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Measuring Sexual Identity Using Survey Questionnaires: How Valid Are Our Measures?

Abstract

Patterns of poorer health are observed in numerous groups within the US population. The Healthy People 2020 initiative provides a national framework to improve the health of all people in the USA. One of the four overarching goals of Healthy People 2020 is to achieve healthy equity, eliminate disparities, and improve the health of all groups including, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. To achieve this goal for LGBT populations requires that these groups be identified in national health surveys. Sexuality, however, is a complex phenomenon that incorporates numerous, even contradictory, meanings, attitudes, and types of experiences, creating a major challenge in developing a single measure that is both meaningful and comparable across various socio-cultural groups throughout the US population. Without quality data, the picture of LGBT health, as it is portrayed through official statistics, is distorted. We contend that the specific construct of sexual identity (i.e., how individuals identify and conceptualize their own selves) is a key construct necessary for tracking health disparities. In this paper, we assess the validity of sexual identity measures using qualitative data from cognitive interview studies as well as estimates produced from the National Survey of Family Growth and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

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Acknowledgments

The project was funded, in part, by National Center for Health Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Smoking and Health, and the Ford Foundation. The findings and conclusions in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the National Center for Health Statistics or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Correspondence to Heather Ridolfo.

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Ridolfo, H., Miller, K. & Maitland, A. Measuring Sexual Identity Using Survey Questionnaires: How Valid Are Our Measures?. Sex Res Soc Policy 9, 113–124 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-011-0074-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-011-0074-x

Keywords

  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Measurement error
  • Survey data
  • Cognitive interviewing
  • Health disparities