She had corticobasal degeneration, a rare neurological disorder, said her husband, Paul Sullivan.
A onetime Playboy model with a master’s degree in history, Dr. Hite 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.)
Dr. Hite — 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 Dr. Hite in the news for years. One day, she might appear on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show, the next day before an audience at the University of Oxford in England, offering her listeners a rare entree into the inner sanctum of other people’s bedrooms.
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 publication “became so popular because it was the only book to say there is nothing wrong with women — that women can have orgasms very easily, but the kind of stimulation women need isn’t being included in sex,” Dr. Hite told USA Today three decades after the report was released. “It was trying to say that women need to be half of the equation, and, if we’re going to have equality in sex, it has to be rethought.”
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 Dr. 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, Dr. Hite said, described emotional harassment by their male partners.
The findings were based on 4,500 replies to 100,000 questionnaires that Dr. Hite distributed. Social scientists who criticized her work noted that besides the dismal response rate, respondents were self-selecting and therefore were the individuals most likely to have strong feelings, positive or negative, about the issues at hand.
“It has no resemblance whatsoever to science,” Gordon S. Black, a pollster for USA Today, told the Associated Press in 1987, describing “Women and Love” as “distorted, basically prejudicial to her own point of view and in no way in accordance with tons of other data done in legitimate research.” A writer for the London Daily Mail went further, saying “these implausible majorities read like old-style Albanian election results, where 99.9 percent of the electorate voted for the dictator.”
Dr. Hite argued that such points did not invalidate the insights that she gleaned from the confessional-style questionnaires that poured into her mailbox.
“Most of the answers I received were 14 and 15 pages long, usually handwritten,” she told USA Today. “Can you imagine at that time how hard it was? I still have them. They would say things like they waited and stayed up late after they put their whole family to bed and they were answering on the kitchen table and things like that, so I didn’t feel inclined to disbelieve them.”
Reviewing the book in the New York Times, Arlie R. Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California at Berkeley, cautioned that “to accept this study as ‘science’ would be wrong,” but that “fishy statistics don’t necessarily equal fishy insights.”
The fracas over “Women and Love” coincided with reports of erratic personal behavior by Dr. Hite. In 1987, she told the AP that she had assumed the identity of a fictional publicist called Diana Gregory — Dr. Hite’s full name was Shirley Diana Gregory — for an earlier interview.
The Times reported that another purported assistant working for Dr. Hite, a Joan Brookbank, spoke on the telephone in a voice that “bore a strong resemblance” to Dr. Hite’s. Sterling Lord, a prominent literary agent, resigned around that time as Dr. Hite’s representative. At one point, according to Newsweek magazine, Dr. Hite called a book critic at 2:30 a.m. to assail the critic for a negative review.
Dr. Hite, who cultivated 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, Dr. 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.
“It’s much harder for what a woman does to be taken seriously, expectations, assumptions are different,” she had once told The Washington Post. “When people say ‘It’s not scientific, what they really mean is ‘You’re not a man, you’re not wearing a white coat. It’s just women talking, that’s nowhere, that’s not scientific, not Important with a capital I.’ ”
Shirley Diana Gregory was born in St. Joseph, Mo., on Nov. 2, 1942. Her mother was 16 when she gave birth and soon divorced. Dr. Hite, who took the surname of a stepfather, was largely raised by her grandparents and later by an aunt in Florida.
“My grandmother never talked about sex except once when I came home from a date,” Dr. Hite once recalled. “I had been kissing my boyfriend on the front porch and she said: ‘You know, they only marry the nice ones.’ ”
She studied history at the University of Florida, where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1963 and a master’s degree in 1966. She began modeling around the time of her graduate studies to pay bills. Her success as a writer, she told The Post in 1977, meant that “now I can eat regularly and I know I’ll be able to eat regularly for a number of years. And I don’t have that horrible lurking feeling whenever I go out of my apartment, the fear that I’ll run into my landlord.”
Dr. Hite’s marriage to Friedrich Höricke ended in divorce. A complete list of survivors other than her second husband, of London, was not immediately available.
In 1994, after distributing thousands upon thousands of questionnaires to potential survey participants, Dr. Hite agreed to respond to one crafted for her by the London Guardian. Among the questions: “With which historical figure do you most identify?”
“Perhaps Simone de Beauvoir,” she replied, referring to the French feminist intellectual, “or Margaret Mead,” the renowned cultural anthropologist. She concluded with a nod to the powerful mistress of King Louis XV of France: “Pompadour, too.”
Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.
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