Intersections between Sexual Identity, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Behavior among a Nationally Representative Sample of American Men and Women

Open access

Abstract

Social scientists struggle on how to best operationalize and measure sexual orientation. Depending on the survey, researchers can use self-reports of lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) identity, same-sex partner cohabitation, same-sex sexual attraction, or same-sex sexual behavior. All measures come with their own limitations. To illuminate differences in these measures, this study examines the intersections between self-reported sexual identity, attraction, and behavior among a nationally representative sample of US men and women aged 15–45. I explore how and when the three measures align, examine the determinants of self-identifying as gay or bisexual based on sexual behavior and attraction, and assess gender differences in the patterns. I find that about 20% of women and 10% of men aged 15–45 would comprise the LGB community if it were defined to include those who report at least one of the following: gay or bisexual identity, any same-sex attraction, or same-sex sex in the last year. This is much higher than the 6.4% of women and 3.6% of men aged 15–45 who self-identify as LGB. I conclude with recommendations that can aid in measurement of the LGB population, and discuss implications for using certain measures over others when conducting research on the LGB community.

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