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What Women Want--What Men Want: Why the Sexes Still See Love and Commitment So Differently

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Following the work of E. O. Wilson, Desmond Morris, and David Buss, What Women Want—What Men Want offers compelling new evidence about the real reasons behind men's and women's differing sexual psychologies and sheds new light on what men and women look for in a mate, the predicament of marriage in the modern world, the relation between sex and emotion, and many other hotly debated questions.
Drawing upon 2000 questionnaires and 200 intimate interviews that show how our sexual psychologies affect everyday decisions, John Townsend argues against the prevailing ideologically correct belief that differences in sexual behavior are "culturally constructed." Townsend shows there are deep-seated desires inherited from our evolutionary past that guide our actions. In a fascinating series of experiments, men and women were asked to indicate preferences for potential mates based on their attractiveness and apparent economic status. Women overwhelmingly preferred expensively dressed men to more attractive but apparently less successful men, and men were clearly inclined to choose more attractive women regardless of their professional status. Townsend's studies also indicate that men are predisposed to value casual sex, whereas women cannot easily separate sexual relations from the need for emotional attachment and economic security. Indeed, wherever men possess sexual alternatives to marriage, and women possess economic alternatives, divorce rates will be high. In the concluding chapter, Townsend draws upon the advice of couples who have maintained their marriages over the years to suggest ways to survive our evolutionary predicament.
Lucidly and accessibly written, What Women Want—What Men Want shows us why we are the way we are and brings new clarity to one of the most intractable debates of our time.

304 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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John Marshall Townsend

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Profile Image for Harry Harman.
644 reviews14 followers
January 9, 2022
women were capable of having multiple orgasms, whereas men were not, and with the proper stimulation women could reach orgasm as quickly as any man

I thought sexual liberation would mean that women would become more like men. sexual liberation would involve men becoming more like women, and this meant giving up a lot of the things we young men most wanted to do.

As human beings we have inherited certain predispositions from our evolutionary past, but that does not mean we have to act on them. Obviously, if we gratified every selfish, aggressive, or sexual impulse we had, the world would be a lot more dangerous and chaotic than it already is.

Like the Kinsey researchers, I frequently noticed a blatant discrepancy between what people said and what they did

It is in their most secret fantasies that men and women differ the most—as most women who has been exposed to male pornography and most men who have tried to read a romance novel know.

predicted that as women gained power and financial independence, their sexual behavior and standards for choosing partners would become more like those of men.

With the introduction of the pill in the early 19608

Men emphasize physical attractiveness when they choose partners, and women emphasize partners' status and earning power

most women do not want to marry "down" in terms of income and occupation

women are turned off by domineering men, but they are attracted to men who appear confident, self-assured, and capable. "I want someone I can respect... a man that I can have confidence in...a strong man with one weak spot—me and our family, and we're so dear to him he'll do anything for us. But with everyone outside the family he'll be able to walk over them if he has to."

Women's attraction to male status, and men's tendency to have casual sex with a variety of partners, give rise to the groupie phenomenon. Men with high status tend to have lots of sex partners because many women find them attractive.

In our society, domestic services, like food preparation and childcare, can be purchased at relatively low cost. This means that the wife who does not work outside the home is more economically vulnerable than ever before in human history. She is also more vulnerable to her husbands's sexual infidelities and possible abandonment because contraceptives have greatly increased the availability of extramarital sexual relations. Contemporary wives thus face more intense sexual competition for their husbands than women did in previous eras.

Nevertheless, a strong sexual double standard was present

I think a lot of men divorce sex from relationships and feelings. The one thing I am looking for is a relationship with a lot of communication. Real honest talking. Most men don't want to talk. They want to go out, and go to dinner, and screw. I talk openly to them if they want to listen, but they seldom do.

I would like to go out with a man and have a really good time and have him drive me home. I could kiss him on the cheek, or he could kiss me on the cheek, and we could look at each other and say, "I really had a good time. What are you doing tomorrow?" I would love to have a man court me, bring me flowers, all those things. But it just doesn't happen. Sex always comes up first.

