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

Emma Mishel 1
  • 1 New York University, , 10012, New York

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.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Baumle, A.K., D’Lane Compton, and D.L. Poston. 2009. Same Sex Partners: The Demography of Sexual Orientation. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

  • Baumle, A.K. and D.L. Poston. 2011. “The Economic Cost of Homosexuality: Multilevel Analyses.” Social Forces 89(3): 1005–1031. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/89.3.1005.

  • Betts, P. 2009. “Developing Survey Questions on Sexual Identity: Cognitive/In-Depth Interviews.” Office for National Statistics. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/file?uri=/methodology/classificationsandstandards/sexualidentityguidanceandproject-documentation/sexidcogreportfinal_tcm77-181190.pdf (accessed October 2019).

  • Badgett, M.V.L. 1995. “The Wage Effects of Sexual Orientation.” ILR Review 48(4): 726–739. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/001979399504800408.

  • Badgett, M.V.L. and Sexual Minority Assessment Research Team (SMART). 2009. “Best Practices for Asking Questions about Sexual Orientation on Surveys.” UCLA: The Williams Institute. Available at: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/706057d5 (accessed October 2019).

  • Berg, N. and D. Lien. 2002. “Measuring the Effect of Sexual Orientation on Income: Evidence of Discrimination?” Contemporary Economic Policy 20(4): 394–414. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/cep/20.4.394.

  • Better, A. and B.L. Simula. 2015. “How and for Whom Does Gender Matter? Rethinking the Concept of Sexual Orientation.” Sexualities 18(56): 665–680. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460714561716.

  • Black, D., G. Gates, S. Sanders, and L. Taylor. 2002. “Why Do Gay Men Live in San Francisco?” Journal of Urban Economics: 54–76. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1006/juec.2001.2237.

  • Black, D.A., H.R. Makar, S.G. Sanders, and L.J. Taylor. 2003. “The Earnings Effects of Sexual Orientation.” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 56(3): 449–469. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/001979390305600305.

  • Black, D., G.J. Gates, S.G. Sanders, and L. Taylor. 2007. “The Measurement Error of Same-Sex Unmarried Partner Couples in the U.S. Census.” California Center for Population Research.

  • Bostwick, W.B., C.J. Boyd, T.L. Hughes, and S. Esteban McCabe. 2010. “Dimensions of Sexual Orientation and the Prevalence of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health 100(3): 468–475. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2008.152942.

  • Bridges, T. 2014. “A Very ‘Gay’ Straight? Hybrid Masculinities, Sexual Aesthetics, and the Changing Relationship between Masculinity and Homophobia.” Gender and Society 28(1): 58–82. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243213503901.

  • Bridges, T. and M. Moore. 2018. “Young Women of Color and Shifting Sexual Identities.” Contexts 18: 86–88. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1536504218767125.

  • Budnick, J. 2016. “‘Straight Girls Kissing’?: Understanding Same-Gender Sexuality beyond the Elite College Campus.” Gender & Society 30(5): 1–24. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243216657511.

  • Busseri, M., T. Willoughby, H. Chalmers, and A. Bogaert. 2006. “Same-sex attraction and successful adolescent development.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 35: 563–575. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-006-9071-4.

  • Callis, A.S. 2014. “Bisexual, pansexual, queer: Non-binary identities and the sexual borderlands.” Sexualities 17(1/2): 63–80. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460713511094.

  • Carpenter, C. 2009. “Sexual Orientation and Outcomes in College.” Economics of Education Review 28: 693–703. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2007.10.010.

  • Carpenter, C.S. and S.T. Eppink. 2017. “Does It Get Better? Recent Estimates of Sexual Orientation and Earnings in the United States.” Southern Economic Journal 84(2): 426–441. DOI: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/soej.12233.

  • Centers for Disease Control. 2018. “About the National Survey of Family Growth.” Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/about_nsfg.htm (accessed November 2018).

  • Chandra, A., W.D. Mosher, C. Copen, and C. Sionean. 2011. “Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth.” National health statistics reports; no 36. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5512-3_4.

  • Cochran, S.D., J.G. Sullivan, and V.M. Mays. 2003. “Prevalence of mental disorders, psychological distress, and mental health services use among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 71(1): 53–61. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.71.1.53.

  • Compton, D.R., D.N. Farris, and Y-T. Chang. 2015. “Patterns of Bisexuality in America.” Journal of Bisexuality 15: 481–497. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15299716.2015.1048919.

  • Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

  • Connell, R.W. and J.W. Messerschmidt. 2005. Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & Society 19: 829–859. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243205278639.

  • Copen, C., A. Chandra, and I. Febo-Vazquez. 2016. “Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation among adults aged 18–44 in the United States: Data from the 2011–2013 National Survey of Family Growth.” National health statistics reports; no 88. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26766410 (accessed October 2019).

  • DeMaio, T.J., N. Bates, and M. O’Connell. 2013. “Exploring Measurement Error Issues in Reporting of Same-Sex Couples.” Public Opinion Quarterly 77(S1): 145–158. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfs066.

