Sexual orientation in the Scottish Household Survey

The Scottish Household Survey offers an accessible, varied picture of Scottish life.  It has lots to say for example about participation in cultural activities and ‘sport’ (which it confuses with intentional physical exercise – walking and dancing count as sports).

The Times‘s main comment was about sport of a different kind. They latched onto a particular table, which seemed to them underestimate the numbers of gay, lesbian and transsexual people.   “Asked about sexuality, 98 per cent of respondents defined themselves as ‘heterosexual/straight’ with only 1 per cent saying they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” Despite what the newspaper supposes, that’s reasonably consistent with a series of other findings from similar surveys.

This was one of the Scottish Government’s ‘core questions’.  The doubts of the LGBT groups focus on the low numbers of people specifically identifying themselves as gay. The problem seems to me to lie not in mis-reporting, but in the focus on ‘orientation’ rather than what people actually do. Is no-one out there celibate? Isn’t there anyone who’s just not very interested? In a society where nearly 40% of households are headed by single adults, it seems that people are being asked to classify themselves in terms of relationships they don’t actually have. This is a very strange way to define someone’s identity.

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