These male desires are so foreign to her that they are incomprehensible.

women have desired more cuddling, verbal intimacy, expressions of affection, and foreplay and afterplay in order to enjoy sexual relations.

The Kinsey studies were conducted between 1938 and 1950. over 16,000 interviews were collected, and their statistical reports were based on interviews with 5,940 women and 5,300 men in the United States.

Men's sexuality is more focused on genital stimulation and orgasm, while women are more readily aroused by diffuse touching and caressing, which may eventually progress to genital stimulation. Women are more easily diverted from having intercourse and distracted during intercourse—whether by a child's cry, the ring of the telephone, the memory of tasks left undone, or the presence of other individuals in the house.

all men are fetishists because males can be aroused by the mere sight of a particular part of the human body or other stimulus object that is completely separate from any person and from any emotional or relational context. This male capacity explains why fetishism is almost exclusively a male practice.

Men tend to seek a variety of sexual partners for the sake of variety, and are more oriented toward genital sex and less toward affection and cuddling. In contrast, women prefer sex within emotional, stable, monogamous relationships.

if she decides to excite herself through fantasies or masturbation, she can be aroused as readily as a man. But the cues for her arousal are initially internal: she must put herself in the mood, or allow herself to be put in the mood. She is not likely to be sexually aroused merely by looking at parts of a stranger's body

When a woman sees an attractive stranger, she usually wants to know more about him: his character, what he does for a living, whether he is married, and how he would relate to her. If circumstances permit, she attempts to gain this information through conversation. Although she may not be aware of it, in this conversation she is evaluating the stranger's potential for investment. Is he married? Is he dressed properly? Does he have the right kind of job and education? How does he relate to women? What have his past relationships been like? Is he sensitive and respectful toward her?

women emphasize the following traits more than they do actual physical traits: signs of vitality, energy, mastery, and a genuine interest in them. She observes, for example, that the message in a man's eyes is ten times more powerful than the most gorgeous body. Of course, it is an additional attraction if the man's eyes are also beautiful, but "it's the expression in and around the eyes that makes the difference." Hands are also very important. In touching, a man's hands should convey "care, consideration, sensitivity, sureness, and strength." If a man has a good body, that is a plus, but it is not the primary determinant of his attractiveness, and a naked stranger is off putting and may be perceived as a threat. Flood concludes that when a woman allies herself with a man, she wants assurances that he is able to take care of himself, and that "he is willing and able, on occasion, to take care of her,"

When women view a handsome stranger, or a photograph of one, their typical reaction is, "Yeah, he's a good-looking man. He's attractive. So what?" He might look like someone they would like to get to know, but they do not assess him purely on the basis of his physical appearance and decide they would like to have sex with him.

In my class on human sexuality, a student related that a woman professor had proclaimed that it was a terrible tragedy that the sexist roles in our society had made men think they had to get an erection every time they saw an attractive woman. I asked the class what they thought of this statement, and one young man replied, "There's no thinking involved. You see a really good looking woman with a great body, and you want to have sex with her. It's instantaneous. There is no decision. Of course, you can suppress it, but the initial thought is there."

The men in the class agreed that some erections were spontaneous and involuntary, and could occur in extremely embarrassing situations, such as the classroom or church. Merely looking at the woman across the room or allowing one's thoughts to stray to sexual images could produce arousal, and the sexual urge could be so strong that a person would seek relief by masturbating in a bathroom stall or some other desperate location. The women in the class were incredulous and said that this must be "awful," and they wondered how boys and men could live like this.

While women can certainly be excited by viewing a handsome stranger on the street and by the possibility of meeting him, they are not typically aroused sexually.

