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Homosexual and Bisexual Orientation 
In Young Adult Calgary Males:
A Demographic Study
Part 1 of 3: Introduction / Study Results

November 1996 • NOTE: This paper is published (with some minor changes) under the title On the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality in a random community survey of 750 men aged 18 to 27, The Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 36, No. 2, 1998, p. 1-18. PubMed "abstract" link with a document delivery services. This results of study, combined with the results of another 1998 study, has produced a very important CAVEAT ALERT! An Addendum was written to report on the Kreiger et al (1997) study results based on study subjects acknowledging "ever having had a same-sex partner." The result replicates one of the Bagley and Tremblay (1997) demographic study result reported below. The addendum also highlights the problems commonly encountered in demongraphic studies based on sexual orientation.
 


ON THE PREVALENCE OF HOMOSEXUALITY AND BISEXUALITY IN A RANDOM COMMUNITY SURVEY OF 750 MEN AGED 18 TO 27

Christopher Bagley, Ph.D. and Pierre Tremblay, B.Sc., B.Ed. Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.

ABSTRACT - A stratified random sample of 750 males aged 18 to 27 in Calgary, Canada included questions on sexual activity and orientation. A computerized response format (established as a good method for eliciting sensitive personal data) ensured anonymity. Three measures of homosexuality were employed: (1) voluntary, same-gender sexual contact from age 12 to 27: 14.0%; (2) overlapping homosexual (5.9%) and/or bisexual (6.1%) self-identification: 11.1%; and (3) exclusive (4.3%) and non-exclusive (4.9%) same-gender sexual relationships in past 6 months: 9.2%. On the basis of one or more of the three often overlapping measures, 15.3% of males reported being homosexual to some degree. CES-D depression scores did not differ significantly for sexually active homosexual (mean 14.6), bisexual (mean 15.7), and heterosexual (mean 13.7) males. The elevated depression scores for celibate homosexual (mean 27.1) and heterosexual (mean 23.6) males are not supportive of beliefs and related institutional policies recommending or requiring that young adult males be celibate.
Keywords: Prevalence Homosexuality Bisexuality Adolescence Depression

Introduction / Study Results DiscussionNotes, Tables, Bibliography

There are obvious policy implications of gaining accurate estimates of the proportion of the population who are homosexual, in terms of marketing and communication, counselling and support, and political pressures arising from the moral force of belonging to a significant minority. Estimates of the proportion of the population who are homosexual are difficult to make for a number of methodological reasons:

(1) Non-random surveys (such as that by Kinsey, Pomeroy, Wardell & Martin, (1948) may access a skewed section of the adult population;

(2) Normal random sampling procedures have a high probability of undersampling minority groups (e.g. a sample of 3,000 U.S. adults could interview 50 adults in 60 different communities, and the probability of missing minority groups (e.g. homosexuals) with such limited community samples is high.

(3) Homosexually oriented men tend to live in larger cities, and especially in areas within the centre of cities which are known as "gay communities" or "gay ghettoes." If one is openly gay, it is easier to be so in San Francisco than in Sioux Falls. The gay population in large cities would be easy to access through random sampling, but the results would overestimate the numbers who are homosexual if generalized to wider populations. The migration of gay and bisexual males from rural areas, towns, and small cities is well known, and is reflected in the Michael, Gagnon, Laumann & Kolata (1994) results. These authors reported that self-identified homosexual and bisexual males exist in the following proportions in different parts of the United States: centers of the 12 largest metropolitan areas 9.2%, and their suburbs 3.4%; centers of 13th to 100th largest metropolitan areas 4.2%, and their suburbs 1.3%; smaller cities and towns 1.9%; and rural areas 1.2%. In the study by Michael et al. (1994) the mean percentage of the male American population who are self-identified as homosexual and bisexual males was estimated as 2.7% (which excludes 0.6% of men having homosexual desires not acted on, and 2.2% who had same-gender sexual relationships since the age of 18 but did not identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual. Overall, Michael et al. (1994) reported that 10.1% of the men aged 18 to 59 studied in probability samples reported some degree of homosexuality (by self-identification, desire, and/or behavior).

