Are They REALLY Doing It?


If you grew up in Australia in the early 1990s, the rubber bracelets to the right probably look familiar.

Known as "pash bands" — or "f*ck bands" if you wanted to be really naughty — the idea was that each coloured bracelet symbolised a different sex act. According to an article published in a UK paper last weekend: "Yellow represents a hug, while pink means a love bite and orange or purple for a kiss, before moving through different sex acts until black, which means full sex". Some people would joke that purple actually stood for marriage, being the colour of sexual frustration.

If somebody broke your bracelet, you were supposed to perform the corresponding act on them. Nobody ever actually did it, of course. Even the most sexually precocious kids I went to primary school with didn’t do more than attempt an unsatisfying first kiss in the playground after school. (To my knowledge, no pash bands were involved in these incidents.) When I was in high school, they made a brief retro resurgence, and my best friend and I at the time bought the black ones — known as "f*ck bands" — which we vowed to wear until we lost our virginity. We lost the rubber bands long before that happened.

Pash bands — or "shag bands" as they’re apparently now known — have always been about harmless fun, about kids playing at being grown-ups. The humour comes from the fact that most primary school kids think sex is icky. Accordingly, it’s fun for them to talk about it, and gross their friends out by teasing them that they might partake in it someday.
If you read the Courier-Mail over the weekend, however, they represent a rather more sinister — and "new", which usually seems to correlate with dangerous — trend; "a parent’s worst nightmare". According to conservative "feminist" commentator Melinda Tankard-Reist, they "[set]up girls as service stations for boys" and "invite sexual assault". Because nothing invites sexual assault like wearing a coloured bracelet — and nothing says "feminist" like suggesting kids "invite" sexual assault.

Given that most people aged between 25 and 55 having either worn one or parented someone who has, it amazes me that any journalist could find these innocuous pieces of plastic worthy of such fear mongering.

But our readiness to jump on the moral panic train says a lot about our tendency to assume the worst of people younger than us. Even in my own research, which aims to unpack media myths about young adults’ sexual behaviours, the 20-somethings I speak to bemoan how much more "out there" today’s teens are than they were 10 years ago — conveniently forgetting that the same complaints were made about them less than a decade ago. Talk to some actual teenagers, and you’ll get a far more nuanced story.

Tankard-Reist has a new book to promote, about the sexualisation of girls, and if the recent extract on New Matilda is any indication, she has some interesting and relevant arguments to make on the subject. It’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm to listen to them though when she, and others like her, persist in discrediting themselves by participating in this kind of shrill — and factually incorrect — hysteria.

The sexualisation of children is a real issue, but as UQ academic Karen Brooks showed in her 2008 book Consuming Innocence, it’s about a lot more than sex. It’s certainly about a lot more than kids having sex — which, by the way, most of them aren’t. And I’ll tell you one thing: it’s got very little to do with the humble pash band.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.