Home Intellectual aspects of sexuality Shere Hite's research findings (1976)

Shere Hite’s research findings (1976)

Shere Hite’s work was a thesis produced for her doctorate in sexuality. Her research had much lower funding than Kinsey’s and so was more limited in scope. Hite circulated a lengthy questionnaire in the US through women’s magazines and to passers-by on the street in the early 1970s. Shere Hite’s sample was not selected in a way that would make it representative of the general population. So the percentages cannot be applied to all women. Women’s accounts of orgasm were less reliable, being written anonymously on a form rather than given via personal interview as Kinsey’s research was.

Hite decided to ask women how and when they experienced orgasm. She found that women, who were confident about orgasm, referred to masturbation much more than to any sexual activity with a lover. Kinsey had also noted that women’s experiences of masturbation provided the most convincing accounts of female orgasm. Unlike Kinsey, Hite’s work had political bias. Just as Masters and Johnson wanted to show that women orgasm through intercourse, Hite hoped to show that women use clitoral stimulation to orgasm with a lover. But she failed to establish this. Although four fifths (82%) of her sample said they could masturbate to orgasm, the same techniques were not as effective with a lover. Only 44% of the women in her sample said they could orgasm regularly with a lover by stimulating the clitoris manually. Only 42% could orgasm through oral stimulation. In other words, the number of women who conclude that clitoral stimulation does not cause orgasm with a lover outnumber the women who think it does.

Both Alfred Kinsey, and later Shere Hite, noted that with no man present (when masturbating or having sex with another woman) women use clitoral stimulation. They didn’t take into account the fact that women often engage in sexual activity without ever achieving orgasm. Men and women approach sexual activity with different levels of arousal. This is the key reason why the clitoris does not respond with a lover. They assumed that the clitoris should respond exactly as the penis does. The penis and the clitoris develop from the same genital tubercle in the foetus. But the amount of development is much greater for the penis. The penis protrudes from the body. Whereas the clitoral organ (containing the corpora cavernosa) is internal to the body.

The anatomical evidence for the clitoris as the female sex organ is overwhelming. By suggesting that women might stimulate the clitoris with a lover, researchers are encouraging women to say they do. There was no evidence previously that heterosexuals (of either sex) had any interest in the clitoris. Researchers did not appreciate the issue of arousal. If clitoral stimulation caused female orgasm with a lover, the clitoris would not be ignored as it currently is. Both Kinsey and Hite used percentages to measure incidences of female orgasm while rates of male orgasm are usually 100%.

In Hite’s sample of women, 30% said that they could orgasm regularly through intercourse alone by using a hands-free approach. They found a position for intercourse that maximised the clitoral stimulation they obtained from intercourse. But why would anyone engage in an act that only provides indirect stimulation? We can see from the male experience that men need penile stimulation to be direct and continuous. It doesn’t make sense to suggest that women need less stimulation than men do. Intercourse provides neither sufficient nor the right kind of stimulation to cause female orgasm.

Hite proposed that some women are successful with orgasm with a lover (while others are not) because they take conscious steps to obtain clitoral stimulation. If this were the case, there would be much more awareness of the role of the clitoris in the population. It is nonsensical to suggest that researchers can discover something by talking to a small sample that millions of couples have not discovered over millennia. If men knew techniques to help women achieve orgasm reliably, the details would spread like wildfire.

One of the problems with suggesting that female orgasm occurs through masturbation, is that very few women masturbate. Most women are clearly not interested in masturbation because of the disgust they show towards men’s masturbatory activity. Most women are embarrassed by any reference to fantasies or explicit clitoral stimulation, which is associated with porn. Women who promote the clitoris and masturbation on the web are clearly providing turn-ons for men. They imply that they use the same techniques with a lover. They are evidently unaware that there is no research to support the idea that clitoral stimulation works with a lover. Hite’s work is the only research we have and that indicates that most women think it is not possible.

Shere Hite commented on the women who are confident to brag about the orgasms they experience with a lover. She also mentioned that women were often unsure about the orgasms they thought they were supposed to have. This was evidence of the political and emotional incentive for women to claim to orgasm in the sociable context that pleases men. By specifying the anatomy (suggested by the researchers) women can sound more convincing.

Kinsey concluded that educated women were less responsive than other women. Education (having a creative imagination) may make the use of fantasy more likely. It does not reduce responsiveness. Educated women have the confidence necessary to challenge male fantasies. Some women know they do not orgasm with a lover because they appreciate that orgasm is a significant and identifiable phenomenon that provides sexual pleasure.

… the idea that it is a man’s role to ‘give’ the woman an orgasm during intercourse. … this idea also often puts the man in a no-win situation since the information he has been given – that thrusting during intercourse should bring a woman to orgasm – is faulty. (Shere Hite)