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This Britain

No sex, please. Or drugs. Or even coffee. We're the Straight Edgers

A defunct Eighties punk rock band is inspiring a teenage abstinence movement. By Julia Stuart

In one corner is a group of lads, one with a lip-piercing and earrings. But there is one remarkable difference between these three and the other drinkers. These lads don't particularly want to be here. Part of a counterculture youth movement, they have turned their back on alcohol, smoking, drugs and promiscuous sex. All three are virgins. Their salvation isn't religion, however; it is punk music.

The Straight Edge movement was inspired by an American Eighties punk band called Minor Threat (See box below). To the delight of his parents, Martin Cobb, 17, became Straight Edge around two years ago after he started listening to the music. "I had never really got into drinking alcohol," says Martin, a student, who is knocking back lemonade. "I never thought that it was fun and just decided to make a commitment that it wasn't needed."

Martin, who also refuses to drink caffeine as do some other Straight Edgers, has only ever once got drunk. He was 14 or 15 and at a party. "I sat underneath a desk and got really depressed," he says. "My parents are quite happy about my being Straight Edge. They can trust me not to get wasted and do stupid stuff. Some friends look down on you and think you're not cool, but it doesn't really faze you."

He spends his spare time going to gigs, listening to music, skateboarding and riding his BMX bike. The only time he goes to a pub is when he goes to see a band.

Martin doesn't currently have a girlfriend. "If I had a girlfriend, I would prefer them not to drink, because that's the way that I am," he says. "I think I would be able to trust them more if they were Straight Edge or similar."

His friend Eddie Maile, 17, the only other pupil at their private school who is Straight Edge, also got into the scene a couple of years ago through listening to hardcore music. "I had never been into drinking," he says. "My friends are fine with it. They understand what it's about. I don't reject sex totally. I have had girlfriends in the past, but it's just never got to that stage. If I found someone I was happy with I would have sex with them."

Curiously, his father still offers him the odd glass of wine. "I wouldn't say my parents are pleased or displeased. I think sometimes they think you should try everything and it's part of growing up."

Eddie goes clubbing with his friends a few times a month. "I don't care that they're all drinking. It's cool. It's not for me to say they can or can't."

Mark Turner, 18, an art student, says he would rather hang around the streets or be on his computer than go to a pub or club. He became Straight Edge two or three years ago, again through the music. "I used to hang out with a lot of friends who were drinking, but I never would. It made more sense to make a commitment and have values that I actually believe in," says Mark.

The movement, however, has not been without controversy in America where some followers have become involved in gang violence. At a concert in 1997 Straight Edgers in Salt Lake City carved an X in the back of a man who lit a cigarette, and two others stabbed a 15-year-old smoker to death.

Going Straight: the gospel of clean living

While the Sex Pistols ranted about anarchy and "friggin' in the riggin'", Minor Threat bemoaned the pressures of youth culture, with such lyrics as "Don't smoke, don't drink, don't fuck, at least I can fucking think".

The band, one of whose anti-drug songs was called "Straight Edge", soon developed a cult following in America, which later spread to Europe. Devotees made a commitment to themselves to abstain from alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex. They would draw a black cross on their hand to mimic the stamp given to under-21s attending gigs which indicated to bartenders not to serve them alcohol. While Minor Threat disbanded after three years, other bands took up the message. There are believed to be around 20 British Straight Edge bands, such as xCanaanx and Seconds Out.