Remember Shere Hite? A new documentary jogs our cultural memory of the pioneering sex researcher

by Gabriel Martinez
Shere Hite Documentary

Recall Shere Hite, a pioneering sex researcher, whose legacy is revived in a new documentary. Her seminal work, “The Hite Report,” published in 1976, instantly became a bestseller. It explored the realms of love, sex, orgasms, and masturbation, featuring insights from about 3,000 American women. This work disrupted established male perspectives on heterosexual relationships and catapulted Hite into both fame and controversy.

Hite, a former model, was a regular on talk shows and news segments during the 1970s and 80s following her groundbreaking report. Her work received mixed reviews, with Playboy derogatively naming it “The Hate Report,” while Erica Jong in The New York Times praised the report’s insightful revelations on contemporary sexual experiences.

Despite her influence and the sale of over 50 million books, Hite’s death in 2020 at age 77 passed with little fanfare, marking a significant dimming of her once-luminous presence.

The documentary “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” by IFC Films, currently in cinemas, provides a comprehensive exploration of Hite’s life, contributions, and the reasons behind her gradual fade from public consciousness.

Nicole Newnham, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker known for “Crip Camp,” discovered “The Hite Report” in her mother’s collection at a young age. The book profoundly influenced her, sparking a lifelong fascination. This interest intensified following Hite’s death, leading Newnham to collaborate with NBC News Studios on this documentary project.

Dakota Johnson, an actor and co-creative director of a sexual wellness company, also contributed to the documentary through her company, TeaTime Pictures, and lent her voice to Hite’s writings. Newnham cited the documentary as a means to examine a recurring societal pattern where iconoclastic women who challenge cultural norms often become overlooked.

Hite, disillusioned with the U.S., relocated to Europe in the early 1990s. However, she preserved her legacy by donating her personal archives to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. This collection includes personal writings, original survey responses, notes on her often-criticized methodology, and recordings of her television appearances.

Newnham highlighted Hite’s practice of requesting a VHS copy of any television interview she participated in, which preserved many otherwise lost historical records. The documentary features these clips, often showing Hite facing skepticism and dismissal, sometimes from individuals who hadn’t even read her work. This was particularly evident following her 1981 publication, “The Hite Report on Male Sexuality,” which sparked even greater controversy.

The documentary doesn’t shy away from portraying Hite’s complex and sometimes volatile character. Despite being mischaracterized as a man-hater, Hite’s true aim was to challenge and dismantle the rigid, patriarchal views of sexuality, seeking liberation for both men and women.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Shere Hite Documentary

Who was Shere Hite and why is she significant?

Shere Hite was a pioneering sex researcher known for her influential 1976 book, “The Hite Report.” This work, based on survey responses from about 3,000 women in the U.S., challenged conventional male assumptions about heterosexual relationships and female sexuality. Hite’s work was groundbreaking in its exploration of topics like love, sex, orgasms, and masturbation from women’s perspectives.

What is the new documentary about Shere Hite and who made it?

The new documentary, titled “The Disappearance of Shere Hite,” is created by IFC Films. It is directed by Nicole Newnham, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker known for “Crip Camp.” The documentary offers an in-depth look at Hite’s life, her influential work, and the reasons behind her gradual disappearance from the public eye.

What makes “The Hite Report” a significant publication?

“The Hite Report” gained prominence for its candid and comprehensive exploration of women’s sexual experiences, a topic that was not widely discussed or understood in the 1970s. It challenged traditional views on female sexuality and provided groundbreaking insights, making it a bestseller and a topic of much debate.

How did Shere Hite’s work impact her personal life and public image?

Shere Hite’s work made her a prominent but polarizing figure. She was celebrated for her groundbreaking research but also faced criticism and skepticism, particularly from those who disagreed with her methodology or findings. This dual perception contributed to her becoming a regular guest on talk shows and news programs, yet also led to her being misunderstood and mislabeled in various circles.

What is the significance of the archival material Shere Hite left behind?

Hite’s personal archives, donated to the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, are significant as they contain a wealth of information, including personal writings, original survey responses, notes on her research methodology, and recordings of her television appearances. These materials offer an invaluable insight into her work and legacy, preserving her contributions to the field of sex research and women’s studies.

More about Shere Hite Documentary

  • The Hite Report
  • Nicole Newnham
  • The Disappearance of Shere Hite
  • Crip Camp
  • Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe
  • Sexual Wellness and Dakota Johnson
  • Women’s Sexuality Research

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SarahWrites November 20, 2023 - 8:59 am

Hite’s story is so important for understanding women’s sexuality, glad it’s getting attention again… we need more of this!!

BookLover87 November 20, 2023 - 11:02 am

The Hite Report was a revelation back in the day, this documentary should be a must-watch for anyone interested in gender studies or history of sexuality.

AlexT November 20, 2023 - 11:03 am

kinda sad how someone so influential can just fade away… shows how fast we forget huh?

JohnDoe92 November 20, 2023 - 12:17 pm

Nicole Newnham’s work is always top-notch, Crip Camp was amazing. Can’t wait to see how she handles this subject,

Maggie J November 20, 2023 - 5:25 pm

Wow, i didnt kno much about Shere Hite before but this doc sounds really interesting, gonna have to check it out!


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