August 2, 2008

The “Third X”: Straight Edge and Sex

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 2:07 pm by theworldwontlisten

Or: Why I don’t think straight edge should (or does) have anything to do with human sexuality.

The third X:

First of all, I think we need to lose the idea that the three x’s that often times represent straight edge in iconography in any way represent three distinct issues. They don’t, and it wouldn’t make sense if they did. One X each for drinking, for smoking and sex? Or maybe one X for drug use (which would include both cigarettes and alcohol consumption) and one for sex? That would still leave us with an unclaimed X. Its easy to see how this erroneous belief came about, but it should also be obvious that the representation of straight edge with three x’s is nothing more than an aesthetic device, and is not representative of three specific “I don’ts” of straight edge.

On to the heart of the matter.
I think we can all agree that the primary source for the straight edge association with sex comes from a song by Minor Threat, who also (to a great degree) created the and initially spread the straight edge ideology.

“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t fuck, at least I can fucking think”

– Minor Threat – Out of Step

Point One:
Out of Step never once mentions “straight edge” in the lyrics, yet this is where part of the straight edge community has rallied around for an explanation of where the connection with sex originates. The actual song Straight Edge only talks about drug use, and doesn’t mention sexuality at all. It presents drug use as something unneeded, and promotes “staying in touch” – maintiaing mental clarity. If any song lyrics should be taken as the basis for the straight edge ideology, then it should be the song of the same name.

Point Two:
Even if we assume that the song Out of Step is referring to straight edge, and what is straight edge, the interpretation of those lyrics has been consistently hypocritical and irrational when it comes to the part about sex. The most common interpretation of the lyrics regarding sex is a message of “anti-promiscuity” – which is problematic on its own, because, of course, it is totally open to individual interpretation. It is also problematic because the line “I don’t fuck” is the only one out of the three that is interpreted liberally instead of literally.

My argument is this:
IF, and I’m not saying we should, we as a community are going to use the lyrics from Out of Step as a basis on what is and is not straight edge (including those three words pertaining to sexuality) then rationally we should apply all of the components the same.

It makes no sense that:
– “I don’t smoke” = I never smoke cigarettes,
– “I don’t drink” = I never drink alcohol,
– “I don’t fuck” = I might sometimes have sex in certain contexts.

For the sake of clarity and consistency, the same principle should apply to all three points in the song equally.

Conversely, if we are allowing interpretation of one item then we should allow it for all three, possibly taking the author’s own perspective into account. Ian MacKaye himself mentioned numerous times that the point was to not let anything control your thinking, and that he merely used those three as examples. He could also have been talking about (in his own example) “playing golf.”

IF, as some claim, straight edge does involve human sexuality, and we are taking our cues from that song, then people who are straight edge should either completely abstain from sex (as they abstain completely from alcohol and nicotine), OR they should be open to a less stringent “straight edge” that allows adherents to drink or smoke, but not to over-indulge to the point where it becomes an obsession and controls their thinking/lives. IF sex is prohibited depending upon context, then the same should apply to the other keystones of the belief.

The word “fuck” has been defined (self-servingly) to mean promiscuity, and not sexual intercourse. But even so, what defines promiscuity? which acts are permitted and which are not? Who is to say if a relationship is going to be long term or “committed”? In reality, it’s entirely possible to be in a relationship with someone for a year without any sexual interaction, to then have sex and break up a day later.

In addition IF we use this as a basis, and straight edge is also anti-promiscuity, then straight edge should also be expanded to include other obsessive behaviors, gambling, video games, etc, and we should see straight edge shirts with big bold letters proclaiming “GAMBLING FREE”.

To be clear:
I’m definitely NOT saying that this is where our definition should come from. What i am saying is that it is irrational to frame things the way they have been framed (fairly hypocritically) in the straight edge community. I think the current stance on sexuality has more to do with middle class Christian values and ideas of sexuality and purity than it does with the basic principles of what straight edge is.

I feel that the whole idea that Straight edge somehow deals with such a nuanced realm as human sexuality should be dropped entirely. Not because I am some huge fan of out of control (and possibly unhealthy), obsessive sexuality, but because straight edge is about maintaining mental clarity at base, and has no rational connection to sex. Unlike the use of “drugs”, sex is a natural and healthy part of the human experience. All humans are in part sexual beings and sexuality is a very important part of human life.

In Summary:
There is no “third X”.
There is no basis to believe that straight edge should have anything to do with human sexuality.
And if it DOES have something to do with sex, then people are being completely dishonest in their practice of the principle.



  1. Andrea said,

    i totally agree.

  2. alex kass xvx said,

    sex me in the butt, then, big boy.

  3. paulo said,

    so your saying that it’s healthy to have STD’s right?

