The eternal battle of the sexes moved behind the scenes yesterday at the Kennedy Center, where author Shere Hite and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz discussed the topic of male sexuality at the weekly National Town Meeting.

Conspicuous in his absence was authority Gay Talese, who also had been invited to participate in the forum. He was scratched from the program after Hite -- who has written two reports on male and female sexuality -- refused to participate if Talese shared the Eisenhower Theater stage.

"He [talese] thinks men are promiscuous by nature," Hite said yesterday, "and that women are negative because they withhold sex. It would have been embarrassing to share a stage with someone who believes that."

"She is very anti-male, and she doesn't want to listen to a male point of view," Talese said by phone from his New York home. "She wants to be a censor."

Talese and Hite have not exactly been great fans of each othe for some time now. Talese interviewed Hite when he was doing research for his book on chaning sexual mores in America, "The Neighbor's Wife." Talese says Hite walked out of the interview. He never mentioned her in the book. Hite says she has never even read it. When Talese was touring to promote the book, he criticized Hite publicly, calling her "a questionnaire journalist. She nver got to know the people she was writing about. She mailed out forms, and then tabulated anonymous data."

"I really get outraged when people compare me with Nancy Friday and Hugh Hefner and Gay Talese," Hite said. "I'm a scholar. I did my master's thesis on methodology in the social sciences."

"She's not a scholar, certainly not in the tradition of the scholarship of Kinsey," said Talese, referring to the author of the "Kinsey Reports," a pioneer survey of male sexuality.

"I wish Alfred Kinsey were still alive," said Hite. "He'd understand the particulars of what I'm doing."

The original "Hite Report," an analysis of female sexuality based on questionnaires submitted by 3,000 women, was published in 1976. Since then the book has sold more than 2 million copies. Even before the study was published, Hite began distributing questionnaires to men "to check and see if there were any things we were saying about men that were wrong." By 1973, Hite began tabulating the results of 7,239 questionnaires returned by men. "The Hite Report on Male Sexuality" was published last month. It is 1,129 pages long and costs $19.95. The initial press run was 125,000 copies, and Hite says she took a one-percent cut in royalties to help keep the price down.

"I'm not talking about sex as far as I'm concerned," Hite said. "IM talking about a certin cultural institution that's shaped our lives and wreaked a lot of havoc. I get tired of not being taken seriously when I talk about these things. That's because I'm a woman and because I'm not over 50 [she is 38]. I don't need to defend myself against people like Gay Talese."

"I refute the position of woman as victim/man as oppressor," Talese said. "I should have been at that symposium. My voice would have been the voice of the man's side of private life, marriage, sexuality. In defense of Shere Hite, I admit that she was the first invited. But then those people lied to me, and told me they only had room for two speakers."

"I really don't want to go into this," said National Town Meeting director Nancy Dutton. "The decision was mine."

Talese stridently contended: "I'm the best known contemporary male writer on the subject of sexuality."

And then, with a hint of humor, "Oh well, I'm probably the only one, so it's a moot point."