Shere Hite, whose taboo-busting "Hite Reports" on human sexuality sold millions of copies after their debut in 1976, energizing feminists with their frank discussion of how women achieve sexual pleasure even as many social scientists decried the studies as pseudoscience, died Sept. 9 at her home in London. She was 77.
She had corticobasal degeneration, a rare neurological disorder, said her husband, Paul Sullivan.
Shere Hite — her name was pronounced "cher height" — was an unusual successor to sex researchers such as Alfred Kinsey, who began documenting the sexual lives of Americans in the 1940s, and William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who took sex into a laboratory setting in the 1960s.
A onetime Playboy model with a master's degree in history, she joined the feminist movement in the early 1970s after appearing in an advertisement for an Olivetti typewriter that, according to its billing, was "So Smart She Doesn't Have to Be."
Disgusted by the misogynistic message, she signed on with the National Organization for Women, which was protesting the campaign, and agreed to lead a project on feminist sexuality. (She had recently suspended doctoral studies at Columbia University.)
Nihon University in Tokyo reportedly awarded her a doctorate for the research published in her reports — began distributing among women and later men detailed surveys to be completed anonymously about their sexual experiences and desires.
The responses yielded enough material to fill volumes, and controversy sufficient to keep Hite in the news for years.
The first installment of her works, "The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality," appeared in 1976. Even at that point, well into the sexual revolution, the book caused a stir by championing the idea that women do not need men to achieve orgasm, and that for many it is reached not through traditional intercourse but rather by clitoral stimulation.
The sequel to the first Hite Report — Playboy magazine called it the Hate Report — was released in 1981 as "The Hite Report on Male Sexuality." That volume, relying on questionnaires returned by 7,239 respondents ranging in age from 13 to 97, reported that many men had deep fears of intimacy and their own sexual inadequacy.
Her third study, "Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress" (1987), reported rampant infidelity and unhappiness in romantic relationships. According to Hite, 70 percent of women married for at least five years had extramarital affairs — a number far higher than the figures found in other surveys. Ninety-eight percent reported dissatisfaction in their sexual relationships. Ninety-five percent of women, Hite said, described emotional harassment by their male partners.
The findings were based on 4,500 replies to 100,000 questionnaires that Hite distributed. Social scientists who criticized her work noted that, besides the dismal response rate, respondents were self-selecting and most likely to have strong feelings, positive or negative, about the issues at hand.
Hite, who cultivated with her blond locks and red lipstick a look that evoked Marilyn Monroe, denounced her critics as nitpicking her data rather than giving serious consideration to what she said it revealed.
Dispirited by her reception in the United States, Hite moved to Europe in the early 1990s with her then-husband, a German pianist. In 1996, she renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a German citizen.
Shirley Diana Gregory was born in St. Joseph, Mo., on Nov. 2, 1942. Her mother was 16 when she gave birth and soon divorced. Hite, who took the surname of a stepfather, was largely raised by her grandparents and later by an aunt in Florida.