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Revolutionary Sex: Straight-Edge and Sexuality: Navigating the Gray Area

Originally Published: Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Written by: Brad Perry  

The Gray Area of Straight-Edge and Sex

Sex has always been the “gray area” of the straightedge ethic. Some edgers think SXE equals celibacy. Others say that being SXE simply means that you stay away from one-night-stands, or detached/meaningless sex. Still others say that sex and SXE have nothing to do with one another, so go ahead and get ‘your freak on’.

The Confusion in Straight-Edge Sexuality

The confusion is enough to incite an Earth Crisis follower to eat veal parmesan. The fact is that SXE culture is no different from any other group when it comes to uncertainty about sex and sexual ethics.

Challenging Societal Norms on Sex

Because of moral codes that have been prevalent in American culture since its inception, thinking honestly about sex is challenging for most of us. Sex can perplex, but it doesn’t have to. It’s literally my full-time job to promote attitudes and behaviors that allow people to have sex without fear of violation or manipulation.

Personal Insights on Sexual Ethics

As you might imagine, I think about sex a lot, and not in an obsessive American-Pie-Stiffler kind of way. I think about how I do it; how other people do it; and how it’s connected to power and emotions. Often, I think about how most people don’t seem to be putting much thought into sex. Sure, the so-called sexual revolution of the 1970s might have lead to sex being on the minds of people, but that doesn’t mean it lead people to actually expend any effort thinking more radically about sex. Then again, tye-dye and patchouli were never really synonymous with critical thinking in my experience.

Underground Music Subculture and Critical Thinking

In contrast, I often find that the subculture of underground music attracts individuals who do think critically about the society in which we all live. But our subculture – SXE/hardcore scene included – is similar to the rest of society in that we are all pretty blind to the norms that impact our sexual behavior. Allow me to give you a more concrete example. A girl, Heather, and a boy, Chuck, met at a Blood Falling To Pieces From the Dead Sky show several months ago and have been going strong ever since. Sex is on both of their minds. They like one another a lot, they’ve fooled around a bit.  Their friends have been bugging each of them trying to find out if they’ve done it yet.

Real-Life Scenario: Heather and Chuck’s Experience

First, let’s see what might happen if Heather and Chuck follow the usual modes of thinking about sex. Chuck would probably start bugging Heather to have sex. Heather is undecided about whether or not she wants to. If Heather decides she doesn’t want to have sex yet, Chuck will likely get all pissy and dejected. He may or may not break-up with her, but he’ll be a pain in the ass regardless. But my point is better illustrated in a scenario where Heather and Chuck decides that they do want to have sex. So one night they’re hooking-up in her basement and Chuck says, “C’mon, let’s do it” or something to that effect. Heather says, “OK, I think I’m ready.” The following is a transcript of their thoughts from that moment:

Chuck: “Woooo Hoooo! Time to get busy…”

Heather: “I think I made the right decision…OK, here we go.”

Chuck: “Why the fuck can’t I roll this goddamn condom down? C’MON! Oh – it was upside down. Get on there…”

Heather: “I wonder if he needs help with the condom…will I look like a slut if I know how to put it on and he doesn’t?”

Chuck: “Whew. OK, got it on. Now it’s time to move in and show her what a masterful stud I am. Let’s see…I think I’ll try it like this – whoops – that’s not working. Let’s try that again – DOH! – that hurt. Wait a minute. OK, here we go…”

Heather: “OK, what is he doing…doesn’t he know he can’t just poke it on in there? Easy man – OW! – what in the hell is he doing? OK…there we go, that’s better…”

Chuck: “Oh man, I forgot how good this feels. Shit! It’s only been like a minute and I feel like I’m let loose. Gotta think of something else…baseball games – yes! Fresh cut grass, smell of hot dogs and popcorn, pudgy guys in tight pants chewing tobacco, the crack of the bat, the catcher…the catcher’s mitt – so soft and supple…it wraps so perfectly around the ball…feels so good – SHIT, this isn’t working. OK, gotta think of something else quick or I’m gonna be a minute-man. Let’s see…Mr. Pottsamich, my washed-up ex-biker math teacher from 8th grade. Yes! I can hear his voice now: ‘Chuck, please come to the board and apply the quadratic equation to this problem…’”

Heather: “What the fuck? He seemed into it at first, but the minute we start having sex he zones out. I’m not even getting any eye contact…what the hell is he staring at anyway? Oh great, he’s having sex with the stuffed elk’s head mounted over the fireplace. Maybe I should do something to get his attention. I’ll just reach down and…”

Chuck: “Aiiiieee! Why did she do that? No hope of holding out now. Here we go…oh-oh-oh-oh….”

Heather: “Woah! That had more of an effect than I intended! Uh oh, he looks upset…maybe he didn’t enjoy it. Shit. Did I do something wrong? ”

Common Missteps in Sexual Encounter

Let’s take a closer look at what happened in this scenario. The most obvious aspect of Heather and Chuck’s experience is that it could have been a lot better for both of them. The $6,000,000.00 question is what could have been done differently to make it better? Some people might say that Chuck just needs to practice unrolling a condom and do some Kegel exercises to improve his stamina, but these strategies fail to address the most fundamental oversight made by Heather and Chuck. It is an oversight that most of us make when it comes to sex, and it is the product of not questioning our assumptions about sexuality.

