They’re called “jelly bracelets,” and they’re popular among schoolchildren of all ages. Problem is, they’re known in some circles as “sex bracelets” and are part of an alleged gaming ritual leading to sexual activity.
“Alleged” is important, because the recent media flare-up over this retro childhood fad seems to be heavy on fear and light on fact.
Pop star Madonna helped make these bracelets popular in the ’80s, but then they were absent the sexual significance. Now, they’re back on the wrists of even pre-pubescent girls—and part of a game called “snap.”
Simply put, jelly bracelets come in various colors, and the colors signify physical and sexual acts the wearer will perform with the person who snaps the bracelet off the wrist.
For example, in one manifestation of the game, a yellow bracelet stands for a hug, a purple one means a kiss, and so on, with other colors symbolizing more intimate acts.
Media reports of the bracelets’ popularity and accompanying game have parents and educators worried, with some schools in Florida, for example, having banned the bracelets.
Other school districts have been unaware of any such problem, however. New York City’s WNBC reported that education officials in New York and New Jersey had no knowledge of any such sex game with the bracelets.
Some parents and educators have dismissed “snap” as an urban legend. In fact, the Urban Legends Reference Pages does examine the phenomenon of sex bracelets, linking it to a similar game years ago involving soda can pull tabs (which was also similar to an even older game called “spin the bottle”).
Various media reports seem to indicate that while some children are aware of the game’s rules (while others wear the bracelets simply because they like them), the rules are rarely, if ever, followed. That is, the bracelets and the snapping don’t actually lead to physical and sexual contact.
“Look at these stories and you will notice not one has a firsthand knowledge of any kid having sex because of the bracelets,” wrote the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins in his weekday newsletter. “I can’t remember a story that has less truth behind it and has gotten this much press.”
It does not follow that schoolchildren are avoiding sexual behavior altogether, because surveys indicate otherwise. However, the sexual activity is not necessarily linked to or stemming from the game involving the bracelets.
Nevertheless, the bracelets are on the radar of adults entrusted to the welfare of children.
“The greatest concern over ‘sex bracelets’ is not that anyone is going to engage in any real redeeming,” wrote Barbara Mikkelson for the urban legends page, “but that children far too young to be entertaining such thoughts are being exposed to them.”
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.