Party Lifestyle Syndrome

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

A reader writes:

I just wanted to know what is your opinion on people going to "Clubs?"  With Clubs, I mean dance clubs that are everywhere.  Many young adults in my generation seem to be enamored with the "Party" lifestyle, and that includes going to clubs, drinking, etc.  Do you think as Catholics, that is a particularly good place to be, or would it be wise to stay away from those places alltogether?  My priest said that sometimes the Devil is in there.

I’m afraid that in answering this question I’m hampered by a lack of data. Although I attend multiple dance clubs every week, I suspect that I’m attending a very, very different kind than the ones you are talking about. (SEE HERE.) The clubs that I attend do not serve alcoholic beverages, do not engage in sensual dancing, and on the whole are far more wholesome than the kind that I suspect you are talking about.

I can’t recall ever having been to a club of the kind that you seem to have in mind, and so I don’t really have a good handle for what goes on in them. I can use my imagination, but imagination is not a substitute for knowing the actual facts.

What I can do is break the question into its component parts and address them:

1) Drinking: Drinking in moderation is not immoral. Therefore, it is not intrinsically immoral for a business to serve alcoholic beverages or for people to patronize such a business.

If, however, one will be tempted to abuse alcohol in a particular setting then one should avoid that setting.

Due to the impairment of judgment that alcohol can cause, one should especially avoid settings in which alcohol is being served and other immoral activities are going on, like . . .

2) Sensual dancing: Young, unmarried people should not be engaging in dances that are deliberately intended to arouse sexual feelings. Young people have plenty of sexual feelings already and do not need to arouse more of them. Doing so constitutes a direct danger to their chastity.

I’m not saying that one cannot make dancing an occasion of romance–historically dancing has been a particularly noteworthy element of romance and courtship–but I am saying that dancing that is engaged in for purposes of arousing sexual feelings between people who are not married is intrinsically immoral.

It and the occasions of it are to be avoided, because they lead to . . .

3) "Hooking up." Now, I’m from a generation in which "hooking up" did not mean anything sexual, but from working with chastity speakers, I’ve learned that this phrase has a whole new signification among young people today and refers to intrapersonal contact (other than dancing) designed to arouse sexual feelings.

See previous notes about the lack of a need that young people have for additional sexual feelings and their responsibility to avoid deliberately arousing them.

"Hooking up" can, in turn, lead to or involve . . .

4) Outright sex.

I’m guessing that almost nobody reading this blog is going to be unaware of what Catholic moral theology would have to say about people who aren’t married having sex, so we needn’t dwell on the matter.

There are other elements of the "party lifestyle" to which you refer, including the use of illegal drugs, underage drinking, and the neglect of important duties (like schoolwork)–as well as the corollaries that tend to accompany unmarried sex (contraception, pregnancy, abortion, venereal disease).

There is also the issue of people getting emotionally involved with people (friends, girlfriends, boyfriends)  who are wrapped up in the party lifestyle. This is a problem in and of itself, for as St. Paul says: "Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company
ruins good morals’" (1 Cor. 15:33).

There is also the fact that environments such as this are bad places to meet good spouses. (They are, of course, good places to meet bad spouses, but those are by definition the kind of spouse that it is bad to have.)

Taken together, all of these things form a syndrome. Call it "Party Lifestyle Syndrome,"or PLS, if you want.

PLS is a bad thing to have, and one is morally obliged to avoid contracting it. One therefore needs to avoid the circumstances that might infect one with it.

This is not to say that one can never go to a dance club. I wouldn’t say that any more than I’d say that one can never go to a bar or a rock concert.

Moral theology does not require us to be stay-at-home, prudish wallflowers, but it does require us to recognize that patronage of places like these can pose a very real danger to our morals and we must take steps to avoid that danger.

Whether to go in a particular case is a judgment call, but young people in particular are well advised (wise) to err on the side of caution.