Men tend to offer sex as a comfort, and they don't understand it when the woman turns away because she is not in the mood. It's out of joint with her feelings if she is lonely or sad. Sex is a celebration for women. You enjoy it more if you're feeling good. If I get all dressed up and go out to a party or a movie or dinner, and I feel pretty and charming, then making love puts the cap on things. I feel sexy then.

You remember all of that fifties stuff when women really did do things like brush their teeth and put on perfume and change into a clean dress before their husbands got home from work? The other thing concentrates on the woman manipulating her own mood. She's not gussying up for him, she's making herself feelgood. A lot of men probably wouldn't notice, really—not what she is wearing exactly.

Women, however, were likely to find films and stories erotically stimulating when they were less explicitly sexual and when they contained fully developed characters in a story with a romantic plot. women who said they enjoyed burlesque or strip shows attended them not because they found them erotically stimulating but because they were curious or because they could share the experience with their male companions.

If a man finds a woman exceptionally attractive, he may be willing to invest more.

Instead, they adjusted to the restrictions of monogamy by designing their sexual activities with their partners to accommodate their ideas of sufficient and diverse sex.

A man can get an erection just staring at a pretty woman. It's an involuntary reaction. But I wouldn't do anything because I'd be afraid to lose Alice.

Women were much more likely than men to say they would like to spend more time in foreplay and afterplay. This sex difference in desires resulted in a bargaining process and compromise. Women were more likely to get their way in regard to foreplay than afterplay because they had more control over the amount of foreplay: they could always refuse to have intercourse if their demands for foreplay were not met. Women, however, did not have any obvious way of controlling the amount of afterplay.

To control these relationships, women limit sexual access and keep other partners interested in case a current relationship fails.

He's not ambitious. He wouldn't even do his papers or study unless I pushed him. Dick is a lot more impressive. He made it into a top medical school and is doing well. I saw Dick as an opportunity and a safety relationship. I wasn't ever really in love with him. I felt a little guilty about deceiving both of these guys but not that much because Dick wouldn't commit. Then Jon and I started having problems, I think partly because I was having trouble juggling both of these relationships. I keep reminding myself of Kevin's flaws: he's not that ambitious and probably won't be very successful,

Large-scale investigations like the Kinsey studies in the late 19405 and Blumstein and Schwartz's American Couples in the 1980s

this man came over and asked if he could sit down. I said, "Sure." I was getting ready to leave soon anyway, but if he hadn't been attractive, I probably would have left immediately. He was from out of town, but he knew some people where I worked so we chatted for a little while and he said some interesting things. I certainly wasn't thinking of get-ting anything on with him. We went inside and danced to the band. He was actually a pretty good dancer. He was very nice, and tall and thin. He was not putting the make on me at all. About three-quarters of the way through the evening, I knew my friend was not going to show up. I was intrigued with the idea of taking off and having sex with somebody I'd never met before. I usually make it a point to look someone over more carefully than that for safe-ty reasons. I suggest we have breakfast or lunch, so I can see them in broad daylight. But I was curious about how I would feel doing this and how I would carry it off. He asked me if I would go to his motel room and I said, "Sure." We got to the room and took our clothes off and had sex. He was absolutely competent. He was fairly good at oral sex so I came two or three times. Another interesting thing was that he called me by name, first and last, several times while we had sex. I thought it was a nice touch that he remembered my first name, let alone my last. So after we had sex two or three times, I said, "I've got to go home." He turned over abruptly with his back to me and said, "What do you mean you're leaving? I thought you would stay and have breakfast with me."

In order to have more lasting relationships, gay men usually agree that sex outside the relationship is acceptable as long as it is not serious. Gay men use the word "cruise" to describe the search for casual sexual encounters. And lesbians almost never cruise. They tend to become friends before they become lovers. For lesbians, genital sex is less important than it is for gay or heterosexual men, but affection and caresses are more important.