    • Paulo:
      i don’t see anywhere that i implied that it is healthy to get STDs.
      there is also no guarantee that having sex means you will get an STD, or even a good chance of it.

      either way, even if we assume that sex is a dangerous activity, that does not also mean that it has anything to do with being straight edge. that’s like saying that you have to wear your seat belt in a car to be straight edge.

  4. hutch said,

    i am not straight edge. please do not dismiss my thoughts immediately. i am 31 and have been into hxc and punk since i was 13. The first bands i got into were bands like sheer terror, murphy’s law, poison idea – bent on self-destruction; bad brains, soia, black flag – somewhere inbetween; and minor threat, ssd, and my favorite: slapshot. So believe me when i say, i was/still am exposed to all aspects and views of hardcore. i listen to it all. i have always had sxe friends. I actually – considering how much i drink – respect sxe IMMENSELY. I drink to to “have fun”, but mainly to temper a sadness within me and to lessen anxiety. Not POSI. I have never done pills or hard drugs. I admire those who can get through this world of shit without the crutch. If i could create my own utopia – skins, punks, vegans, sxe, crusty would all exist together. we should be united in our fight against society. That being said – to directly address your statements – i get what you are saying. You make valid points. But i believe there should be the 3 X’s if you are going to fully embrace what sxe stands for. Yes, i completely agree with human sexually being positive and natural. I have never abstained from sex in my life (intentionally, anyway…) but i have never been promiscuous. Now, i do not think one should live their lives by the lyrics of a song. I think you rely your argument on people taking “Out of Step” as a paradigm. The point of punk/hc is that the bands are just kids like us that picked up instruments. there is no rock star barrier. there is nothing bigger or better about the band members on stage than the people in the audience. So, in the true vein of a punk ethos “no idols, no heroes, no gods”; i would say that we can not take a human’s word as a doctrine. Inspiration and ideas? Absolutely. But live your life by your own ideals. That being said, Ian MacKaye is someone i respect greatly. i think that man is open, intelligent, self-reliant, and determined. Just a man of impeccable integrity. So let’s resort to the Ian interview on “A.S.O.M.”: he points to the “punks” he was watching as he grew into the scene. People rebelling against the jocks and that retarded mentality of drink, fuck, get high, and waste away. Not putting anything into this world. Just rotting away and becoming a sheep; a mindless, useless lemming. While the punks are supposed to be rebelling against this – they are sniffing glue, popping pills, drinking, shagging all around them, skipping school, and avoiding work. Not much better than our enemy. So, Ian decided to take the crux of this culture (drink, drugs, sex) -which was basically the spine of the adult society, too – and “X” it out of his life (pun, intended). I am getting long winded, so let’s “pick up the threat”. Sex is a part of that world. The yuppies, jocks, whitehats, whatever – go out into society and you are drenched in sex. That seems to be the point of life. You do not become a “man” until you “get laid”. When “dudes” got to the bar – that’s the whole point. Not hanging with your boys, but who you are trying to take home and fuck. The thrid X needs to block out this anchor, this distraction that weighs people down and disrupts their focus. And running around fucking random people is an unhealthy activity. Emotionally it is detrimental and confusing and self-abusive. But, mediacally it can results in just as negative results as excessive drinking. So i believe your elusive 3rd “X” stands for irresponsible, promiscuous sex. It keeps your eyes off the prize. Sex is wonderful, natural, and healthy. And i am not saying 2 people have to be in love – if the two (or more) know all the expectations of the act and afterwards – they can get down. Just as someone could enjoy 2 beers after work. Moderation. Fine. BUT, it is a slippery slope. Easy to get carried away and make excuses. So i think that is the point. if you truly want to be a rebel, you must rebel against these staples of society, “that is, like, so important” and not find “much importance in” it. He “can’t keep up” with the deluge of imagery and pressure to “get some”, to get drunk, to get high, to buy the new camaro, to get a respectable job, to get married, to go to college, etc. I know kids who are 18 who call themselves “Straight Edge” cuz they don’t drink. They know nothing of punk or hardcore, they simply do not drink. That’s great, but you are not straight edge. SXE is a division of hardcore. This is our movement, not some commercialized bandwagon. Otherwise, some fundamentalist chriatian from Kansas who abstains is “SXE”. Bullshit. You must be hardcore. You have to truly “rise above” this society – so you can keep your mind STRAIGHT and have an EDGE over the rest of society. And i may be buzzed, but i will stand beside my SXE brothers of Hardcore in this fight. * i would like it known that i homebrew and drink microbrews or small batch independent bourbon. I do not put money into large corporations. I believe a major issue with declining drinks and smokes is the money it gives to corporations. BYO = DIY

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