(4) The attempts to estimate the proportion of homosexually oriented males in the population is further complicated by approaches such as that of Diamond (1993) who, after a review of various studies (excluding the Kinsey 1948 study), concludes that a "usable 'round' figure" of 5.5 percent of men applies "for those adults who regularly engage in or have since adolescence at least once engaged in same-sex activities." On the other hand, Gonsiorek, Sell & Weinrich (1995) put forward an estimate of about 10 percent (based on a 4 percent to 17 percent range in the studies reviewed) for "the prevalence of predominant same sex orientation (i.e. regular behavior or substantial attraction or both) in the United States." Gonsiorek et al. (1995) also cite the cross-cultural study by one of the authors, based on random sampling of 10,500 men and women in America, England and France indicating that in America 6.2 percent of men are homosexually active, while 20.8 percent have at some time since the age of 15 experienced either same gender sexual contact, or homosexual desires.

(5) A number of reasons have been advanced to account for these varying results: using volunteer samples may lead to biased estimates, and questioning by a stranger using traditional telephone and/or face-to-face interviews may not elicit a frank response; many homosexually oriented males have justified fears about disclosing information on their homosexuality to a stranger, especially when they are living closeted or partly closeted lives. In this respect, criticisms may be made of the two most recent studies (Billy et al., 1994; Binson et al., 1995) reporting demographic estimates based on sexual orientation. As Gonsiorek et al. (1995) observe: "A major problem facing such studies is the risk involved in self disclosure, especially where the studies fail to ensure complete anonymity. It is possible, indeed quite likely, that these recurrent 2-5% figures represent an absolute minimum and that they represent homosexual individuals who are relatively open and/or who live lives within tolerant or cosmopolitan communities." (p. 43) Thus the Billy et al. (1993) study reported that their face-to-face interviews (following random sampling) produced an estimates of 1.3 to 2.3 percent for 18- to 29-year-old males who were exclusively homosexually active, and 2.8 to 3.0 percent for males who had at least one homosexual experience in the last 10 years. Citing the similarity of estimated rates of homosexuality with those of recent studies, the authors claim some reliability for their results. However, one of its authors, Koray Tanfer, presented a different perspective after the paper was published. On being questioned by someone knowledgeable about gay and bisexual males, she replied that the study "was not done to count the number of gays in the United States. It was specifically done to look at risky behaviors among heterosexuals. If we had wanted to count gays, we would have done a totally different study." (INFO-EGALE, 1993). Similarly, a high degree of confidence was attributed to the results of a major American study published, in part, by Michael et. al. 1994 in the book Sex in America: A definitive study, and in a paper by Binson et. al. (1995). Stuart Michaels, one of the authors of the Binson et al. (1995) study, conceded (in a Time interview with Dewitt, 1994) that "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.'" (p. 50)

(6) Of Special significance when sampling young adult males is the knowledge that a disproportionate minority of homosexual adolescents and young men may not be located through conventional sampling techniques, because they lead unstable lives on the street, or elsewhere.

The Present Study

In this study we present data on proportions who are homosexual and bisexual (defined in various ways) in a stratified random sample of 750 males aged 18 to 27, residing in Calgary, Canada. Census figures indicated that in 1991 Calgary had a population of 742,900 (Alberta Statistical Review, 1992). Our results are best compared with the findings of Michaels et al. (1994) and Binson et al. (1995) for U.S. metropolitan areas ranked 13th through 100th in population size. The mean population for these areas is 1.1 million, Calgary's population being .74 million and its metropolitan area population being about .78 million [2].

This research was originally designed as a community mental health study with a focus on long-term sequels of physical, emotional and sexual abuse in childhood (Bagley, Wood & Young, 1994). However, the questions on sexual behavior and orientation were sufficiently detailed to allow some estimates of the prevalence of homosexuality and bisexuality to be made.