That being said, not all dance clubs are equal, and some out there are quite wholesome.

May I suggest square dancing?

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ukok March 9, 2006 at 1:19 pm

Having been a party girl in my youth (I’ve been a relatively good girl -by comparison- for the last 15 years) in my opinion, there really isn’t a lot to be gleaned from living that kind of lifestyle. Partying led me into situations that I was not at all prepared for, and because unfortunatley I had next to no morals at the time, I am ashamed to say, I allowed myself to participate in ‘goings on’ that now fill me with horror to recall.
Someone with a higher moral code may be better able to resist the temptation to indulge in excessive drinking, recreational drug abuse and engaging in sexual activities which are often part and parcel of the partying lifestyle, but I still fail to see that the benefits would outweigh the negative effects for even the staunchest young Catholic to be involved in such a social setting.
God Bless.

skyhawk March 9, 2006 at 1:25 pm


anonymous March 9, 2006 at 1:37 pm

The “Party Lifestyle” is nothing new. My grandmother worked on the gambling ships moored off Los Angeles during the 1930’s, working for nice guys like Tony Cornero and Bugsy Siegel.
They really were nice guys, unless they thought you were stealing from them (then they killed you, or worse), and my grandmother was a “Charter Member” of the Las Vegas scene when they built it in the 1950’s.
But my father, himself a victim of the Las Vegas “Rat Pack” style “Party Lifestyle” (which seems to be coming back into fashion…) saw the dangers and damage. So, when I was a wee lad, he told me, “If you ever step into a casino I will break both your arms.” He meant it. It was good, fatherly advice. I would always meet him in the parking lot outside of whatever club or casino he was in.
So I never did step into a casino or club until I was in my late 1930’s, and that was in Las Vegas to visit my dying grandmother, with an IV line to the slot machines.
From some historical sources:

On the opposite side of the law, Tony Cornero (d. 1955) operated the Rex, a gambling ship off the southern California coast in the 1930s, one of four such ships he owned. Patrons took water taxis to the ships 24 hours a day, to the despair of do-gooders who wanted his operation shut down. Cornero successfully evaded the law until 1938, and a few years later he continued his career in Las Vegas. Apart from a few articles, Cornero remains an understudied underworld figure and a real challenge to anyone who wants to explore his controversial activities. By no means was he the only person engaged in vice in Los Angeles during the 1920s and 1930s. Guy Finney, Angel City in Turmoil (1943) offers an introduction but is badly out of date.

In 1937 Siegel went to the California to develop the idea of gambling ships, operated outside the jurisdiction of the authorities. He also became involved in drug smuggling before with funding from gangster in New York, opened the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vagas, Nevada.

bill912 March 9, 2006 at 1:50 pm

anonymous, your dad sounds a lot like mine. I didn’t get into a lot of trouble when I was growing up because the thought, “If I do this, and Dad finds out about it, I’m a dead man,” would pop into my mind. His attitude was, “I brought you into this world, I’ll take you out of it.” (I think he was engaging in hyperbole–slightly). I’ve often thanked him for being tough with me since I grew up.

anonymous March 9, 2006 at 2:04 pm

If anyone is interested in the “old school” club scene in Los Angeles:
“The Era of the Gambling Ships & the Battle of Santa Monica Bay” from the Los Angeles Almanac.
Includes picture of the S.S. Rex, and other info.
From the History of Venice (California), 1938:

Tony Cornero converted an old brigantine sailing ship into a gambling ship called the Rex. Its superstructure had a specially designed luxury gambling casino. He anchored it just beyond the three mile limit, and announced with radio and newspaper ads that he was open for business. Water taxis, operating from the Venice, Ocean Park and Santa Monica piers, brought hundreds of customers. It was a first class operation with good food, top name bands, unwatered booze and honest games. It was a success and needed Tony $300,000 per month. Other gambling ships also operated in the Santa Monica Bay until Earl Warren, the California Attorney General decided to take action. Cornero held the police boats at bay with high pressure fire hoses when they tried to close his operation that summer. But nine days latter, Cornero unexpectively surrendered. The war moved to the courts where they ruled that the three mile limit in Santa Monica Bay extended to an imaginary line connecting the two ends of the bay. Tony had to pay a fine.

