Sexes: Back Off, Buddy

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

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-- A 1986 survey of 34,000 women conducted by New Woman magazine confirms doubts about marriage and fidelity: 41% of unattached women surveyed said they are not looking for a relationship or are undecided. In addition, 7% of the married women and 18% of those living with someone said they were hunting for a new man. One-third of women in steady relationships said they too were on the prowl.

-- A poll by Glamour magazine this year found that an increasing number of women approve of infidelity. Of the 800 women surveyed, 18% said extramarital sex was acceptable, compared with only 12% last year. Moreover, only half of single women say marriage is "very important" to them.

The change in attitude toward matrimony is especially striking. A 1985 study of trends undertaken for Cosmopolitan magazine by the Battelle Memorial Institute's research center in Seattle concluded, as Hite does, that marriage has become less central in women's lives. The authors point to Census Bureau statistics indicating that the percentage of women ages 25 to 34 who have never married has more than doubled since 1970. This is because women are not only postponing marriage, say the authors of the Cosmo study, but increasingly avoiding it. The old economic division of labor, in which men work outside the home while women provide what economists call "home production" -- cooking, cleaning, caring for children and so on -- is gone, and thus the "gains from marriage for women have declined."

Hite is not alone in observing the demise of the notion that love " 'tis woman's whole existence," as Byron once put it. "The old female tendency to put all her eggs in the love basket has been muted," says Columnist Ellen Goodman. One by-product of this adjustment, thinks Goodman, is greater reliance by women on other women for friendship -- an observation that accords with Hite's. Psychologist Carin Rubenstein, co-author of the Redbook study, also finds this trend striking. "I've heard women say, 'Maybe I should date my husband and live with my best friend.' "

Further evidence that Hite is on to something can be found in the nation's bookstores. A brief sampler of some of the titles that have lined the shelves in the past five years: Men Who Can't Love (Evans; 1987); How to Love a Difficult Man (St. Martin's Press; 1987); Women Men Love, Women Men Leave (Clarkson Potter; 1987); Successful Women, Angry Men (Random House; 1987); Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them (Bantam; 1986); and the bluntest title of the lot, No Good Men (Simon & Schuster; 1983). Most are how- to books that advise women on dealing with the same troubling male shortcomings cited by the women in Hite's study: an inability to convey their emotions, a fear of commitment and intimacy, and an obsession with dominance.

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