CHICAGO — Orange, red, blue, black — they’re just thin, rubbery bracelets that come in a rainbow of colors, but they’re causing quite a stir.
First made popular by Madonna and other pop stars in the 1980s, “jelly bracelets” are making a comeback with teens and some grade-school kids. But this time, there’s a twist: In some parts of the country, they’re calling them “sex bracelets” — with various colors supposedly representing promises to perform sex acts in a game called “Snap.”
As the story goes, break someone’s orange bracelet (or purple, in some cases) and you get a kiss. Red, a lap dance. Blue, oral sex. Black, intercourse. And so on.
“They’ve been selling like crazy,” says Andy Ball, a clerk at The Alley, an edgy clothing and accessories store in Chicago. He says he learned about their secret meaning from a group of teens who came into the store about a month ago.
Still, it’s unclear whether young people are really following through with the sex acts. And some experts think most youth are hearing about the game from recent news reports, not each other.
Snopes.com, a Web site dedicated to exposing urban legends, has deemed the validity of sex bracelets “undetermined.”
“Every now and then, I get a note from kids who say it is true,” says Barbara Mikkelson, Snopes.com’s co-founder. “But I get a heck of a lot of e-mails from kids who are outraged that adults think they would do this. To them, (the bracelets) are just a fashion statement.”
Banned in some schools
Regardless, a few schools in such states as Illinois, Ohio and Florida have banned the bracelets.
“It’s about the disruption of the school day,” says Joann Hipsher, principal at one of the schools — Malabar Middle School in Mansfield, Ohio. She says students were spending too much time “worrying about who had them, who had been snapping them.”
Elizabeth Cooke, a fourth-grade teacher in Baltimore County, says she was surprised when a fifth-grader told her the bracelets had “secret meanings — one being, if someone broke one it meant you have to have sex.”
“He told me that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to wear them anymore because they were stupid,” says Cooke, whose school allows the bracelets as a fashion item, if they cause no distractions.
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“In my opinion,” she adds, “he shouldn’t even be thinking about sex at all.”
But in other parts of the country, teens say no one they know calls them “sex bracelets.”
“It’s kind of outrageous and ridiculous. I think the media is making an issue out of nothing,” says Kelly Egarian, a 17-year-old from Englewood Cliffs, N.J., who serves as a consultant for Teenage Research Unlimited, a suburban Chicago firm that tracks youth trends.
In fact, when the staff at Teenage Research asked its 300-some young consultants nationwide about sex bracelets, they found nothing concrete.
“They knew of a friend who had a friend who had a friend who knew about this,” says Michael Wood, the company’s vice president. “But no one could point a finger to anyone who was actually doing this.”
Other experts who deal with teens and children also believe the so-called trend has been blown out of proportion.
A few doctors who treat children and teens in such states as Connecticut, Minnesota and California had never heard of “sex bracelets.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Cynthia Mears, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, says some of her young patients do call the bracelets by that name. But she says the most they might give another teen who broke one would be a hug or a kiss — not sex.
“When I ask, ’Do you go there?’ they just kind of look at me and go ’Nahhh,”’ Mears says, noting that her young patients are generally willing to talk about their sexual activity because the conversations are confidential.
Mears is concerned that younger children might hear the sex bracelets lingo and “think it’s cool.” But regardless of the age, she and other experts say parents shouldn’t freak out.
Instead, Dr. Lynn Ponton says the bracelets give parents a chance to talk about sex with their children — something she says they often avoid or handle awkwardly.
“It offers an opportunity to say ’Hey, what’s the bracelet mean? What are other kids wearing? What do you think about that?”’ says Ponton, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco and author of the book “The Sex Lives of Teenagers.”
But Egarian — the New Jersey teen — advises parents to tread carefully.
“If my parents questioned me too much about the bracelets,” she says, “I’d probably wear them more.”
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