In the early to middle 1970s the feminist movement in the United States produced an increasing number of texts on female health and sexuality that were written by women. The proliferation of texts on this subject also has produced increasing numbers of works on sex and gender since the inception of the movement. Following the work of William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson and the Kinsey Report, Shere Hite conducted research in the early 1970s that culminated in The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study on Female Sexuality (1976).
Capitalizing on the sexual revolution as well as becoming a key book of the twentieth-century feminist movement, The Hite Report, at 478 pages, was a study whose goal was to answer sensitive questions dealing with the most intimate details of women's sexuality. Hite asked 1,844 women, ages fourteen to seventy-eight what they do and do not like about sex; how orgasm really feels, with and without intercourse; how it feels not to have an orgasm during sex; and the importance of clitoral stimulation and masturbation. Those women also were asked to name the greatest sexual pleasures and frustrations of their lives, among many other questions.
The goal of Hite's work was to challenge many accepted notions about female sexuality (such as the myth of the vaginal orgasm) and to show that attitudes must change to include the sexual stimulation that women desire. Although The Hite Report contains statistical analyses, the greater part of the book consists of candid anecdotes, opinions, and complaints relating to the respondents' sex lives. Book reviewers criticized Hite for lax statistical reporting: According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Hite failed to obtain demographic statistics from some of her respondents. However, the book became an instant best seller, and many women felt reassured by its frankness and honesty about sex. Hite's final assessment that women were far from sexually satisfied unsettled established opinion on the subject.
Shere Hite was born November 2, 1942, in St. Joseph, Missouri, and is a sex educator and feminist. In addition to her focus on female sexuality, Hite references theoretical, political, and psychological works associated with the feminist movement of the 1970s, such as Anne Koedt's essay "The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm." Hite received a master's degree in history from the University of Florida in 1967. She moved to New York City and enrolled in Columbia University to work toward a doctorate in social history. Hite attributes the noncompletion of this degree to the conservative nature of Columbia at that time, and she later completed a doctorate at Nihon University, Tokyo, Japan, and another doctorate in clinical sexology at Maimonides University, North Miami Beach, Florida.
PRODUCTION OF THE HITE REPORT
An ongoing topic of interest for Hite has been the ways in which individuals regard sexual experience and the meaning it holds for them. She has criticized Masters and Johnson for incorporating critical approaches to sexual behavior into their research. She has criticized Masters and Johnson's argument that sufficient clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm should be provided by thrusting during intercourse and the inference that failure to achieve orgasm in this manner is a sign of female sexual dysfunction. Hite's research reflects her conviction that individuals must understand the cultural and personal construction of sexual experience to make the research relevant to sexual behavior outside the laboratory.
The main motivation behind the production of The Hite Report was the idea that "women have never been asked how they felt about sex. Researchers, looking for statistical 'norms,' have asked all the wrong questions for all the wrong reasons—and all too often wound up telling women how they should feel rather than asking them how they do feel" (Hite 1976, p. 46). Hite conducted her research by using essay questionnaires rather than multiple-choice questions because the latter would have "implied preconceived categories of response … would have 'told' the respondent what the 'allowable' or 'normal' answers would be" (Hite 1976, p. 102). The study was replicated and confirmed in at least two other countries. The Hite Report—as well as two other studies, The Hite Report on Male Sexuality (1981) and The Hite Report: Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution (1987)—was translated into thirteen languages and used in courses in universities in the United States and around the world.
SCOPE AND INFLUENCE
A key revelation in Hite's 1976 report was that women felt pressure to conceal how they felt about the lack of orgasm during intercourse. Hite drew the conclusion that the traditional definition of sex is sexist and culturally linked: "Our whole society's definition of sex is sexist—sex for the overwhelming majority of people consists of foreplay, eventually followed by vaginal penetration and then by intercourse, ending eventually in male orgasm. This definition is cultural, not biological" (Hite 1976, p. 53).
In the early 1980s Hite sent out 100,000 questionnaires to explore the ways in which women were suffering in their love relationships with men. Published in 1987, The Hite Report: Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress provided a channel of release for women who experienced frequent degradation and ridicule by men (Wang 1993). Women wrote essays that expressed their longing for love while they engaged in heterosexual relationships in which they assumed a caregiver role.
The Hite Report and its follow-up texts continue to be received as landmark feminist texts. However, Hite's lack of a scientific conclusion remains a point of criticism by researchers in her field (Wang 1993). Although Hite used the same methodology to produce three books on female sexuality, male sexuality, and women and love, only the third book received extensive public scrutiny. Because the third Hite Report addressed attitudes and emotions, its credibility often was called into question. In 1999 Hite published The Hite Report on Shere Hite: Voice of a Daughter in Exile, a self-examination and biographical account of the sexologist's experiences.
Hite, Shere. 1976. The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study on Female Sexuality. New York: Macmillan.
Hite, Shere. 1981. The Hite Report on Male Sexuality. New York: Knopf.
Hite, Shere. 1987. The Hite Report: Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress. New York: Knopf.
Hite, Shere. 1999. The Hite Report on Shere Hite: Voice of a Daughter in Exile. London: Arcadia.
Koedt, Anne. 1970. "The Myth of the Vaginal Organism." CWLU Herstory. Available from http://www.cwluherstory.com/CWLUArchive/vaginalmyth.html.
Wang, Charmont. 1993. "Women and Love: A Case Study in Qualitative/Quantitative Analysis." In Sense and Nonsense of Statistical Inference. New York: Marcel Dekker. Available from http://www.stat.berkeley.edu/users/rice/Stat2/hite.html.