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Sex & Relationships

Female Orgasm and the Need for a New Definition of Sex

Decades after the publication of the Hite Report on Female Sexuality, society still clings to outdated notions about women and sex.
Editor's note: Shere Hite is the researcher and writer of the famous Hite Reports (on female sexuality, 1976; on male sexuality, 1981; on women and love, 1987; on growing up in the family, 1994).

The Hite Report on Female Sexuality research shows that 94 percent of women can regularly orgasm via self-stimulation (separate stimulation of the exterior vulva or pubis). So why not during sex with a partner? Because the stimulation is not done in the same way. The conclusion? The definition of sex should change to include such stimulation as a normal part of sex. This would also make sex more egalitarian, no longer exaggeratedly focused on penetration and coitus as the high point or climax of sex.

The Hite Report on Female Sexuality presents a large body of research showing that women can easily reach orgasm. The report documents, in women's own voices, how women reach orgasm privately through masturbation. The great majority of women can masturbate to orgasm and do not use penetration during masturbation. The report shows that women do not have a problem reaching orgasm, but rather that society does have a problem in accepting how women reach orgasm. Society insists that women try to have orgasm during intercourse or coitus, even though this is not the easiest way for them to reach orgasm. Clearly, they do not use vaginal stimulation or penetrate themselves during masturbation.

In these days of equality, we could devise a new version of sex, effective for both women and men. Let me try this here.

Prior to my research (and still in some quarters today), it was believed that women have difficulty having orgasm and that women should find vaginal fulfillment by trying to have orgasm during intercourse (it used to be called vaginal orgasm.) Clitoral orgasm was said to be immature and lesser.

Although this idea was overturned by The Hite Report, in recent years it has made a forceable comeback. A so-called g-spot came to stand for the old concept of vaginal orgasm: every women should be able to have orgasm via penetration and stimulation inside the vagina -- if she is a real woman!

As noted, The Hite Report on Female Sexuality showed that most women could orgasm easily and regularly via separate stimulation of the exterior vulva or pubis, and that the definition of sex should change to include such stimulation to orgasm as a normal part of sex. This would make sex more egalitarian. While this research showed that sex should no longer be so exaggeratedly focused on coitus as the sole high point or climax of sex, images of sex in pornography, popular culture and media did not change.

A notion introduced three years after the report further reinforced traditional ideas of sex -- so nothing has to change. It held that a supposed -- but almost never found (!) -- g-spot exists inside the vagina that can lead to clitoral stimulation and female orgasm, if pressed in the right way. This has been seized on by makers of Viagra and Ciallis, among others, opening the door to more pressures on men and women (men should last long enough; women should have orgasm that way.) It puts men and women unnecessarily at odds with each other. The message it sends is that it is not necessary to change the definition of sex in any basic way, and that women should be able to have orgasm via coitus with the g-spot. Although vaginal orgasm, the old term, had been completely ridiculed, here was a trendy, modern way to be a stick-in-the-mud, but still proclaim oneself to be modern, new, and liberated -- supposedly believing in equality and the new powerful woman.

Of course, the vagina is a sensitive and pleasurable organ for women, given the right situation. My research does not deny that, but rather demonstrates that this pleasure does not lead to orgasm for most women. Many women enjoy intercourse as a kind of foreplay, then use specific clitoral massage to orgasm, done systematically and gently.

Society has not been able to quickly overturn centuries of belief about the act, or allowed women to orgasm in their own way. Instead, it has clung to the new trendy term with its old-fashioned idea of sex. Many medical studies show that no specific spot exists. A new view of sex that includes female orgasm via separate stimulation means using one's imagination to change a basic modus vivendi, and offers new possibilities.

How should sex change? At a minimum, both women and men should get the stimulation they need for orgasm. Since women can easily orgasm via their own clitoral-area stimulation during masturbation, the same stimulation (usually by the hand or mouth of the partner) should become an equally important high point to intercourse and penetration in a new version of sex.

But sex can evolve beyond orgasms. Sex can be transformed to become an individual vocabulary of erotic gestures, combining bodies to reach high states of arousal and desire, beyond a quest for orgasms by either woman or man. Sex can become something new, something we have not yet seen, something that we all now create by taking private, very courageous, steps.

Editor's Note: To get provocative, compelling articles about sexuality in your mailbox, sign up for our free Sex and Relationships newsletter.

Shere Hite is the researcher and writer of the famous series of Hite Reports (on female sexuality, 1976; on male sexuality, 1981; on women and love, 1987; on growing up in the family, 1994) and of other books. In 1999-2000, she published a new book, Sex and Business (Pearson UK, 1999), discussing equal pay, sexual harassment, women's choices, the glass" ceiling and more.
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