FOR MORE THAN A DECADE NOW, cultural historian Shere Hite has been the high priestess of American sexuality. Her first book, the best-selling "Hite Report," burst on the scene in 1976 with detailed information on women's sexual activities culled from a nationwide survey of more than 3,000 women. In 1981, she turned the tables and surveyed more than 7,000 men for her book "The Hite Report on Male Sexuality." Both books made head-lines with findings that challenged established beliefs--reporting, for in-stance, that an overwhelming majority of men married two years or more said they'd had sexual intercourse outside of marriage and that most women said they didn't experience orgasm as a result of intercourse but did during self-stimulation.
For her new book, "Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress" (to be published this month by Alfred A. Knopf ), Hite distributed a questionnaire nation-wide, asking women to share their feelings about their relationships with men. A majority of the 4,500 surveyed believe that men withhold themselves from women and at the same time demand women's emotional support; a majority feel that men are getting much more from relationships than they are willing to give. The depth of women's resentment is so great, says Hite, that it suggests a major realignment of sex roles may be in store.
But what may surprise many is that--virtually unique among the women who chose to answer Hite's 127 questions--single women who are not currently in relationships say they are relatively happy. The following are Hite's discoveries, and the voices of single women talking about their feelings toward men, independence and their lives.
BEING UNATTACHED AND INDEPENDENT: CALLING YOUR LIFE YOUR OWN NINETY-THREE PERCENT of single, never-married women say they love the freedom of being on their own.
"I enjoy the idea of being single. I have the whole world to explore."
"I love doing what I want, when I want--and it forces me to reach out to others."
"Traveling and going places on my own, unencumbered by a partner--I enjoy it. I am free to go about as I please without having to defend my actions, or report to anyone. I have the option of doing all kinds of things! I haven't yet found anyone I love and respect enough to commit the rest of my life to."
"It's great to be responsible for no one but yourself. I love being able to flirt with anyone I please, not being tied down, having an apartment exactly the way I want it, not having to answer to anyone."
"I like being single--I like to check out the merchandise."
"I love being single--but not alone. That's probably why I have two men instead of one. The thing I like best about being single is there are no commitments. I come and go as I please."
"I like meeting and being with different guys. Even though it may not work out, it's still a good experience. I like getting attention from various men. Of course, there are disadvantages--days like Valentine's, when all your roommates have boyfriends and you aren't seeing anyone."
Most women who become single after a divorce also love being on their own.
"It's heaven to be single. No matter what problems the day brings, I look back, and by comparison the day is a fantastic success!"
"How do I feel? Good! I like to feel free, not tied down emotionally, because it always seems to engulf me. I never thought I could survive on my own, but I now realize I can spread my love among many people and have many fulfilling relationships."
"After living with my husband for four years, I discovered that I couldn't ever again stand the thought of living for a long time with another grown-up person. They sooner or later try to boss me, or I become the boss, and I can't bear it. Children (I have two) don't boss you around, and besides they grow and want to have homes and lives of their own."
"I definitely prefer being single to being a part of an even moderately unhappy couple! Sometimes I miss having someone I can count on to do things with, but marriage never provided that anyway."
"The great advantages all involve freedom--I love eating alone, shopping alone. I think the world travels in couples, though, and is mystified by individuality, especially in a woman. The great disadvantage is the huge number of married men hustling you if you are divorced. And the more independent and aloof you are, the more they fantasize about you--the macho challenge."