Friday, January 7, 2011

notes: the hite report

rejecting the very idea of penetration as the sole definition of “real sex,” shere hite’s The Hite Report on Female Sexuality (1976) sought to understand how individuals regard sexual experience and the meaning it holds for them, using the clitoris as her critical lens. “its not specifically just orgasms we are talking about here,” she wrote, “we are talking about a complete redefinition, or un-definition, of what sex is.”

collected from long essay-style questionnaires, the hite report uses the personal stories of women themselves as the main text. its very success lies in this glut of personal know that women are sexually frustrated is one thing, but to read page after page of “long foreplay makes me uncomfortable because i worry that i ’m putting my man through too much work, when i know that he could come so much sooner if he let himself" is quite another. in response to the question, how have most men had sex with you?:

“Most of them start kissing, petting, really getting off on the breasts—then the fingers in the vagina a bit, love talk, when we’re ready, cunnilingus and fellatio simultaneously, then I get on top, then he does. This is fairly standard with a lot of guys.”

“I hate the usual pattern—kiss—feel—eat—fuck, simply because it’s usual. I like people to talk to me and moan a lot. I like when people are expressive and creative with me.”

“Foreplay with constant pressure to have intercourse.”

all but 5% of heterosexual couples, hite discovered, followed the “reproductive” model: foreplay (touching, kissing, oral), followed by penetration, and intercourse (thrusting) followed by orgasm (especially male orgasm), usually defined as the “end” of sex. “this is a sexist definition of sex, oriented around male orgasm, and the needs of reproduction,” hite wrote. “this definition is cultural, not biological.”

hite also found that 70% of women did not orgasm from intercourse alone. although she stressed that orgasm was not the sole, or even necessarily, the main pleasure of sex, she asked her readers “why do women so habitually satisfy men’s needs during sex and ignore their own?”

for the majority of women clitoral stimulation is used for arousal purposes but not orgasm. a point hite returns to again and again: through the reproductive model of sex, male orgasm is given a standardized time and place that is prearranged and preagreed during which both people know what to expect and how to make it possible. this places women in the position of having to ask for “extra” stimulation, something “special."

while the 1960’s may well have been, as sex researcher bill masters quipped, “the decade of orgasmic preoccupation,” hite showed that this did not, and still does not, necessarily carry over into women’s actual sexual experiences. that is—an awareness of the mechanics, ease, and potency of female orgasm did not appear to have much effect on the way 70% of women fucked.

“if women couldn’t ask for clitoral stimulation to orgasm, or do it themselves, they were unlikely to get it from the man they were with," wrote hite. “is the answer to the oppression and neglect of female sexuality and especially orgasm that men should lean to give (better) clitoral stimulation? yes and no. of course men should learn these things, but even more important, we [women] should find the freedom to take control over whether or not we get this stimulation.”