For lesbians, genital sex is less important than it is for gay or heterosexual men, but affection and caresses are more important.

lesbians focus more on diffuse touching, verbal intimacy, and signs of affection because that is what women want and what comes most naturally to them.

sexual double standard in our society: If a man has sex with multiple partners, he's a stud; if a woman does the same thing, she's a slut.

Gaetan Dugas is referred to as Patient Zero because he is credited with being the primary agent in the initial spread of HIV across the United States.

when women totally reject a sexual double standard and voluntarily engage in casual relations, their emotions eventually sound an alarm, alert them that their interests are being violated, and guide them toward relationships that offer higher levels of investment: relationships with more affection, commitment, and long-term potential.

Women face much greater risks in mating because they could become pregnant, and the number of children a woman can produce in a lifetime is severely limited. These two factors have resulted in a cautious, selective sexual strategy.

Regardless of the various forms investment takes, all serve to communicate that a partner cares about the woman, her feelings, and her welfare, and is willing to devote time, energy, and resources to make her happy. In human mating, women look for two signs of male investment: the presence of adequate material resources and evidence of emotional involvement.

How does evolutionary psychology explain sex differences?
Men, on the other hand, have historically had a great deal to gain by being easily aroused and attempting to mate with a variety of partners. If a man acquired two wives, for example, he could double his fertility and the representation of his genes in later generations. A woman with two husbands, however, does not necessarily increase her fertility.
Profile Image for Othón A. León.
100 reviews3 followers
December 11, 2012
A great philosophical, sociological, psychological and anthropological analyses of gender characteristics and differences work. John Marshall Townsend did a hell of a job in my opinion. I have read several books that try to explain what is that attracts us and why and I have found some interesting works, but this is by far the most multifaceted and scientifically sustained one that I have read so far. The richness of approaches is really good as well as the great balance between scientific and colloquial languages, always put to the level of clear understanding by all kinds of readers.

The bottom line? men look for sex (variety mainly) and are very much attracted by signs of fertility while on the other hand women look for investment (emotional and material), fuelled by status.

By the way, if like me you read all those theories on differences and preferences from both sexes based on cultural circumstances, training, etc. forget about it; Mr. Townsend just convinced me that it's all in the evolution factor!

If like me, you want to understand more what human nature is all about, read this book.
Profile Image for Dina.
458 reviews36 followers
July 18, 2019
This is such a great book and it basically confirmed everything I already knew. The book is based on statistical research and confirms that men and women are different, as in biologically different. For example men want sex, while women want emotions and commitment. Men want young and attractive women, while women seek men with intelligence, status and power. Another beautiful bit at the end of the book is that romantic love alone cannot sustain a relationship if there is no such thing as responsibilities and mutual respect in it.

Do yourself a favor, read this book. It will give you a good, healthy insight into behavior of the opposite gender and will perhaps be helpful in your future relationships.
Profile Image for Mel.
20 reviews
June 18, 2008
This book completely explained my disastrous and confusing dating life, my friends' dating lives, my parents' failed relationships, my failed relationship, and so on. Though somewhat painful to read, it was a great reality check about the fairy tale romances we are all brought up to desire, and it was a bloody relief! I believe it gave me a whole new perspective on rejection, helped me finally move towards self-acceptance, and contributed to my evolving definition of what "love" is (with a few other books in this shelf). I entered my current relationship with a completely new attitude.
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 4 books90 followers
August 21, 2014
This book taught me a lot more about the male's functioning mind. It makes sense because the author went to school for anthropology. The author not only shared scenerios and storys as examples, but he also went on to elaborate in a polite but ACCURATE way. I definitely walked away feeling more confident as to why men act the way they do. I would honestly read this book again for a refresher. This dude knows what he is talking about.
2 reviews
July 6, 2010
I have been reading some books about the differences between sexes, but none has done such an excellent job in answering Sigmund Freud's question -- "What does a woman want?" This book does not have the complete answer to that question, but I believe it has a huge portion of the correct answers, based on my own experience and the books I have been reading. It basically blows my mind.
Profile Image for Henry.
534 reviews13 followers
February 2, 2023
- Despite the ideal thinking that "this time is different", that because of liberation of women's career women can enjoy sex similar to men, women by en large still behave the same way as before (I bet the Flappers thought the same right before the Great Depression)