By the way, I’ve never been in a “Dance Club.”

joe March 9, 2006 at 3:28 pm

The syndrome is real. And unfortunately, as a culture, all too pervasive. I’ll admit, the party lifestyle I indulged in in college was hopefully the closest I’ll get to the eternal dark side.

Benedict March 9, 2006 at 6:14 pm

The dance club party lifestyle is ingrained into New York City youth.
From little kids in elementary school up to the kids in my college classes, all anyone talks about doing outside of school is “clubbing.”

BillyHW March 9, 2006 at 7:38 pm

May I suggest to your reader that he take up something like ballroom or salsa?
Most people actually go to salsa clubs to *dance* (rather than ogle and grope).
It’s also really nice to be able to actually dance rather than shaking and bouncing into things that people call “dancing” nowadays. It’s actually fun.
If he is still in school there’s probably a club where he can take lessons for nearly free.

Realist March 9, 2006 at 8:11 pm

Well lets see, guys can’t meet gals in Church anymore because they in general don’t go to Church. The recent scandals are not helping in that regard.
So where do you go to socialize? Touch football, softball and basketball leagues are big in the Baltimore area for the twenty to thirty types. On-line dating is blossoming for those more serious about getting involved. And there are car clubs, dance clubs, glee clubs, running clubs, camera clubs, and marathons of all kinds. Sounds like a good selection of social and “meet your mate” organizations for our “young-uns” interested in good clean fun.

Blaine March 9, 2006 at 8:21 pm

When I was in college (15 years ago) “hooking up” meant tapping into the dorm lounge TV cable system and running a coaxial cable to your room. In some cases students would get stuck on the roofs of buildings — in my opinion this is much more exciting (and probably safer) than the recent “party life style” trend.
Today, my family lives near a university and are blessed to have a fantastic Newman Center, which we belong to. I was most impressed last homecoming to hear that the college students at our Newman Center had very well attended alternatives to the normal parties that take over the campus during homecoming. These included a capture-the-flag event at a large nearby park, poker night, a talent show and a Lord of the Rings marathon (directors cut no less) and a few others.
Point is Catholics can and should show the world how fun it is to be free of all the burdens and traps that the “party lifestyle” is full of.

Jonathan March 9, 2006 at 8:45 pm

That post was actually my question, but Jimmy Akin hit the nail on answering it =) I totally agree with his reasoning, and as a 24 year old Young Adult, it is very sad and unfortunate to still see many of my fellow peers in my generation still being so obsessed with those types of settings. I’ve noticed one trend among many who fall into that setting, and it is that they’re seeking to fill some void of happiness, fulfillment, intimacy, affection, and Love, that they really should and will find in Christ. They seem to be looking for that “Adventure, Thrill, and escape from the grinds of school, work, family problems, and life in general.” We live in a chatoic world today, and the problems and issues that the Younger generation are facing are much more serious than it was in the past. Depression, Suicidal Tendencies, pregnancies, premarital sex, broken relationships, heartaches, dysfunctional families, are just some of the many issues that are prevalent with my generation, and sadly, many in my generation do not have many positive outlets or people to help them get on the right path. Also, I’ve noticed that many who indulge in those settings really weren’t raised up with any firm and solid moral moral or religious beliefs, and as a result, the “MTV, Pop Culturalized, and Secularized” society, seems to easily influence their behavior and morals as they experience life. I myself wasn’t fortunate enough to be raised well in my Catholic faith, especially since my mom was a typical 1st generation cradle Filipino Catholic woman. It wasn’t until August 15th, 2003, that I recently had my conversion experience back into the Catholic faith, and from that moment on, I then realized that there is much more to life than what this “World” offers or says gives true happiness & fulfillment. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans, It wasn’t until God unconformed my mind from the ideals of this age, that my mind was renewed to see life from the eyes of faith. In my own opinion, I think that’s why many of my fellow young adults fall into that lifestyle, because they just don’t know that there is much more to life than all the lights, glitz, glamour, thrill, and “Highs” that the Party Lifestyle seductively gives them. May God have Mercy on them, and lead them to the knowledge of the Truth.

