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Originally published in 1976, The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality was a landmark in feminist studies due to its emphasis on women's experience. Hite's surveys were distributed to women all over the USA from 1972 via the National Organization for Women, notices in national magazines, and weekly newspapers. The total number of replies Hite received was 3019, from women aged 14 to 78, from widely varying educational backgrounds and occupations. Not all states were represented equally: there were 3 responses each from Utah, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, and 485 from New York, and over half of those from New York City. While the methodology of the survey was not so scientific, that did not really make any difference. The great power of the book lay in the words of the women it quoted. They wrote about their sexual experience, including their pleasure and their dissatisfactions. The book emphasizes the issues of dissatisfaction of intercourse and the ways to achieve orgasm through clitoral stimulation. They talk about oral sex, lesbianism, sexual slavery and the sexual revolution, with a final ambitious chapter hoping for a "New Female Sexuality."
Looking back, the era when progressives hoped for a social transformation of sexuality seems like another age. We are still assessing the influence of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and it is hard to say how much things have changed. Hite's survey indicated that 30% of women regularly orgasm from intercourse. Hite suggested that we should move away from defining intercourse as the essence of sex, and include other forms of interacting as part of sex: the final section of the main part of the book is titled "Touching is Sex Too." Judging from the Clinton/Lewinsky episode and recent research on what counts as the loss of virginity (see Virginity Lost: An Intimate Portrait of First Sexual Experiences, by Laura M. Carpenter), there has been little change in how people define sex. There are some indications that women now feel more comfortable asserting their sexual desires and demanding sexual pleasure, yet the label of "slut" and the double standard between men and women have certainly not disappeared.
The Hite Report remains a fascinating document, full of striking comments, longer discussions of very personal experiences, and political agendas. It is a little dated, being rather vague about possible differences between various sorts of orgasms, yet its use of women's actual words describing what they know means that it is still very relevant to modern sexuality.
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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