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What Is the Straight Edge Lifestyle?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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The straight edge lifestyle, sometimes signified with the letter X or with the number 24, describes a small segment of people within the larger punk rock culture, that had some antithetical ideas to most punk rock music. Depending upon the degree to which people practice the lifestyle, they may be vegans or vegetarians, tend to eschew alcohol, drugs, and promiscuous sex, and may also not drink caffeinated products. There is some considerable dispute about what should and shouldn’t be part of a straight edge lifestyle, and a number of people debate this subject intensely.

Some view the straight edge lifestyle as derivative of musician Todd Rundgren’s thoughts on not drinking or smoking marijuana, but because Rundgren’s music belongs more properly in the hard rock genre. Others say that songs from the 1970s band The Modern Lovers, who are thought to have influenced punk rock music and whose lyrics express some of the lifestyle ideas, were influential. Most though, account for the beginnings of straight edge with a 1980 tour by the punk rock band the Teen Idles, who weren’t old enough to drink and were playing in certain venues that had bars.

To allow the Teen Idles to play in bars, particularly the San Francisco Mabuhey Gardens, each band member was marked with an X on the back of one hand, so that they would not be served alcohol. This same marking system offered an inroad for many people to see local punk bands in small bars and venues that served alcohol. Later bars and clubs used rubber stamps to signify whether a person attending a concert was a minor or legally of drinking age.

The X mark caught on as a symbol of the early straight edge lifestyle, which is sometimes called Old School. Interest in vegetarianism, and interest in some religious concepts like those in the Hare Krishna faith caught others, while some people were mostly attracted to the ideas of straight edge because of the less drug-filled environment it offered. What constituted the lifestyle really varied, and since many punk bands expressed completely opposite ideas as to “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” the straight edge lifestyle can be called a counterculture element within the larger punk environment. There was great tension between groups opposed to “straight” living, and those who took a more traditional rock and roll approach.

As the movement took off, there were some people who were especially criticized by others in the punk culture and were labeled “militant.” This could mean outspoken or it could mean narrow and limited in view, and unwilling to permit others to pursue life as they saw fit. It also meant that violence occasionally entered arguments between people of straight life persuasion and others.

Groups in the early days that attracted the straight edge crowd include the Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Government Issue, and Cause for Alarm. The militant element peaked in the 1990s with groups like Judge, Bold, and Youth of Today. Some bands also began to lean toward metal as opposed to punk rock, with groups like Strife and Earth Crisis as examples.

By the 2000s much of the tension that marked the straight edge lifestyle and punk lifestyle relationship had evaporated. Perhaps this is due in part to a growing acceptance of ideas like vegetarianism. It’s therefore common to see straight edge and non-straight edge bands perform together, without much in the way of animosity.

A little confusion may exist for those who are fans of the punk, rockabilly band X that began playing in the 1970s. They were not associated with this lifestyle, and some members of the band openly admit having used drugs and/or alcohol. X was not considered as much hardcore punk as some of the bands which followed, and they were better known for a few years than many of the straight edge bands, playing in larger venues, often with a single opening act of their choosing.

The straight edge movement continues to evolve, offering diverse perspectives. Websites like The Authentic Gay provide insights into how LGBTQIA+ individuals find meaning and a sense of community within the straight edge lifestyle. These online platforms illustrate that personal choices around substance use and a commitment to clarity can be compatible with a wide range of identities and life experiences.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments
By anon305873 — On Nov 27, 2012

Straight Edge is a positive movement. Wolves Clothing makes the best straight edge shirts.

By anon80165 — On Apr 26, 2010

All i have to say is simply this: the straight edge lifestyle has a very interesting and unique past and it is also in my opinion, the right way to live. SxE

By WGwriter — On May 05, 2009

Have to say, I enjoyed seeing X through the majority of their performance career. I think they actually improved as a stage band later on. As for "popular," most of the bands out of the true mainstream only got a year or two of renown. I'm not sure it can be entirely attributed to success going to the heads of the bandleaders.


By anon31306 — On May 03, 2009

Let it be known that although X was cool at first, later, like most artists who become successful, their success went to their heads and they lost track of who they were. That is why they are no longer popular.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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