A comparison of self-reported sexual identity using direct and indirect questioning

Publication type

Conference Paper


Understanding Society Scientific Conference 2017, 11-13 July 2017, University of Essex, Colchester, UK


Publication date

July 11, 2017


Providing sound statistical information on the lesbian gay or bisexual population is a need to inform policy makers on disadvantage and discrimination suffered by sexual minorities (gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations). However, obtaining good quality data is methodologically challenging, as sexuality is one of the most sensitive topics in surveys. This paper compares the estimates on sexual identity from different protocols; first, it shows the estimated prevalence of the lesbian gay and bisexual population obtained with an indirect questioning method: the “Item Count” indirect questioning Technique (ICT). Second, it compares a protocol involving face-to-face interviewing with a show card (adopted by the Integrated Household Survey, HIS) with a Computer Assisted Self-Interview protocol (adopted, among others, by the UKHLS) and with the estimates produced using the ICT. The analysis is based on experimental data collected in the UKHLS Innovation Panel waves 8 and 9. This is a nationally representative dataset of the UK population. The panel nature of the data is used to implement an innovation in the ICT, which will be discussed. Results show that the technique was well accepted by respondents, as confirmed by the low levels of item non-response, “refusal”, and “don’t know”, but it performed better in estimates of sexual identity, than in estimates of sexual behaviour and attraction. Results may inform survey practitioners and researchers on best ways to elicit sexual orientation in the UK, and to implement the ICT, and may inform data users on data quality obtained with different protocols.






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