The Fundamental Oversight: Communication

What is this oversight? Communication. Chuck’s awkward technique could have been quickly and easily corrected if he had just asked Heather for a little bit of help. If he had taken it one step further and asked Heather what kinds of things felt good and what kinds of things were uncomfortable, both of them would have had a far more sexually fulfilling experience. Likewise, Heather could have spoken up and said, “Take it easy,” “A little to the left,” “Can you stop staring at my dad’s stuffed hinting trophy and look me in the eye?” Furthermore, their general anxiety about the sexual encounter could have been alleviated if they had only a conversation about their expectations, fears, and hopes. As you are reading my suggestions to Heather and Chuck, you are likely saying to yourself, “Yeah right. Like anyone talks about stuff like that.” I agree. People aren’t talking to each other about this stuff. A lot of guys just blindly hump away, pretending like they can telepathically deduce the desires of a woman. Many women don’t speak-up for fear of bruising egos, or out of fear that their wishes will be rejected or wholly ignored. At best, we end-up with mediocre to bad sex, and at worst, someone is violated. In the latter case it’s often due to the guy failing to even ask the basic question, “Do you want to have sex?” Instead, he just barges along and ignores any signals that might tell him it’s not cool.

So what makes us behave like this? Why are we so uncomfortable about sex that we can’t even have a basic discussion? It’s odd, because we get input from one another about all kinds of other personal preferences. For instance, if I make you a mix CD, I need to know generally what kind of bands you like. If you want to go out to dinner, you need to know whether or not I eat meat. If, on a given night, Converge is playing an 18+ club in DC for $12 and Fordirelifesake is playing a house show in Richmond for donations, we need to get together and figure out to which show we want to go. We consult each other on numerous decisions all the time, yet when it comes to the most intimate thing two people can share, consensus suddenly becomes a dirty word. The stakes are so much higher and yet the input is nonexistent. Why?

Gender Roles and Sexual Dynamics

As a society, we’re pretty bad about clinging to our socialized gender roles – this effect becomes even more pronounced when it comes to sex. Sexual situations make us feel particularly pressured to act like “a real man” or “a lady” because gender is such a salient factor. For example, Chuck felt like he had to know everything and be in complete control of the sexual encounter because that’s what he’s been told a “real man” does. Likewise, Heather didn’t want to give her input on how the encounter could be improved because she was afraid Chuck would be put-off by her assertiveness/confidence. She has good reason to worry since women are often slighted for simply speaking-up – particularly when a man’s perception of his own sexual prowess hangs in the balance. In the end, Chuck ends up directing the sexual encounter, and the result is some pretty sub-par sex. One person directing a sexual encounter is like skiing on one leg – sure you can do it, but it’s a lot more fun when both legs are working in harmony.

Let’s see how it could be if Chuck and Heather mustered the courage to throw off the shackles of their respective gender roles. First, Chuck would not have started the ball rolling with, “C’mon let’s do it.” Being the respectful guy that he now is, he would simply ask Heather how she feels about taking things up a notch. If Heather is not ready, Chuck is cool with that – now that he doesn’t have to live-up to some frat-boy mythos of sexual conquest, he doesn’t take Heather’s decision as a personal affront or as some obstacle to be overcome! If Heather is ready to have sex, the two of them talk about it for awhile first. They discuss contraception and how they’ll communicate to one another when something feels uncomfortable. They talk about Chuck’s anxiety about having to be a perfect “lover-man”, and Heather’s worry that Chuck will think she’s slutty if she asks for what she wants. Chuck and Heather can now have a sexual encounter relatively free of guilt and worry and full of input – and input is hot. Still don’t believe me? Let’s see how Heather and Chuck’s encounter might look now:

Chuck: “Woooo Hoooo! Time to get busy…”

 Heather: “I know I made the right decision…rock on.”

Chuck: “Weird, I must be putting on this condom the wrong way.”

Heather: “I think he’s got that thing upside down. I’ll help him out…”

Chuck: [To Heather: “Wow. That was cool. Thanks.”] “OK, here we go…”

Heather: [To Chuck: “Easy m’man. Can you try it like this?”] “Oh wow, that’s much better. Ahhhh….”

Chuck: “OK cool. I’m glad she helped me out there. Oh man, I forgot how good this feels. That’s cool though. I hope this feels as good to her as it does to me.” [To Heather: “Is that better for you?”]

Heather: [To Chuck: “YES! Just keep it steady like that.”] “Oh man, this feels good…”

OK, so I’m not trying to write erotica…you can see where it goes from there. The point is that respect for one another is sexy – communication is erotic.

Redefining Good Sex

Unfortunately, our culture is a long way from understanding these very simple concepts. If anything, respect and communication are seen by the mainstream as mutually exclusive to good sex. I say that we start questioning the mainstream concept of “good sex” just as we do the mainstream acceptance of “success” (i.e., being a materialistic greedy bastard) or “fun” (e.g., getting all stoned or shit-faced night after night after night). Furthermore, let’s challenge ourselves to redefine good sex in our own terms, rather than as dictated to us by society. Respecting and talking to one another about sex is not only revolutionary, but it will lead to healthy, toe-curling, back-arching sex. Viva la rev

talk to me baby 🙂
Written by lole on 2006-01-02 17:14:11this is a fine, true and humble article  
now that i have grown i am aware of all that and i have a very happy fulfilled sex life, but back then when i was 15 i could have done with a fine simple input like this one in my young impatient formatted brain.. when communication is lacking and everyone is conforming, it can be a long time before even connecting to one’s own desires and let alone share them.

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