- Men's sexual fantasy is static, heavily rely on imagery. Whereas for women, they have desire more cuddling, verbal intimacy, expressions of affection and foreplay and afterplay

- Men can't "discontinue" their sexuality. Absent of sexual intercourse, they have to find other means of release such as masterbation. Whereas for women, days, weeks, months or even years of sexual inactivity could be the norm

- Fetishism is almost exclusively a male practice. Male can assign an object and get sexually aroused by such object (and for some, can only get sexually aroused by such object)

- While men often can have sex without emotional attachment, women can't. Even if their brain forces them to think sex is casual, their body is attached to that person through sexual act

- When a man sees an attractive stranger, his eyes get automatically glued on. Whereas for woman, an attractive stranger alone isn't often enough for her fantasy to kick in - she would often need to have a conversation with him. Women are also more in tune with a stranger's eye

- For women, they crave to see a man who can affectionately look into his partner's eyes and say, "I love you"

- In terms of marriage, women seek for partner who earns as much, if not more than her: however, earning power is simply a proxy for what she wants in her partner. In reality, she wants a high status partner and earning power often come in hand with status. Women overwhelmingly object marrying men who have low outlook and/or ambition

- However, such calculation changes as women ages. By the time she hits 35, she becomes overwhelming worrisome of not being able to have children. She gets more desperate for potential mates as she instinctive knows that her chance of finding her ideal partner diminishes as her age increases, and she now sees her competition of younger women visibly and knows she wouldn't be able to compete

- Male overwhelmingly prefer younger female partner

- Women desire men who are a challenge, be fierceless outside but with a soft spot for his family. And can take care of the family when needed
7 reviews
December 20, 2022
This book is an interesting read and offers a lot of insights into how men and women are wired as the author has conducted research on discovering the real mechanism of male and female sexual psychology. This book answers the questions of what men and women look for in a mate, marriage, the relation between sex and emotion, just to name a few. Based on questionnaires and intimate interviews, the author tries to unravel how our sexual psychologies affect everyday decisions and argues against the prevailing ideologically correct belief that differences in sexual behavior are "culturally constructed."

A few key points would be as follows. Deep-seated desires inherited from our evolutionary past guide our actions. In the case of preferences for potential mates, men and women had to choose between attractiveness and apparent economic status. Women have a tendency to go for rich and established men, whereas men are more inclined to the attractiveness of women regardless of their professional status. Men are predisposed to value casual sex, whereas women cannot easily separate sexual relations from the need for emotional attachment and economic security. Thus, wherever men possess sexual alternatives to marriage, and women possess economic alternatives, divorce rates will be high. To conclude the book, advice from couples who have maintained their marriages over the years has been included to suggest ways to survive our evolutionary predicament.

Possibly the hardest part about reading this book for me was accepting that the explanations it puts forward are true and I would say that it was a bit depressing at times really, but then again, I guess that is the nature of the world that we live in. Despite having all kinds of new information, I did find that certain points were very repetitive and made the book feel heavy. I would recommend this book to those who are looking to understand how the other gender works, but I do have to warn you that it might feel a bit dragging and depressing at times.
Profile Image for Hywel Owen.
55 reviews14 followers
July 22, 2009
Forget all the other trite nonsense that is written about the difference between the sexes. This book encapsulates some very simple truths about human motivations relationships. Possibly the hardest part about reading this book will be accepting that the explanations it puts forward are true.

Much of the book revolves around the ideas of evolutionary psychology. Whilst a lot of evolutionary psychology is just so much junk, this book keeps its analyses down-to-earth, and hence believable.

A good read for anyone who has ever felt frustrated that the opposite sex isn't how they would like them to be.
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