The Hite Report, 40 years of controversy
“Women have never been asked what they think and how they feel about sex”. With this sentence begins the controversial book ‘The Hite Report’ which, even after 40 years of its publication, continues to be a reference on female sexuality and even male sexuality, as there was also one exclusively for men.
In 1976, when the world was beginning to be revolutionized by the use of the contraceptive pill, the sexual revolution and the feminist movement, the way women in the United States maintained interpersonal relationships changed. The book basically asks women what they feel, what they like and what they think about sex, and then reveals the answers to what, for years, they kept quiet.
Shere Hite, its author, was an American historian, sexologist and feminist with an inspiring and liberating history. She was raised by an abusive grandmother until some uncles took her in. Her real name is Shirley Gregory and she settled in New York and then studied history at Columbia University.
She posed nude for several magazines, including Playboy, and worked as a model to pay her studies.
On one occasion she was called to pose for a typewriter ad and this experience was the beginning of her career as a feminist activist: “I was there alone surrounded by men. One would come and pull my hair out to make me look sexier, the other would pull down my blouse until my chest was in the air, a third would take my thigh and put it on the table”. At that moment she felt she had reached the maximum of what she could bear.
After this she became part of the feminist circles in the New York of the 70s. Listening to women’s complaints and discomforts about their sexuality, she proposed a study on the female orgasm, because at that time it had always been men who spoke about the subject in a context of male domination and control.
For four years, she distributed questionnaires to women in distant parts of the United States; she did this directly through feminist organizations and by placing advertisements in magazines in order to reach more women interested in participating in the study. The questions were about orgasm, masturbation and relationships.
The questionnaire was answered anonymously by 3,000 women, between the ages of 14 and 78, with different occupations and conditions, married, single, widowed, executive, lesbian and even celibate.
Perhaps the most controversial and publicized conclusion of the Hite Report is that 70 percent of the women surveyed acknowledged that they did not have orgasms during intercourse. But a large proportion of them also stated that they had no difficulty in experiencing orgasms when masturbating.
The Hite study demystified the idea that women found it difficult to achieve orgasms, therefore, they did not need vaginal penetration to achieve it and that most were perfectly capable of achieving them by themselves.
Few scientific studies have achieved the popularity and renown of Hite’s work. The reason is that not only includes statistics, value charts and quantifiable results, but it also has thousands of testimonials from women who speak of their sexual experiences with sincerity and in detail.
Hite, in a direct way always, told her readers that they were not frigid, that they had the right to orgasm and encouraged them not to wait for Prince Charming to give them fantastic orgasms.
As the book sold, so did the reviews. They called it ‘The Hate Report’ and accused the author of hating men. Scientific sectors such as psychologists and sexologists, affirmed that the book handled statistics in a rough and unscientific way.
The American sexologist, Virginia Johnson defended Hite’s work because it was full of cultural considerations and opinions, but it did not have measurable physical answers, which was where she had researched.
There were other responses that did not come from specific critics, but from cultural changes that affected the mentality of the time. Hite considered that the appearance in generalist media and specialized studies of the ‘G-spot’, inside the vagina, in the years following her report, was the response of the patriarchy to the revaluation of the clitoris that her study produced.
Hite saw in the emphasis on the ‘G-spot’, a way to add value to vaginal penetration in sexual relations that are held not for reproductive purposes but for pleasure. Adding new frustrations and anxieties to the woman who cannot find it or were not able to stimulate it adequately.
After publishing more books, such as the ‘Report on Male Sexuality’, criticism continued, but this time it was accompanied by constant physical threats. She decided to move to Europe in 1995 and settled in London, where she died on September 9, at the age of 77, with her second husband.
The Hite Report, more than a study on female sexuality, is a compendium of stories full of sincerity and sometimes humor, in which women talk about their feelings, about relationships with men or other women, about economic independence, about what excites them and what displeases them.
Traducción del español: Catalina Oviedo Brugés.