About John Marshall Townsend

John Marshall Townsend is Professor of Anthropology, Syracuse University.  His research interests include human sexuality, sexual attraction, dating and courtship, marriage and divorce, culture and mental illness, and evolutionary psychology.  He has published numerous articles and books; his most recent book is What Women Want—What Men Want (Oxford University Press).  His current research includes a study of highly sexually active young adults. Townsend has appeared on national television and numerous radio talk shows, and his work has been profiled in a number of magazine and newspaper articles.  He has received grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the Newhouse Center for the Study of Popular Television, and the Fulbright Senior Specialist Program.  He is a member of the Editorial Board of Archives of Sexual Behavior.  Townsend received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of  California, Santa Barbara. 




This course examines human sexual attraction from a cross-cultural, evolutionary perspective through the texts, articles online, and a novel (Bridget Jones' Diary).  Readings include cross-cultural ethnographic materials, as well as articles in major social-science journals. Some of the films that have been used are:  Sense & Sensibility; Pillow Talk, and Casablanca.


Human sexuality, romantic passion, and marriage are examined from biological and cultural perspectives.  Topics include:  the evolutionary-biological basis of sexual behavior; sexual behavior in other cultures; marriage and romantic love in historical and cross-cultural perspectives; sexuality on college campuses; sexual attractiveness; marital stability. The following films have been used:   Monsoon Wedding; All About My Mother (Almodovar); ; Almost Famous.  This course is designed for diligent and/or advanced undergraduates and graduate students.  Some background in biology or physical anthropology would be helpful but is not required.   


Psychological and cultural determinants of mental disorders are examined, and cross-cultural variation and universals are explored in traditional cultures and modern nations, including, Africa, Mexico, Native Americans, Hutterites, Near East.  First-person accounts are used to analyze the inner world of mental illness, and a bio-cultural model of psychosis is proposed.  Popular works that have been assigned include: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest; I Never Promised  You a Rose Garden.  Films screened include:  Juliet of the Spirits (Fellini); Through a Glass Darkly (Bergman); Girl Interrupted; The Snake Pit.


This course uses films and literature to mount a critical examination of American national character and the "American Dream."  Readings include classic studies of American social character and more popular works such as  Autobiography of Malcolm X and Bonfire of the Vanities The following films have been used:  Ordinary People; Glengarry, Glenross; Mississippi Burning; El Norte; Midnight Cowboy; Annie Hall; Lean on Me; Stand and Deliver.


This course utilizes an ecological, cross-cultural perspective. During the term, students will learn to:

1) apply an ecological perspective to illness in foreign and domestic cultures;

2) derive useful practices and knowledge from non-Western societies and ethnic sub-cultures, and demonstrate how they could be adapted and utilized in mainstream Western healing;

3) describe the role of socio-cultural factors in the etiology, manifestation, and outcome of diseases cross-culturally;

4) analyze the strengths and weaknesses of non-Western methods of healing.

The course is part of the curriculum of the Consortium for Culture & Medicine, a joint program with Syracuse University, Upstate Medical University [SUNY], and LeMoyne College, and enrolls graduate and undergraduate students from all three institutions.


This course surveys fundamental issues in the cross-cultural study of magic and religion.  Readings utilize both historical and anthropological perspectives.   Topics include witchcraft in Old England, Salem, and traditional African societies; magic in sports and other areas of American life; comparison of ancient Near Eastern religions; politics and Islam;  magical healing; totemism; New World religious practices--including human sacrifice and hallucinogenic drugs.  Films screened include:  The Crucible, The Mission, the Seventh Seal, Black Orpheus, The Autobiography of Malcolm X.


This course begins by examining some of Freud's theories and how they were used by culture and personality researchers, e.g., Margaret Mead in her Coming of Age in Samoa and Male & Female.  We also analyze how a tribal society uses dreams to improve mental health and social relations; shamans and folk healers function as folk psychotherapists; confession is used in healing cross-culturally; hallucinogenic drugs function in healing and mysticism.  Additional topics include multiple personality, voodoo death, human universals, and male and female sexualities.  Films screened include:  The 3 Faces of Eve; David and Lisa; Larry; A Woman Under the Influence.


