In contemporary United States culture, young people may face contradictory gender-related pressures. Changing gender norms resulting from social movements in the latter half of the twentieth century (e.g., sexual revolution, feminism) collide with traditional expectations, such as female virginity until marriage. This study used cross-gender focus groups to examine young people’s gendered experiences in the wake of social change. Data were collected with 35 millennials (ages 18-27) in Pennsylvania who self-identified as having traditional views about relationships and sexuality. Participants articulated current traditional expectations, which included educational and career responsibilities for women as well as behavioral expectations that participants associated with hyper-masculinity. Such expectations were often paradoxical and frequently contrasted with lived experiences. Participants coped with conflicting pressures by keeping secrets and leading double lives. These findings may help educators and clinicians recognize the complex social reality millennials face and assist them in balancing conflicting pressures.


Gender and Sexuality, Feminist Studies, Masculinity Studies, Sociology, Focus Group

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Angela Towne holds a M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Human Sexuality Studies from Widener University. She has worked in the gender and sexuality field in an educator, counselor, and program leader for the past 17 years. Her professional experiences span social service, public health, academic, and media settings. She has taught as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies department at Kansas State University, and previously at Pacific University in the Gender and Sexuality Studies department. Currently, Dr. Towne is working with a team to explore the effects of hormonal and surgical transition on sexuality with trans masculine co-researchers. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: angiejtowne@yahoo.com.

Dr. Elliot Ruggles is currently serving as a Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Advocate (SHARE) at Brown University and holds a PhD in Human Sexuality Studies and a Master’s in Social Work from Widener University. He has been organizing, teaching, running therapeutic groups, and conducting research in the fields of social work and sexuality for over ten years. Most recently he served as the Director of the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center at SUNY Oneonta. His research uses critical and queer theory to examine the genealogy of the interrelated, yet distinct (Western) concepts of gender and sexuality, and life-history interviews to examine how people develop sexual and gender identities that deviate from Western social norms. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: Elliot_Ruggles@brown.edu.

Dr. Betsy Crane, Professor, Center for Human Sexuality Studies, Widener University, near Philadelphia, PA, earned a Ph.D. from Cornell University. Previously she worked for 17 years as a sexuality educator, as a public health family planning outreach worker, then as Education Director and later Executive Director for Planned Parenthood in Ithaca, NY. Co-editor of Sexual Lives: A Reader on the Theories and Realities of Human Sexualities (Heasley & Crane, 2003), her research interests include the history of gendered sexuality and shifting gender and sexual identities of young people. Dr. Crane is past president of the Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and was named a Distinguished University Professor by Widener University for 2014-2017. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: bcrane@widener.edu.

Meghan Root, MA. M,Ed. earned her MA is counseling psychology from Lesley University in Cambridge MA. She also has an MEd in Human Sexuality Studies from Widener University in Chester PA. She has training in crisis response, trauma, sexual addiction, and sexual violence prevention and response. She is currently working at Fort Meade MD as the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for the U.S. Air Force. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: meghan.root@us.af.mil.


The authors express great appreciation to Kristen Blinne, Ph.D., Anuja Madan, Ph.D., Valerie Padilla Carroll, Ph.D., Tushabe, Ph.D., and the Intellectual Circle at Kansas State University for their reviews and contributions to this article.

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