5 Ways 'The Hite Report', A Study On Female Sexuality, Is Still Relevant To Our Sex Lives Today

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A few months ago, when I was looking for statistics on female orgasms, I came across The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, a book reporting the findings of sex researcher Shere Hite's 3,000-woman study. It was published in 1976, yet it shed so much light on the orgasm gap, genital shame, and other issues affecting our sex lives today. It's a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what women's sex lives are like and how we can improve them.

For her study, Hite distributed a questionnaire to women all over the country by mailing it to women's groups and putting it in newspapers and magazines. It included open-ended questions like "please describe what an orgasm feels like to you," "is breast stimulation important to you?", and "what do you think is the importance of masturbation?" Based on their responses, she drew several conclusions about women's sexuality with far-reaching implications.

Reading the book 40 years after its publication was both validating and enraging — validating because it shows how, contrary to popular belief, there's nothing wrong with women and enraging because it shows all the ways we're made to feel like something is wrong with us sexually.

Here are some insights Hite gained from her study that are more relevant than ever today.

1How Women Feel When They Don't Orgasm

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There's a widespread idea often used to justify the orgasm gap that women are satisfied with orgasmless sex because they're more interested in the emotional connection sex provides. The experiences of Hite's research subjects suggest otherwise. She asked them how they feel when they have sex without orgasming, and their responses included "I am left shaken and sick to my stomach and resentful and angry," "I'm on edge all the time and feel sluggish and congested," and "I'm almost doubled over in pain and I'm furious and would like to kill my partner."

Evidently, "blue balls" are not just for men. But more than that, it was psychologically damaging for women not to orgasm when their partners did. It taught them that their pleasure was less important. The severe effect this has on women shows how awful it is that over a third of straight women don't orgasm every time they have sex. We're fooling ourselves to believe that this happens because women don't want sexual pleasure as much as men. It happens because they aren't getting what they want.

2The Myth That Women Need More Time

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It's usually accepted as common sense that women take longer than men to get aroused and to orgasm. But Hite's study called this into question. Ninety-five percent of the women who masturbated "could orgasm easily and regularly, whenever they wanted," she wrote. "Many women used the term 'masturbation' synonymously with orgasm: women assumed masturbation included orgasm. The ease with which women orgasm during masturbation certainly contradicts the general stereotypes about female sexuality — that women are slow to become aroused, and are able to orgasm only irregularly. The truth seems to be that female sexuality is thriving — but unfortunately underground."

She correctly pointed out that women don't require "foreplay" or need more than a few minutes to orgasm during masturbation. “It is, obviously, only during inadequate or secondary, insufficient stimulation like intercourse that we take ‘longer’ and need prolonged ‘foreplay,’" she wrote. Like the idea that women don't care about orgasms, the view of female orgasms as "elusive" gets used to justify the orgasm gap. But if they seem elusive, it's only because women's pleasure has not been prioritized.

3How Vaginal Orgasms Compare To Clitoral Ones

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Many women have been led to believe they should be aiming for "vaginal orgasms," not only because they can be elicited through intercourse (and therefore involve pleasure for penis-owners) but also because they're supposedly superior. However, Hite's subjects described the exact opposite. "Penetration [orgasms] are usually lighter, almost fleeting," one said. "Clitoral orgasms are more intense, longer; intercourse orgasms are dull, no edge, very short," said another.

"Most women felt that orgasms during intercourse were more diffuse, while orgasms without intercourse were more intense," she concluded, pointing out that Masters and Johnson measured stronger vaginal contractions and higher heart rates in women during masturbation than intercourse. Why are we taught to aspire to vaginal orgasms, then? Probably because they're more convenient for cis hetero men who want to focus on intercourse rather than bother with clitoral stimulation — not because they're actually more enjoyable.

4How Messed Up It Is To Expect All Women To Orgasm Through Intercourse

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Many have already pointed out that it's not realistic to expect all women to orgasm through intercourse, but Hite used an analogy that really drives this point home. "This indirect stimulation of women could be compared to the stimulation that would be produced in a man by the rubbing of the scrotal skin (balls), perhaps pulling it back and forth, and so causing the skin of the upper tip of the penis to move, or quiver, and in this way achieving 'stimulation,'" she wrote. "Would it work? Admittedly, this form of stimulation would probably require a good deal more foreplay for the man to have an orgasm! You would have to be 'patient' and 'understand' if it did not lead to orgasm 'every time.'"

She's specifically referring here to Masters and Johnson's theory that women should be able to orgasm during intercourse because the penis moves the labia, which in turn moves the clitoral hood, which in turn moves the clitoris. She rightfully joked that this sequence of events "sounds more like a Rube Goldberg scheme than a reliable way to orgasm."

5The Conclusion She Draws From All This

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Based on her findings, Hite concluded that societal standards for how we have sex exploit women. “The sequence of ‘foreplay,’ ‘penetration,’ and ‘intercourse’ (defined as thrusting), followed by male orgasm as the climax end of the sequence, gives very little chance for female orgasm, is almost always under the control of the man, frequently teases the woman inhumanely, and in short, has institutionalized out any expression of women’s sexual feelings except for those that support male sexual needs,” she wrote.

Taken together, her interviews provided a picture of women who had an enormous capacity for sexual pleasure yet often found themselves frustrated, neglected, and devalued. Unfortunately, that's how many women today feel as well.

But the good news is that these circumstances are 100 percent changeable. As Hite noted, they're not a result of women's biology or innate preferences. Instead, they stem from society's limited understanding of sex. We could all benefit from expanding our definition of "sex" to include more than just intercourse.

"The way women orgasm is something to celebrate, not derogate," Hite wrote in a 2004 introduction. "It is not that women have a problem sexually, but that society has a problem accepting and understanding women’s sexuality. .... I conclude that since sex is a historically and culturally constructed institution— not strictly a matter of biology or mechanics — the definition of sex can be changed and indeed should be changed."