  • Diamond, L. 2008. “Female Bisexuality from Adolescence to Adulthood: Results from a 10-Year Longitudinal Study.” Developmental Psychology 44(1): 5–14. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0012-1649.44.1.5.

  • England, P., E. Mishel, and M.L. Caudillo. 2016. “Increases in Sex with Same-Sex Partners and Bisexual Identity Across Cohorts of Women (but Not Men).” Sociological Science 3: 951–970. DOI: https://doi.org/10.15195/v3.a42.

  • Epstein, R., P. MckInney, S. Fox, and C. Garcia. 2012. “Support for a fluid-continuum model of sexual orientation: A large-scale internet study.” Journal of Homosexuality 59(10): 1356–1381. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2012.724634.

  • Fischer, M.M. 2016. “Identifying same-sex couples in cross-national survey data: a comparison of same-sex couples’ demographic and socio-economic traits in six European countries.” In Nederland in context: verschillen en overeenkomsten, edited by R. Meuleman, G. Kraaykamp, and M. Wittenberg, 50–79. Den Haag: DANS.

  • Friedman, S., A. Reynolds, S. Scovill, F. Brassier, R. Campbell, and M. Ballou. 2013. “An Estimate of Housing Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples.” Prepared for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2284243.

  • Gallup. 2018. “Gay and Lesbian Rights.” Retrieved November 2018. Available at: http://www.gallup.com/poll/1651/gay-lesbian-rights.aspx (accessed October 2019).

  • Gates, G. 2011. “How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?” Williams Institute Report. Available at: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/09h684X2 (accessed October 2019).

  • Gavrilets, S. and W.R. Rice. 2006. “Genetic models of homosexuality: generating testable predictions.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 273(1605): 3031–3038. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2006.3684.

  • Geary, R.S., C. Tanton, B. Erens, S. Clifton, P. Prah, K. Wellings, K.R. Mitchell, J. Datta, K. Gravningen, E. Fuller, A.M. Johnson, P. Sonnenberg, and C.H. Mercer. 2018. “Sexual identity, attraction and behaviour in Britain: The implications of using different dimensions of sexual orientation to estimate the size of sexual minority populations and inform public health interventions.” PLOS One. 13(1): e0189607: 3, 7, 9. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189607.

  • Ghaziani, A. 2014. There Goes the Gayborhood? Princeton University Press.

  • Hamilton, L. 2007. “Trading on Heterosexuality: College Women’s Gender Strategies and Homophobia.” Gender & Society 21: 145–172. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243206297604.

  • Harper, G. 2007. “Sex isn’t that simple: Culture and context in HIV prevention interventions for gay and bisexual male adolescents.” American Psychologist 62(8): 806–819. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.62.8.806.

  • Herek, G. 2009. “Sexual Stigma and Sexual Bias in the US: A Conceptual Framework.” Contemporary Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities 54: 183–195. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-09556-1_4.

  • Igartua, K., B. Thombs, G. Burgos, and R. Montoro. 2009. “Concordance and discrepancy in sexual identity, attraction, and behavior among adolescents.” Journal of Adolescent Health 45(6): 602–608. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.03.019.

  • Kinsey, A., W. Pomeroy, and C. Martin. 1953. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders.

  • Korchmaros, J., C. Powell, and S. Stevens. 2013. “Chasing Sexual Orientation: A Comparison of Commonly Used Single-Indicator Measures of Sexual Orientation.” Journal of Homosexuality 60: 596–614. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2013.760324.

  • Laumann, E.O., J. Gagnon, R. Michael, and S. Michaels. 1994. The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

  • Mishel, E. 2016. “Discrimination against Queer Women in the U.S. Workforce: A Résumé Audit Study.” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 2: 1–13. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023115621316.

  • Mishel, E., P. England, J. Ford, and M.L. Caudillo. Forthcoming. “Cohort Increases in Sex with Same-Sex Partners: Do Trends Vary by Gender, Race, and Class?” Gender & Society.

  • Mishel, E., T. Bridges, and M.L. Caudillo. 2018. “Google, Tell Me. Is He Gay?: Masculinity, Homophobia, and Gendered Anxieties in Google Search Queries about Sexuality.” SocArXiv. November 7. DOI: https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/4se75.

  • Mize, T.D. 2016. “Sexual Orientation in the Labor Market.” American Sociological Review 81(6): 1132–1160. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122416674025.

  • Mize, T.D. and B. Manago. 2018a. “The Stereotype Content of Sexual Orientation.” Social Currents: 1–21. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2329496518761999.

  • Mize, T.D. and B. Manago. 2018b. “Precarious Sexuality: How Men and Women Are Differentially Categorized for Similar Sexual Behavior.” American Sociological Review. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122418759544.

  • Neilsen, J.M., G. Walden, and C.A. Kunkel. 2000. “Gendered Heteronormativity: Empirical Illusions in Everyday Life.” Sociological Quarterly 41(2): 283–296. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-8525.2000.tb00096.x.

