When researching orientations, lives matter more than labels
Rob Callender writes: For years, most research studies have inferred that lesbians, gays and bisexuals make up about 5% of the total U.S. population. But what if researchers were asking the wrong questions and reporting the wrong results?
Most traditional sexual orientation survey questions require respondents to define themselves with little room for nuance: straight/gay/lesbian/bi/no answer. But The Futures Company’s history with generational research (and our extensive understanding of emerging youth mindsets) told us this methodology is no longer sufficient—if it ever was.
So, while we kept the old single-punch question for comparison’s sake, we also created a new battery of scalar questions to better understand the lives beyond the labels.
Describe your sexual identity
Describe your sexual behavior
|Exclusively with Opposite Sex||Equally Both||Exclusively with Same Sex|
Describe your sexual attraction
|Exclusively to Opposite Sex||Equally Both||Exclusively to Same Sex|
In analyzing the results of these three questions to find the often-elusive sexually fluid segment, we looked for individuals whose mean scores equaled at least “2” (that is, outside the realm of “exclusively straight”). At the same time, we took abundant care to ensure we weren’t being overly inclusive:
- Answers of “2,” “2” and “1” on the three scalar questions would have averaged out to less than a mean of “2,” and thus would have been interpreted as “exclusively straight.”
- We did not include individuals who chose not to answer some of the scaled questions.
- We excluded individuals whose identity and attraction were same-sex but whose behavior was straight (i.e., potentially closeted individuals).
- Finally, we did not include those people who self-reported lesbian, gay or bisexual in the traditional, single-punch question, as those respondents had already chosen a non-straight designation that they felt described them.
What difference does all this make? More than 100% difference, it turns out.
About 5% of our sample self-reported LGB on the old-school, single-punch question. Meanwhile, another 6%, separate and distinct from the first group, registered a mean score of “2” or more in our scalar battery. For now, we’re calling this sexually fluid group “Q” (for queer) in recognition of the fact that they live outside the confines of exclusive heterosexuality.
Although 93% of this fluid Q segment self-identify as straight on the single-punch question (the rest declined to answer), an analysis of their attitudinal and behavioral responses suggests they actually have more in common with LGB respondents than their exclusively straight counterparts. So whether you’d rather call them the sexually fluid, queer or “straight but not narrow,” the fact is that the US LGBTQ population just got a lot bigger.
Rob Callender is Director of Youth Insights at The Futures Company; a version of this post has also been published at Kantar’s US Insights blog. To see a copy of The Futures Company infographic on our LGBTQ reearch, or to request a copy of the report, please visit the website.
The image at the top of this post is from Wikimedia Commons.