Pierre J. Tremblay
at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Suicide
Prevention, Banff, Alberta, October 11-14, 1995, (c) Oct 1995. First made
available on the Internet on January 19, 1996.
The Bagley (1994)
Demographic Data Based on Sexual Orientation
The debate around the percentage of the population which would be gay,
lesbian, or bisexual has existed for decades, especially since Kinsey(1948)
estimated that about 10% of males had been predominantly homosexually active
for a period of three years between the ages of 16 and 55 (84:651).
Other studies have also been done, producing a range of estimates for homosexual,
gay, bisexual males ranging from 1% to 17%. Many questions, however, have
been asked about definitions (85, 86),
some writers even noting that "gay" males (a socially constructed identification,
but the word is often used as a synonym for male homosexual) form a subset
of the homosexual male population (85:42), and
the same concept was articulated in a comprehensive manner by Gilbert Herdt
in 1992 (87). Great problems also exist with respect
to identifying, for study purposes, males who are bisexual. Most of these
males would be in primary heterosexual relationships and are highly closeted
for many reasons.
Diamond (1993) noted many of these problems and summarized the available
demographic research results. On the basis of studies done in the recent
past (excluding the Kinsey studies), he arrived at the "usable 'round'
figure" of 5.5% "for those adult [males] who regularly engage in or have
since adolescence at least once engaged in same-sex activities..." (88:306).
However, most of the studies yielding the estimate were either obtained
from random dialling telephone surveys, or from face-to-face interviews
using random samples. Neither method will produce accurate figures, and
the latter method was used in the most recent American demographic study
which produced the widely reported 2.8% estimate for males who are homosexual.
The study, Sex in America: A Definitive Study (1994), reported
that 2.7% of males had same-gender sex in the past year, and that 7.1%
had same-gender sex since puberty. The great caveat related to this study,
however, was noted by one of its authors, Stuart Michaels, in Time
magazine's cover story about the study. "The biggest hot button, he says,
is homosexuality. This is a stigmatized group. There is probably a lot
more homosexual activity going on than we could get people to talk about"
Homosexuality is still a taboo subject, to the point that many GLB individuals
fear losing their jobs, friends, and even their families if their homosexual
orientation is known; or worse, given that only a little less than 50%
of American states have decriminalized homosexual activity. In Canada,
homosexual activity is not a crime, provided the ones engaged in homosexual
activity do so in private, are of the legal age, and are not in authority
over one of the individuals, if such a person is 14- to 17-years-old. Nonetheless,
a significant number of homosexually active male Canadians would not want
to reveal the "homosexual" part of their lives to most people. Included
are individuals requesting such information as part of a random telephone
survey, and those requesting the same information in face-to-face interviews.
The fear of exposure is too great.
The Bagley et al. (1994) sample data was obtained by having the subjects
answer all questions on a portable computer taken to their homes by a male
approximately the same age as the respondent. After the computer was set
up, and instructions given, it was emphasized that, after the subject began
answering questions, help could not be offered. The reason given for this
was that everyone involved with the study had to remain blind to all answers
given. As a result of this, the subjects knew they would only be giving
the requested information to a machine, with a highly convincing assurance
that their anonymity was guaranteed.
The Bagley et al. (1994) study therefore eliminated some of the concealment
problems, especially predictable when researchers are asking men if they
have sexually interacted with children since the age of 18. Requesting
such highly taboo sexual information from adult males by telephone, or
in face-to-face interviews, would probably yield the non-existence of such
men. Yet, given that about 15% of adult males and females report having
been sexually abused as children, mostly by men, a significant number of
men are sexually involved with children. An analysis of the information
has yielded the estimate that about 2% of adult males have been (are) active
pedophiles, and another 3% who would act accordingly if certain conditions
were met. In the Bagley et al. (1994) study, 1.1% of young adult males
(8/750) admitted to having had sex with children (4 with girls, 3 with
boys, and 1 with both) since the age of 18 (39),
and this result leads to the following conclusion.
