The New York Times reported over the weekend that a Colorado middle school is asking parents not to allow their children to wear "jelly'' bracelets to school over concerns that the bracelets have specific sexual connotations.
Some students have discovered through the Internet a game called "snap" in which the color of the bracelet denotes willingness in engage in a particular sexual activity, said Briggs Gamblin, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District. When a boy snaps the bracelet off a girl, that activity is supposed to take place.
Gamblin said that there had been no reports of the game actually being played. "It's all about rumor and word of mouth," he said.
Indeed it is. A long-running urban legend - one that caused a ruckus in Florida in 2003 - has resurfaced.
Snopes.com, the rumor-busting Web site, reported on the Florida jelly bracelet flap: "In October 2003 the Alachua Elementary school in Florida banned children from wearing the stylish accents in response to rumors of the bijous conveying sexual meaning. Kids in that school were referring to them as 'sex bracelets,' and even pupils as young as those at the Grade 3 level were making inappropriate sexual references about them.''
Soon, a smattering of other schools in the South and Midwest had banned the bracelets. But as urbanlegends.about.com reported, the more journalists and experts in youth culture looked into the matter, the more skeptical they became. 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 300 teenagers about the sexual implications of jelly bracelets, they got vague answers. "They knew of a friend who had a friend who had a friend who knew about this," a spokesperson for the firm said. "But no one could point a finger to anyone who was actually doing this."
Rumors of everyday objects functioning as "sexual coupons" are nothing new in teen culture, observed Barbara Mikkelson of Snopes.com. During the 1970s, pull tabs from beer and soft drink cans often were imbued with sexually redeemable value.
"At my own high school it was beer labels,'' wrote David Emery, a blogger for urbanlegends.about.com. "On the backs of these labels - always removed with the greatest of care - 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.''