StubbleSpark March 9, 2006 at 8:54 pm

I don’t see the big deal. You go. You get pushed around. Someone takes your glasses, knocks you down and all the pretty girls point at you and laugh. You go home. Definitely no fun, but definitely not immoral either (unless you enjoy the punishment).

Jamie Beu March 10, 2006 at 7:07 am

So I never did step into a casino or club until I was in my late 1930’s
anon – how old are you?!? 😉
It’s also really nice to be able to actually dance rather than shaking and bouncing into things that people call “dancing” nowadays. It’s actually fun.
BillyHW, I totally agree with you! I started Swing dancing about 9 years ago, and actually brought our Catholic Young Adults group there once a month for our monthly “social event”. It was great, because everyone would dress up, to fit the style (like we were back in the 40s – I had the fedora and black-and-white shoes, as well as the pinstripe suit), and there was actually a method to the dancing, not just random “bump-n-grind”. Dancing like that, where it’s structured, means that you actually get to converse with your dance partner and get to know them as a person, not just “a hot body”.
As a result of going to the Swing Dance clubs (there aren’t as many anymore, but they are out there – Google for them – as well as some college campuses that havea Swing Dance clubs), I eventually met a good Catholic girl there, we dated, and a year later we were married. We’ve even taught Swing dancing at our local parish, over half of the students were 20 yrs. old or younger.
So, you can go to clubs, dance, have fun, have the occasional drink, and still be a faithful Catholic and even find the girl of your dreams/prayers.

Puzzled March 10, 2006 at 4:02 pm

Is salsa morally licit? That is a serious question.
I think that West Coast and East Coast are morally licit, at least in the normal venues. Some of the things they do in competitions are pretty iffy.

Puzzled March 10, 2006 at 4:03 pm

Search for USABDA or USA Dance.

dymphna March 12, 2006 at 11:01 am

I had a lot of friends who lived for the weekends when they could hit the clubs. That lifestyle can be very spiritually and sometimes physically dangerous. The men are mostly on the prowl and some can get aggressive if all you really want to do is dance. People are having sex and doing drugs in the restrooms and in the alley behind the club and in 9 times out of 10 the goofy looking guy in the corner who gives off that stalker vibe really is one…..
And then there’s the money. You have to look good to successfully hook up at the club. That means a large portion of your income has to go to buying clothes and (often fake) jewelry. I can’t tell you how many of my friends left a club with a guy they thought was a million bucks only to find out that everything including his personality was fake.
That whole scene is just not worth it.

K. March 12, 2006 at 11:20 am

Don’t overlook live bands’ gigs as an alternative to discos. Not all “fun” has to be of the stereotypical, bland, squeaky-clean, pinch-your-cheeks Mary Poppins variety.
There are good musicians out there who are good people, doing music in their spare time just because they like to play music. A lot of musicians I came to know are school teachers, even. Good, level-headed people.
I met my husband, a faithful Catholic, at one of my gigs.
You’d be surprised if you forego the discos for the band atmosphere. It can be a crapshoot, depending on the band and their following, but try it out and see if you find a band you find fun, where the atmosphere is non-threatening. Live music is also so much more thrilling and so much better. It beats the stress and the pseudo-music you get at discos, trust me. I’ve been to discos or “clubs” once or twice and they just freaked me out. But I love going out to see a good, down-to-earth band.

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