Shere Hite was a young graduate who produced a thesis for her doctorate in sexuality. Her research had much lower funding than Kinsey’s and so had to be more limited in scope.
Hite circulated a lengthy questionnaire through women’s magazines and to passers-by on the street in the US allowing women to reply anonymously. Few women would be confident to provide such explicit detail about their sexual experiences. So they can hardly be described as ‘typical’ women.
Shere Hite’s sample was made up of volunteers. These were women who were motivated to complete a questionnaire with hundreds of questions about orgasm. It’s a given that these women who replied were those who were reasonably confident about orgasm (rightly or wrongly).
It’s also likely that they were educated women who had the confidence of knowing what is published generally about female orgasm. Women in the general population are not nearly as confident to discuss orgasm and how it might be achieved. So Hite’s statistics only apply to sexually confident (not necessarily responsive) women.
Much like Masters and Johnson, Hite’s work was also politically biased by initial assumptions. She wanted to show that clitoral stimulation was needed for female orgasm. Her findings cannot legitimately be extended to the whole population since the women were volunteers. They were not selected in such a way that they could represent a larger population.
Of the women in Hite’s sample, 82% said that they could easily orgasm when masturbating. But only 30% of them said that they could orgasm regularly through intercourse alone (hands free). Shere Hite suggested that the women who could orgasm through intercourse did so because they took conscious steps to obtain the clitoral stimulation needed for orgasm. But if this were so more heterosexual couples would be more aware of the role of the clitoris.
Hite suggested that the ‘hands free’ approach worked for women who had found a suitable position for intercourse that maximised the clitoral stimulation. This approach is ideologically appealing to men who hope that the stimulation of intercourse (provided by the penis) plays a crucial role in female orgasm. But as Shere Hite pointed out the reduced clitoral stimulation of this approach is likely to make orgasm more difficult for most women. But also who opts for indirect stimulation of their sex organ when heading for orgasm?
Shere Hite proposed that women orgasm with a lover because the clitoris is stimulated manually or through oral sex because the clitoral stimulation is more direct. But she failed to establish this.
Although four fifths (82%) of her sample of women could masturbate to orgasm (assuming that all the women in her sample were masturbating to orgasm and so stimulating the clitoris) around half said the same stimulation techniques did not help them orgasm with a lover. Only 44% of them said they could orgasm regularly with a partner through clitoral stimulation by hand and only 42% through oral sex.
Hite’s conclusions reassure women who masturbate but they don’t help women understand how to orgasm during sex. The evidence indicating that the clitoris is the female sex organ is overwhelming. Nevertheless, the fact that women do not respond to clitoral stimulation with a lover means that is it not readily accepted at the female sex organ.
We assume that female sexual anatomy should respond exactly as the male equivalent. One of the issues is that men and women approach sexual activity with quite different levels of arousal. This is the key reason that the clitoris is not a ‘mini penis’.
Women think they are supposed to orgasm with a lover through vaginal or clitoral stimulation (or both) because of what they read in erotic fiction. But there are no research findings to support this assumption. When women are asked about orgasm, they are unsure. The majority of women also say that they orgasm with a lover some of the time.
Research indicates that women who masturbate are the most confident about orgasm. Women orgasm regularly when they stimulate themselves alone. No one promotes these findings because they conflict with the male view of women’s sexuality. Women also think that they have the right to use any means available to them (including boasting about orgasm with a lover) to make themselves appear more attractive to men.
Given the way that reputable research has been ignored and accounts of easily orgasmic women promoted, any scientist would be alerted to the possibility of emotional and political distortion in any future research into female sexuality.
Has orgasm regularly from intercourse 30%; Has orgasm rarely from intercourse 22%; Has orgasm during intercourse with the addition of simultaneous clitoral stimulation by hand 19%; Does not orgasm during intercourse 29% (Shere Hite 1976)