For demographic research based on sexual orientation, given
that adult homosexual activity is still taboo, but to a lesser extent than
is adult homosexual activity involving boys, the method to be used should
be subjected to an important question. Would it produce a good estimate
of the percentage of men who have sex with boys? If the answer is "NO!"
because it can be predicted that a "0%" (or close to "0%") estimate will
result, the method to be used will therefore produce underestimates for
the percentage of males who are homosexually active with other adult males.
The supposedly "definitive study," Sex in America, produced an estimate
of 2.8% for males who are currently homosexually active, with 7.1% reporting
that they had same-gender since adolescence. Bagley(1994), however, by
using the above described method, produced the following results:
For a number of data-based reasons presented in Appendix B of The Gay,
Lesbian, and Bisexual Factor in the Youth Suicide Problem (107),
it was estimated, on the basis of the Bagley (1994) data, that about 5%
of 18- to 27-year-old males would be homosexual or predominantly homosexual,
and that another 5% would be bisexual to the extent that they are occasionally
homosexually active with other adult males but are predominantly heterosexually
active (Note 26). Some factors taken
into consideration to produce the 5% / 5% estimate are:
4.3% of males (32/750) reported having "regular sex with person(s) of the
same sex over 18."
4.9% of males (37/750) reported having "occasional adult gay sex encounters,
but are mainly heterosexual."
2.0% of males (14/700) reported themselves to be "interested in having
same-sex encounters with adult partners but never tried it."(40
- Note 25)
On the basis of the Bagley et al.(1994) sample data, it is now known that
the recent studies producing 1% (90) to 3% estimates
for gay males, or for males who are homosexually active, are seriously
flawed. For the first time in North America, the magnitude of error in
these percentages (commonly reported in the media, often on front pages
of newspapers or as cover stories in magazines) can also be estimated.
Random dialling telephone surveys, and random sampling surveys using face-to-face
inter views, will produce "male homosexuality" underestimates ranging from
about one-third to one-tenth of what actually exists, and such errors are
1. Concealment is always a problem in all research work seeking
to estimate the prevalence of socially taboo behaviours. Some males, even
in their 20s, are not ready to even admit their homosexual desires/identity
to themselves, much less to anyone else, including people doing surveys.
Others will delete or deny such realities, no matter what method is used
to request the information. Therefore, the "9.2%" would be an underestimate
for the sample studied.
2. The fact that I have known some gay-identified males who have
never had sex with a male, are only coming out to others around the age
of 25, and are only becoming homosexually active at this age, yields the
conclusion that the "9.2%" for gay/bisexual males is an underestimate.
Some of the younger males in the sample (belonging to the 2% "interested"
category) will eventually become homosexually active, adding to the 9.2%
3. The fact that the northern half of Calgary selected by Bagley
et al.(1994) for the stratified random sampling process does not include
the 20X20 block area known as the greater gay community area, yields the
conclusion that the "9.2%" is an underestimate of homosexually active gay/bisexual
males in Calgary. The Bagley et al.(1994) study only produced an estimate
of homosexually active males living outside the Connaught/Beltline area
where the percentage of gay males would be the highest.
4. The known migration of GLB people from rural areas to larger
cities (such as Calgary) having visible gay communities, and from Calgary
and other medium-size cities to the largest Canadian GLB centres existing
in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver (New York City and San Francisco being
the American equivalents), yields the possibility that the Bagley(1994)
"9.2%" may be an underestimate or an overestimate - depending on the numbers
who have moved into Calgary, compared to those who have left. A possible
overestimate, however, would be amply compensated by the underestimating
effects of 1 to 3.
The Bagley et al. (1994) study has therefore set a desperately needed
methodological standard in the field of demographic research based on sexual
orientation. Special methods for collecting "homosexuality" information,
such as the one described above, will continue to be mandatory for as long
as our society retains its traditionally homophobic, homohating, and homo-punitive