This course examines the human family from a cross-cultural perspective through texts that use a variety of perspectives (cultural anthropology, evolutionary anthropology, comparative social science) and through two novels that describe exotic cultures (China, Africa).  The following films have been used:  Raise the Red Lantern (Chinese); the Return of Martin Guerre (French); Fringe Dwellers (Australian); the Namesake (Indian); To Live (Chinese).





Book:  WHAT WOMEN WANT--WHAT MEN WANT:  Why the Sexes Still See Love and Commitment So Differently (Oxford University Press).


COSTUMES:  We dressed models as successful professionals, fast-food employees, and working-class townies--with silk shirts and gold medallions. High-status costumes literally transformed homely men and made them more attractive to women than handsomer men in low-status costumes.  Higher-status costumes and descriptions enhanced women's attractiveness, but they did not make a plain woman desirable.

SEX AND SUCCESS:  The higher women move up the success ladder, the higher their socioeconomic standards for partners are.  Because men are largely indifferent to women's status and earning power, women with higher status must compete with other women for the relatively small pool of higher-status men.  Chapter 4 describes this competition--which can be heated and intense.

 SEX AND EMOTIONS:  Chapter 2 describes the sexual behavior of professional men and women, university students, and people with histories of multiple casual sex partners.  Even very sexually liberal women have a hard timecontrolling their negative emotional reactions to casual sex.  Women who have casual sex with high-status men like athletes and musicians are no exception.  For men it's a different story:   the more experience men have with casual sex, the less they think about love and commitment.

 MALE DOMINANCE:  Women are turned off by domineering  men, but they are attracted to men who appear successful and confident.  Women test their male partners for backbone and prowess, and men are usually baffled and frustrated by their testing.  Women's attraction to male status, and men's desire for casual sex give rise to the groupie phenomenon.  Men with high status tend to have lots of sex partners because many women find them attractive.  Chapter 7 describes such men--and women's attitudes toward them.

 WOMEN'S LIBERATION AND THE NEW  POLYGYNY:  Convenient, effective contraceptives and increasing women's economic independence made women's liberation possible.  These developments also increased the availability of sex outside of marriage.  Given women's attraction to male status, high status men are more able than ever before to satisfy their desire for casual relations with a variety of partners.

CULTURAL DIVERSITY:  The male-female differences analyzed in the book appear to be universal.  Cultural constructionists like Margaret Mead exaggerated the cross-cultural variability of these traits for their own political purposes, but Mead later recanted.

SEX DIFFERENCES AND SEXUAL POLITICS:  The notion that sex differences in psychology are produced by differential training and sex roles is the politically correct view on most university campuses.  This view is based on political ideology and wishful thinking rather than empirical evidence.  Biological and cross-cultural studies indicate that biological factors are at least partly responsible for these sex differences.  The book discusses the everyday problems that arise from these differences and explains them in terms of evolutionary psychology.

 Go to Amazon.com for reviews and purchase information.


[purchase information available at Follett's Orange Bookstore, Syracuse NY]


Casual Sex & Sexual Coercion

Sexual Hookups

Mental Illness, Race, & Gender Stereotypes

Sex without emotional involvement

Gender differences in mate preferences among law students

Low-investment copulation: sex differences in emotional reactions

Sexual attractiveness: sex differences in assessment

Male Dominance & Romance: Chap. 7 of What Women Want--What Men Want

Marriage--What Works. Chaps. 8,9 from What Women Want--What Men Want

Sex, sex differences, and the new polygyny, Comment on Schmitt's 48-Nation study, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2005

Bill Clinton, male status, and polygyny







Media reviews, articles, and appearances


Townsend Talk, Osaka University