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Monday 08 November 2010

Gay Brits: Dr Peter Saxton's response

Posted in: Community
By Dr Peter Saxton - 28th September 2010

Dr Peter Saxton
Dr Peter Saxton is the New Zealand AIDS Foundation's Senior Researcher.

Here is his response to a study from Britain's Office of National Statistics, which interviewed more than 450,000 people and concluded that just 1.5 percent of Britons identify as gay or bisexual, much lower than the commonly-used estimate of 5 to 7 percent:

Recent findings that 1.5 percent of Britons identify as gay or bisexual are consistent with other surveys in developed countries that measure identity, but are certain to underestimate the actual prevalence of same-sex sexual orientation.

A national probability survey of 19,307 Australians in 2001-2 found that 1.6 percent of men identified as gay and 0.6 percent identified as bisexual. The figures for women were 0.8 percent and 1.4 percent respectively. In New Zealand, a national probability survey on mental health in 2003-4 reported that 1.4 percent of all respondents identified as gay.

However, of the three commonly researched dimensions to sexuality: same-sex experience; same-sex attraction; and sexual identity; the latter invariably returns the lowest estimate. Of these aspects of sexuality, a public same-sex sexual identity is the most prone to real and perceived social sanctions. Consequently it's a subset of what would be found if people with strong same-sex attractions didn't face subtle but ubiquitous negative feedback about homosexuality, which can affect adults as well as youth.

In contrast, this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reviewed nationally representative data in the United States on male same-sex behaviour. Based on this, they estimated that 2.6 percent of men had been homosexually-active in the previous year, rising to 4 percent in the previous 5 years and 7 percent over the lifetime. Similarly, the Australian study estimated that 6.8 percent of men and 12.8 percent of women reported any current attraction to the same sex.

Furthermore, sexual behaviour and identity show strong variation by place of residence. In a previous UK study, while 1.4 percent of men overall reported any male partners in the last 5 years, this was 8.6 percent in inner London. Our own investigation into geographic clustering in New Zealand found that around 45 percent of gay men lived in Auckland, compared to 27 percent of the total male population. Men from sexual minority groups tend to migrate to larger and less conservative cities, where there are greater opportunities to find a partner.

For New Zealanders, it appears that the Ministry of Health have just committed to inserting a sexual health module into their new health survey programme from 2013, and will explore the possibility of including a sexual orientation question as a core demographic item.Access to quality information about minority groups has human rights implications, as it is a scientific way of identifying and quantifying inequalities in health, social and work experiences.

But it's also just good government practice. People from sexual minorities are part of New Zealand society. By making gay communities visible in official statistics, and addressing their unmet health needs, you improve the overall level of wellbeing in society. Isn't that a good thing?

Other resources:
United States CDC study

Geographic micro-clustering of homosexual men in New Zealand

Submission advocating for inclusion of sexual orientation into NZ Health Survey

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Dr Peter Saxton - 28th September 2010