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Bachelorette Party: Sexual Expression?

Women Celebrate Female Bonding, Upcoming Marriage

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 29, 2003 -- The strippers, the drinking: Bachelor parties are standard for a guy who's walking down the aisle. But move over guys -- women are enjoying this ritual, too.

It's called the bachelorette party -- and it's usually what you would expect: a boisterous night complete with male strippers, drinking, dancing, laughter. Nothing overtly naughty -- just a girls' night out. It's a night for female bonding.

The bachelorette party has become increasingly popular over the past two decades, as women celebrate their sexuality and their upcoming marriage, writes lead researcher Beth Montemurro, PhD, a sociology professor at Penn State University's Abington Campus.

Her study, which looks at the cultural meaning behind these rituals, appears in the spring issue of Sexuality and Culture.

Message Behind the Wild Night

While the bachelorette party is a fun night out with friends, "it's also showing us that women's comfort with their sexuality has changed. Women are more sexually expressive than was case in earlier decades," Montemurro tells WebMD.

Not that women have eschewed the bridal shower -- not at all, she says. "Even though women dislike bridal showers, they still are an important part of the wedding and a way for friends to show they care."

However, Montemurro says most women are bored at bridal showers. Many women already have lots of stuff. Thus, the bachelorette party has become a more relaxed celebration that fits the modern woman, she says.

The Hard Data

Montemurro's study involved four bachelorette parties held in four major cities and suburban areas in Pennsylvania and Georgia. Two were held in male strip clubs. The other parties were in large nightclubs with different themed rooms -- allowing partiers to bar-hop inside one location. Many allowed guys inside, too.

That scenario allowed Montemurro to observe numerous female partiers and interview 51 women, all in their early to mid 20s.

"Bachelorette parties are hyper-sexualized rituals," she writes. In fact, 81% contained a sexual element or theme. In half the parties, the bride-to-be was dressed with a veil -- and decorated with condoms and phallic novelties, she reports.

Penis gummies, penis mugs, penis straws, penis sippy cups, penis cakes, penis cookies -- all variations of phallic symbols and sex toys -- were the evening's theme. Gag gifts like edible underwear, massage oil, penis-shaped pasta, penis-shaped thermoses, and sex books were standard fare.

Drawing the Line

The bachelorette party often has a "task list" for the bride-to-be: licking tequila off a guy's body, getting men to suck a piece of candy off a "candy shirt," getting phone numbers from strange guys, getting a lap dance from a male stripper.

While friends howled and were delighted by the lap dancers, some brides-to-be were clearly embarrassed, Montemurro reports.

However, she observed a couple of women going further -- kissing strange men, sometimes "intimately," which the women's friends found offensive, she adds.

"There were elements showing that women aren't completely comfortable with the sexual nature of these parties," she tells WebMD. "It's very clear there are still boundaries. A couple of women crossed the line, and even though their actions don't seem that extreme, her friends were surprised. One woman who saw a picture of herself kissing another man was shocked. Even though they had fun, women still feel there's a line when it comes to sex."

It's All Good

Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, took an informal survey in her office: Women are indeed enjoying bachelorette parties all over Atlanta.

However, there is "a huge range" in the types of parties, she tells WebMD. Some were just a girls' night out, perhaps at a dance club. Other bachelorette parties were much more sexual, with strippers -- as in Montemurro's study.

"This points to the greater range of ways that women can bond and express themselves, and that's wonderful," Kaslow tells WebMD. "It's really nice for women to have this range of options, but they have to do what's comfortable for them."

If you're invited to a bachelorette party, inquire ahead about the theme, she advises.

"Like everything in life, the issue is extremes," Kaslow adds. "If people get really out of control and do unsafe things, that's obviously not OK. But there's no reason why sexual expression needs to be taboo. It's a healthy attitude. And as long as it's not extreme, the bachelorette party helps get rid of the double standard."

SOURCE: Spring issue of Sexuality and Culture. Beth Montemurro, PhD, a sociology professor at Penn State University's Abington Campus. Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University, Atlanta.