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Jelly Bracelets: An Invitation to Sex?

It is widely believed — apparently more so by adults than by the teenagers themselves — that the 'jelly bracelets' currently popular among junior high school students are color-coded according to the wearer's willingness to perform certain sexual acts

Description: Rumor
Circulating since: Oct 2003
Status: Overblown (see details below)

Example:
Email excerpt contributed by Sharon P., Dec. 4, 2003:

Subject: Colored Bracelets and our Children! A MUST READ!

For any of you that have children... please read! Well there was a story on KMOV and the link is at the bottom. I would have never thought this but the times are definitely changing! Read the story..
*****************************************************
To all of my Concerned Christian Crew (CCC):

Please take time to read. Just another reason why the Bible directs us to ALWAYS pray.

Have you heard about the bracelets that have been banned in the middle school in O'Fallon. I did a show on it last night because 75% of our kids go to Fulton Middle School and their school was featured on Channel 4 Wednesday night for the principal banning them. The young girls have been wearing colored jelly bracelets. Each color indicates the sexual favors they will perform. I had no idea this was going on...so last night...after confirming all of the facts with KMOV Channel 4 television station....I did a show on it. After researching the story....I found out that this began in Florida and is now spreading nationwide. The kids confirmed that they knew about the bracelets and even educated me what each color means.

The Blue is Oral
The red is no condom
Black is with a condom
Red & Black is a 69 position
Pink is.....licking butt
Green is..upper body only

Can you believe these are our 11-13 year olds.


Analysis: Judging from the news coverage thus far, the so-called "sex bracelet" brouhaha probably began as an isolated junior high school phenomenon and got blown way out of proportion.

Some of the teens interviewed by journalists since the controversy erupted in mid-October 2003 say they've heard of the game called "Snap" — in which specific sexual favors must be performed for whoever snaps the bracelet off your wrist, depending on its color — others say they haven't. For many, the bracelets are nothing but a fashion trend — or were, until an overdose of media attention turned them into a cause célèbre.

Jelly bracelets — cheap, colorful, soft-plastic bangles typically sold in bulk as party favors — first became popular among young people in the 1980s when songstress Madonna sported them in her early music videos. Now they are coveted anew as a "retro" fashion item by junior high schoolers who weren't even born when Madonna recorded her first single.

Fashion statement or covert come-on?

There was nothing controversial about them until school administrators in Marion County, Florida banned the bracelets in 2003 after a few students divulged their "secret meaning" to adults. Some parents were outraged to learn that their children were apparently sending explicit sexual messages to one another by donning different-colored bracelets; others expressed outrage at the ban itself, contending that their kids wore the items as a fashion statement and nothing more.

In any case, the incident in Florida made national headlines, and, by the end of October 2003, Time magazine was declaring that the ubiquitous bracelets had taken on a "risque new twist" and conveyed a "not-so-secret sexual code depending on their color, indicating different levels of intimacy starting from hugs." This prompted even more parental outrage and additional school bans across the south and midwest. It has become all but impossible in the aftermath to distinguish between media-fueled hysteria and what may have once been an authentic, localized phenomenon.

Meanwhile, sales of jelly bracelets have gone through the roof nationwide.

Hoots of derision

Do the bracelets really mean what people say they mean? That hasn't been determined with any degree of certainty, but the more journalists and experts in youth culture look into the matter, the more skeptical they become. Attempts to verify the rumor by talking to real, live teenagers yielded only "hoots of derision and more than a few 'yucks,'" according to one Chicago Tribune article. When a marketing firm called Teenage Research Unlimited asked a group of approximately 300 teenagers if they were aware of any sexual implications attached to wearing jelly bracelets they got vague, ambiguous answers. "They knew of a friend who had a friend who had a friend who knew about this," a spokesperson for the firm told the Associated Press. "But no one could point a finger to anyone who was actually doing this."

This ambiguity jibes with what folklorists have said about historical precedents. Rumors of everyday objects functioning as "sexual coupons" are nothing new in teen culture, observes Barbara Mikkelson of Snopes.com. During the 1970s, pull tabs from beer and soft drink cans were imbued with sexually redeemable value in some places.

Beer labels

At my own high school, forty-odd years ago, it was beer labels. On the backs of these labels — always removed with the greatest of care from the bottles of a particular brand of beer — could be found from one to four black dots (probably a manufacturing code) which conveyed the sexual message. One dot meant you could hold hands with the person who gave it to you; two meant you could kiss them; three meant you could touch; four — which we believed, rightly or wrongly, to be a very rare find indeed — meant you could "go all the way." This was what we believed, at any rate, and what we eagerly passed along as "a fact" to our friends, and so on.

Did that mean we actually traded these artifacts for sex? No. Nobody I knew even tried such a thing, let alone benefited from the transaction. In Mikkelson's words, "The pull tab and beer label 'sex coupons' weren't real; they were wishful thinking codified into belief."

With equal parts of honesty and wistfulness, I can vouch for that.


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Sources and further reading:

Principal Bans Bracelets for Sexual Innuendo
NewsNet5.com, 4 November 2003

Jelly Bracelets: The New Junior High Sex Toy? Maybe Not
North Gate News Online, 18 November 2003

Youth Say Bracelets Are About Fashion, Not Sexual Games
Ocala Star Banner, 24 November 2003

Sometimes a Bracelet Is Just a Bracelet
Chicago Tribune, 30 November 2003

Trendy Bracelets at Heart of 'Sex' Controversy
Associated Press, 11 December 2003

Risque Business (Sex Bracelets)
Urban Legends Reference Pages (Snopes.com), 30 November 2003


Last updated: 12/11/03


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