Sexes: Back Off, Buddy

A new Hite report stirs up a furor over sex and love in the '80s

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-- 79% said they are intensively questioning whether they should put so much energy into love relationships, making them their highest priority. Only 19% said their relationship comes first in their lives.

-- 98% wished for more "verbal closeness" with their male partners. The most frequently cited (77%) cause of women's anger: "He doesn't listen." Indeed, 71% of women in marriages of unspecified "long" duration said they have given up and no longer even try to draw their husbands out.

-- 91% of divorced women surveyed reported that they were the ones who initiated the divorce.

-- 70% of the women married five years or more said they are having extramarital affairs, more often for "emotional closeness" than for sex. The overwhelming majority (76%) said they do not feel guilty about their infidelity.

-- 87% of the married women said they have their "deepest emotional relationship" with a woman friend.

Even before Women and Love reaches bookstores at the end of this month, word of its conclusions has critics gnashing their teeth. "C'mon," says Maggie Scarf, author of Intimate Partners, a widely praised study of marriage, "this sounds like a one-sided view of the sexes. Anybody who has been married for longer than 15 minutes knows that there are problems. But this picture of pervasive and profound despair and alienation was not at all what I saw." Scarf considers certain figures, including the 70% rate of infidelity, highly improbable: "Maybe she can find that in parts of Manhattan, but I wonder about Iowa."

June Reinisch, a clinical psychologist at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, also finds Hite's statistics to be of limited value. The sample is highly self-selected, she says (indeed, only 4.5% of the 100,000 questionnaires mailed were returned), and probably reflects a disproportion of malcontents. "Unhappy people are more willing to answer these questions than happy people," says Reinisch. Others object to the vagueness of Hite's subject matter and the questions she asks.

"What does love mean as it is used in this book?" asks Dr. Thomas Szasz, the maverick psychiatrist-author (Sex by Prescription), who teaches at the State University of New York at Syracuse. "Does it mean serenity or constant sex or something else?" The survey, Szasz contends, is "sensation mongering," designed to support Hite's preconceived feminist notions. Quips Ellen Goodman, the Pulitzer-prizewinning syndicated columnist: "She goes in with a prejudice and comes out with a statistic."

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