  • O’Connell, M. and G. Gooding. 2006. “The Use of First Names to Evaluate Reports of Gender and Its Effect on the Distribution of Married and Unmarried Couple Households.” Paper presented at the Population Association of America Meeting, Date: 3/30/06, Place: Los Angeles, U.S.A. Avaliable at: https://paa2006.princeton.edu/papers/60208 (accessed October 2019).

  • O’Reilly, J.M., M.L. Hubbard, J. Lessler, P. Biemer, and C. Turner. 1994. “Audio and Video Computer Assisted Self-Interviewing: Preliminary Tests of New Technologies for Data Collection.” Journal of Official Statistics 10(2): 197–214. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279921/ (accessed October 2019).

  • Page, S. and M. Yee. 1985. “Conception of Male and Female Homosexual Stereotypes among University Undergraduates.” Journal of Homosexuality 12: 109–118. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1300/J082v12n01_06.

  • Pascoe, C.J. 2012. Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

  • Pathela, P., A. Hajat, J. Schillinger, S. Blank, R. Sell, and F. Mostashari. 2006. “Discordance between Sexual Behavior and Self-Reported Sexual Identity: A Population-Based Survey of New York City Men.” Annals of Internal Medicine 145: 416–425. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7326/0003-4819-145-6-200609190-00005.

  • Pelligrini, A. 1992. S(h)ifting the terms of Hetero/sexism: Gender, power, homophobia.” In Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, edited by W.J. Blumenfeld, 39–56. Boston: Beacon Press.

  • Plummer, D. 1999. One of the boys: Masculinity, homophobia, and modern manhood. New York: Harrington Park Press.

  • Poston, D.L. and A.K. Baumle. 2010. “Patterns of Asexuality in the United States.” Demographic Research 23(18): 509–530. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4054/DemRes.2010.23.18.

  • Richters, J., D. Altman, P.B. Badcock, A.M.A. Smith, R.O. de Visser, A.E. Grulich, C. Rissel, and J.M. Simpson. 2014. “Sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience: the Second Australian Study of Health and Relationships.” Sexual Health 11: 451–460. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1071/SH14117.

  • Risman, B.J. 2018. Where the Millennials Will Take Us. Oxford University Press.

  • Rosenfeld, M.J. and R.J. Thomas. 2012. “Searching for a Mate: The Rise of the Internet as a Social Intermediary.” American Sociological Review 77(4): 523–547. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122412448050.

  • Rupp, L., V. Taylor, S. Regev-Messalem, Alison Fogarty, and Paula England. 2014. “Queer Women in the Hookup Scene: Beyond the Closet?” Gender & Society 28: 212–235. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243213510782.

  • Saewyc, E.M., G. Bauer, C. Skay, L. Bearinger, M. Resnick, E. Reis, and A. Murphy. 2004. “Measuring sexual orientation in adolescent health surveys: Evaluation of eight school-based surveys.” Journal of Adolescent Health 35(345): 1–15. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2004.06.002.

  • Savin-Williams, R. and Z. Vrangalova. 2013. “Mostly Heterosexual as a Distinct Sexual Orientation Group: A Systematic Review of the Empirical Evidence.” Developmental Review 33(1): 58–88. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dr.2013.01.001.

  • Silva, T. 2016. “Bud-Sex: Constructing Normative Masculinity among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Men.” Gender & Society XX(X): 1–23. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243216679934.

  • Smith, A., C. Rissel, J. Richters, A. Grulich, and R. de Visser. 2003. “Sex in Australia: Sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience among a representative sample of adults.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 27(2): 138–145. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-842X.2003.tb00801.x.

  • Stein, A. 2010. “The Incredible Shrinking Lesbian World and Other Queer Conundra.” Sexualities 13(1): 21–32. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460709352724.

  • Tilcsik, A. 2011. “Pride and Prejudice: Employment Discrimination against Openly Gay Men in the United States.” American Journal of Sociology 117(2): 586–626. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/661653.

  • Tourangeau, R. and T.W. Smith. 1996. “Asking Sensitive Questions: The Impact of Data Collection Mode.” Question Format, and Question Context. Public Opinion Quarterly 60: 275–304. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/297751.

  • Villarroel, M.A., C.F. Turner, E. Eggleston, A. Al-Tayyib, S.M. Rogers, A.M. Roman, P.C. Cooley, and H. Gordek. 2006. “Same-Gender Sex in the United States: Impact of T-Acasi on Prevalence Estimates.” Public Opinion Quarterly 70(2): 166–196. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfj023.

  • Ward, J. 2008. “Dude-sex: White masculinities and ‘authentic’ heterosexuality among dudes who have sex with dudes.” Sexualities 11(4): 414–434. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460708091742.

  • Webster, M., S.J. Hysom, and E.M. Fullmer. 1998. “Sexual Orientation and Occupation as Status.” Advances in Group Processes 15: 1–21.

  • Wellings, K., J. Field, A. Johnson, and J. Wadsworth. 1994. Sexual Behavior in Britain: The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Penguin Books.

OPEN ACCESS

Journal + Issues

Search