Sexes: Back Off, Buddy

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

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Many of those who take the strongest exception to Hite's often harsh tone are men. Her report and the spate of good-women, bad-men advice books indicate that womenare adopting a "new sexism," according to California Educator Warren Farrell, author of last year's Why Men Are the Way They Are and one of the first male board members of the National Organization for Women. Charges Melvyn Kinder, a Los Angeles psychologist and author: "If there is a growing lack of communication between the sexes, it is precisely because of books like Hite's."

The explanation for the extreme views and exaggerated statistics in Hite's report may rest with her methodology. The author went about gathering her data by mailing 100,000 questionnaires to a variety of women's groups in 43 states, ranging from feminist organizations to church groups to garden clubs. Her questionnaire listed 127 essay questions on subjects ranging from dating to hobbies to parents, many of them rather abstract. (Admits Hite: "You can quantify orgasms, but you can't quantify love.") After receiving the first 1,500 responses, Hite says, she made a demographic comparison between her respondents and the general U.S. female population. Then she sought to fill in spots to ensure a sample more representative of all American women by age and geographic distribution, education level, religion and economic status. Hite admits that she did not conduct a truly scientific survey: "It's 4,500 people. That's enough for me."

Many statisticians take issue with this approach. Hite's choice of women's organizations means she was getting mostly one kind of person -- "joiners," observes Regina Herzog, a research scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. The very low 4.5% response rate is also worrisome. "Five percent could be any oddballs," says Herzog. "We get pretty nervous if respondents in our own surveys go under 70%."

Pollster Hal Quinley of Yankelovich Clancy Shulman also wonders about what this small group of respondents represents. "You would expect people who returned the questionnaire to be atypical," he says. "If sex was not very important, then the woman wouldn't answer. If it was a burning issue, she would." Other pollsters charge that Hite's questions are flawed. Tom Smith of the National Opinion Research Center is skeptical about Hite's finding that 98% of women want to make basic changes in their relationships. No one could disagree with the proposition that things aren't perfect, he says, but "any question you asked that got 98% is either a wrong question or wrongly phrased."

Nonetheless, even the experts are reluctant to dismiss Hite out of hand. "It's very hard to get a representative group," says Quinley. "I wouldn't say it kills the whole thing." Berkeley Psychologist Bernard Apfelbaum, a Hite supporter, believes it is not important to get a completely representative sample when delving into the field of sex and love. By virtue of their willingness to participate in the survey, Hite's women may be unusual, he says, "but they are giving voice to a problem in ways other women cannot."

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