RECENT SEX SURVEYS: THE HITE REPORT
Shere Hite's survey has been widely publicized as presenting female sexuality from a new perspective. It has also received more criticism from other professionals in the field than any other contemporary survey. The Hite Report (1976) is based on responses to an open-ended questionnaire (i.e., respondents wrote their answers in their own words rather than choosing from some multiple choice alternatives). Questionnaire distribution began in 1972 in a series of national mailings to various women's groups such as the National Organization for Women, abortion rights groups, and university women's centers. Notices were later placed in publications, including The Village Voice and Ms., informing women where to write for the questionnaire; and the magazine Oui carried the questionnaire in its entirety. Of the approximately 100,000 surveys distributed, 3,019 were returned, which Hite states is "more or less the standard rate of return for this kind of questionnaire distribution". In reality, however, not only is such a low response rate inadequate for accurate analysis and reporting, but also most scientifically acceptable questionnaire surveys typically obtain response rates of 50% to 70% with even higher rates of response obtained in many instances (Babbie, 1973; Kish, 1965). In addition, many of the returned questionnaires were not completely analyzed for a variety of reasons, further reducing the final sample to 1,844. Demographic data was not specifically requested and was available only when spontaneously reported by the respondents. An examination of the data that was reported indicates the sample is far from being representative; for example, a very large proportion of the women were between the ages of 18 and 30 and fewer than 40% of the women sampled were married.
The Hite Report has probably received more publicity than any sexual survey since Kinsey. However, it is based on a limited sample which does not appear to be representative of the population as a whole. Furthermore, the lack of appropriate demographic data leads to additional problems of interpretation; it must be remembered that Kinsey and others found a relation¬ship between sexual attitudes and behaviors on the one hand and several demographic variables on the other. Thus, while the Hite data may represent the sexual attitudes and behavioral pat¬terns of a selected group of feminists (because the questionnaire distribution was mostly to such groups or through feminist publications), generalizing these data in a statistical sense to other groups is entirely inappropriate.
On the other hand, the general attitudes and values espoused by the respondents cited in The Hite Report should not be overlooked. The extensive quotations do provide excellent ex¬amples of the wide varieties of normal sexual expression. For ex¬ample, the specific descriptions furnished by these women of how they masturbate and of what orgasms feel like is the most comprehensive source of such information currently available (Pomeroy, 1976). Additionally, these women repeatedly in¬dicated that the process and quality of a sexual encounter is more important than orgasm. Because the book presents a wide variation of female responses, numbers of women will find some of their own experiences reflected in the quoted material, which may enable them to better define their own sexuality in a broader and more realistic context.
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