuptial festivities: Bachelor parties have been linked to sex trafficking in Europe, and they can even turn fatal: In July, the best man at a party drowned after being allegedly pushed off a boat while unconscious, and a groom-to-be died in June on the first night of his bachelor party in Magaluf, Spain.
"What our research found," Briggs explains, "is that often things get taken to an extreme level, without the consent of the groom or all the members of the group." He cites examples of drunk men getting lost in foreign cities, or bachelor parties tying the groom—naked—to a door with saran wrap. In his view, men are pressured to take part in these rituals of extreme shaming and humiliation, often against their will.
"When you unpack below the public humiliation and all these moments of degradation, what you realize is men feel quite uncomfortable about it," Briggs argues. In his view, bachelor parties feed into a social construction of masculinity that is highly performative.
"The whole ideology of being young today," Briggs says, "is about constructing experiences that will reap social credibility later in life, as a way of showing you've led a fulfilling life." The behavior, he explains, is self-reinforcing and motivated by peer pressure. "People think this is what should be done, so they do it, but they don't feel comfortable about it. And when you take people out of those situations and say 'how do you feel about what happened yesterday,' they usually feel degraded and shamed by it."
"I remember one bachelor party we attended," Briggs tells me, "where the groom was so against the idea of going to a strip club he almost fought the best man. He went to the strip club and was immensely uncomfortable and humiliated by the experience of all these naked women approaching him asking for a dance. But the best man thought that's what he should be organizing."
"Everyone tends to go along with things they don't necessarily enjoy just to keep up with the rest of the group," explains 32-year-old James*. "Mostly this just involves drinking stupid amounts of alcohol from the moment you wake up, and the amount of shit you get for trying to opt out just isn't worth it." As a result, bachelor parties become "a battle of endurance for everyone involved. You're either so pissed or hungover it's not particularly enjoyable."
Briggs emphasizes how the bachelor industry forms a vital part of today's wedding-industrial complex: "It's part of the consumer society we live in. There's a commercial expectation of certain behaviors, which is bolstered by a social expectation. So websites will offer packages for drinking and access to clubs, and there's a commercial ideology which drives the expectation of certain behaviors."
We already know that masculinity kills men. Like bacteria multiplying in a warm petri dish, bachelor parties provide the optimal conditions for toxic male peer pressure to thrive. "When you have a micro group that's enforcing excessive alcohol and drug consumption, that's when the risks are high," Briggs warns. "And horrible accidents can happen."
Although he's escaped serious injury, James* remembers particularly bleak moments on recent bachelor parties with a mixture of nausea and despair.
"We stayed up all night drinking and doing drugs and then had to get on a bus at 10AM to go canoeing," he reminisces. "The drugs and alcohol wore off as soon as we got on the water, so I spent the next few hours either throwing up or lying prone in the bottom of the canoe. In the end I threw myself in the river in the hope it would make me feel better.
"It did not."
* Name has been changed