The LGBT Health & Development Program

How do you measure sexual identity?


Posted on November 13th, 2011 by Dr. Mustanski in Research Blog, Uncategorized. No Comments

It may seem obvious that if you want to know someone’s sexual orientation you could simply ask them.  “Are you gay?”  But in reality it is much more complicated than that.  Recently, the National Center for Health Statistics issued a report on how to ask these questions for the National Health Interview Survey, which is one of our primary sources of information about the health of various American communities.

For this health interview, the primary aspect of sexual orientation they are interested in studying is sexual identity rather than attractions or behaviors.  The report acknowledges that measuring sexual identity presents challenges because it is complex concept.  Interestingly, they found that many non-LGBT people don’t have much concept of their sexual orientation and instead of identifying as “heterosexual” or “straight” they are more likely to identify as “not gay.”  They also found many non-LGBT people were confused by the words “heterosexual” and “straight” and didn’t necessarily understand what they mean.

So what did the researchers settle on for their measure of sexual identity?

Do you think of yourself as:

[For women] Lesbian or Gay
[For women] Straight, that is, not lesbian or gay
[For men] Gay
[For men] Straight, that is, not gay
Bisexual
Something else (Go to A)
Don’t know (Go to B)

If a respondent selects something else they are then asked the following,

  1. A. By something else, do you mean that…

You are not straight, but identify with another label such as queer, trisexual, omnisexual or pan-sexual

You are transgender, transsexual or gender variant

You have not figured out your sexuality or are in the process of figuring it out

You do not think of yourself as having sexuality

You do not use labels to identify yourself

You made a mistake and did not mean to pick this answer

You mean something else (Go to C)

If a respondent selects they “don’t know,” then they are asked the follow,

  1. B. You did not enter an answer for the question. That is because you:

You don’t understand the words

You understand the words, but you have not figured out your sexuality or are in the process of figuring it out

You mean something else (go to C)

  1. C. You did not enter an answer for the question. That is because you:

You don’t understand the words

You understand the words, but you have not figured out your sexuality or are in the process of figuring it out

You mean something else

Keep in mind that this measure is designed for general surveys of the American population, and may not be ideal for more targeted surveys of the LGBT population.  We probably wouldn’t use these items in our own research that specifically targets the LGBT community because we tend to include more items that better reflect difference dimensions of sexuality.

| Read the Report | Our copy of the report was obtained from our friends at the Network for LGBT Health Equity.





Comments are closed.



Latest IMPACT News