Remembering Shere Hite, the Groundbreaking Feminist Who Taught '70s Women About Sexual Pleasure

Remembering Shere Hite, the Groundbreaking Feminist Who Taught '70s Women About Sexual Pleasure
Image:PIERRE GUILLAUD (Getty Images)

Groundbreaking feminist thinker and sexologist Shere Hite, best known for her pioneering 1976 work The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality which debunked myths surrounding female sexuality, died in her London home on Wednesday, as confirmed by Hite’s husband Paul Sullivan to The Irish Times. She was 77.

Born in Missouri, Hite was raised by her grandparents before attending the University of Florida and then later, a postgraduate program in social history at Columbia University. While there, frustrated with the limitations of the 1960s sexual revolution and its obvious misunderstanding of female sexual pleasure, she published her prodigious Hite Report, a survey of 3,000 women of all ages, professions, and geographies speaking candidly about sex, masturbation, and climaxing. She found that most women did not reach orgasm during penetrative sex alone due to a lack of clitoral stimulation, challenging preconceived and inaccurate notions of heterosexual intercourse. She disputed the idea that women are frigid beings who “struggle” to reach orgasm because they didn’t have any difficulty when self-pleasuring, and she spoke of masturbation plainly long before the taboo was lifted. For the conservative public, Hite was a pariah, a threat to men and the nuclear family. In actuality, she offered one of the first examples of firsthand sexual experiences, women finally allowed to speak about their sexual desires outside of those assigned to them by men.

Novelist Erica Jong reviewed The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality for The New York Times in 1976, summing up its successes as such:

…In the early, polemical writings of the [Women’s] Movement, one often felt that some authors were so busy promulgating new feminist utopias that they, too, were telling women rather than asking them. Movement ideologues were often quite as dogmatic as bona fide male chauvinists. We were exhorted to be separatists, celibates, bisexuals, lesbians, bacchantes, communards, nuns, high priestesses. Gradually, there came a number of books that let women speak in their own words about what they liked, disliked, felt, thought. These came as a revelation. “The Hite Report” represents the culmination of this trend. It could have as much impact on sexual mores in this country as the Kinsey reports. Women who read it will feel enormously reassured about their own sexuality and if enough men read it, the quality of sex in America is bound to improve.

And for those who learned from her findings, it most certainly has.

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