Research Methods and Instruments

Cluster analysis of census data identified three types of neighbourhoods in Calgary containing high proportions of young adults:

1. Middle class, with many young families living in detached or row-houses;

2. High proportion of apartments, with many unmarried young adults, usually with white collar jobs;

3. High proportion of low rent and public housing, and many adults who are single, married or cohabiting.

Two neighbourhoods (defined by postcodes) within each of the three strata were randomly selected in Calgary, north of the Bow River. Respondents were then randomly sampled within neighbourhoods using the reverse telephone directory (which lists all numbers beginning "200" et seq. followed by name and address). An initial telephone call established whether there was anyone in the required age group resident; then a request was made for a personal interview in the respondent's home for a study of "childhood events, current adjustment and outlook on life." Respondents were paid $20 for participation, regardless of whether or not they completed the computerized questionnaire, the interviews occurring in 1991 and 1992. Sexual issues were not mentioned at this stage and sex-related questions were only asked at the very end of the computerized questionnaire, since we assumed that some types of mental health responses might be triggered if these questions followed those on sexuality. Sampling continued until approximately 75 individuals in each of the ten age groups 18 to 27 were obtained. Sixteen individuals did not complete the computerized questionnaire, and of those in the requisite age groups 72.9% both agreed to participate, and completed the computerized questionnaire, which took between 40 minutes and 1.5 hours, in the respondent's home setting. Within each neighbourhood we interviewed between 31 and 52 percent of the total population of males aged 18 to 27 identified in the 1991 Federal Census. Sampling continued until 750 completed interviews were obtained. The districts sampled did not include the residential district close to the city centre, which contains Calgary's established gay community.

Respondents were advised that no record of identity would be made, and that the responses were com-pletely anonymous. After an initial tutorial in using the portable computer, questions appeared on screen and the portable computer's track-ball was used to key in the chosen response. Data for each respondent was stored in a random block, so that the order in which questionnaire data was saved on the hard drive did not allow the researchers to identify any individual. The research assistants introducing the computerized questionnaire were male, casually dressed, and in the same age range as the respondents. While the respondent completed the interactive program, the research assistant read a book, or watched TV, and declined (because of the ethical requirement that researchers should be blind to individual responses) to answer any specific questions about the response system. This was emphasized during the tutorial to increase the subjects' confidence that the information to be given was truly on an anonymous basis.

The measure of "Current sexual interests and activities" consisted of selected items on heterosexual and homosexual activity (voluntary and non-voluntary) at various ages, devised by Langevin (1985), and included questions about whether the sexual activity was wanted or unwanted, taken from a national Canadian survey (Bagley, 1989a). Pilot testing of the computerized response format in comparison with a conventional pencil-and-paper format indicated that the computerized questionnaire yielded a higher proportion of young males who responded positively to questions on the sensitive theme of sexual abuse in childhood (Bagley & Genuis, 1991). Using this method, one percent of men reported having had sex with children less than age 12, and four to five percent reported having such desires (Bagley et al. 1994) Such highly taboo sexual information would not be expected to be revealed in telephone or face-to-face interviews, thus making the computerized method probably the best available to date for soliciting other often guarded information, such as facts related to one's homosexual nature.

The homosexual contacts reported in this paper were all voluntary, regardless of the age (12 and over) at which these contacts occurred (non-voluntary contacts are discussed in Bagley et al., 1994). The age of 12 was chosen because at that age Canadian law allows a young person to exercise some degree of free choice in sexual relationships (Wells, 1989); all of the sexual contacts reported in this paper were, according to the respondents, voluntary. The measures included frequency of sexual contact with someone of either sex, and responses to the question: "Do you consider yourself to be Heterosexual (Yes/No) ... Homosexual (Yes/No) ... Bisexual (Yes/No)?

Among the mental health measures completed by respondents was the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression (CES-D) scale. This is a well validated and widely used measure of symptoms of depression in the past week (Radloff, 1977; Roberts & Vernon, 1983). The inclusion of this measure allows us to explore levels of depression across groups with different statuses with regard to self-declared sexuality, and types of sexual behavior.

Results

Table 1 indicates that 14 percent of males sampled (105/750) had been homosexually active since the age of 12, 62 percent (65/105) having become homosexually active before the age of 18. Of these, 55.4 percent (36/65) self-identified as homosexual (47.2%: 17/36) or bisexual (52.8%: 19/36) when studied, the lowest rates of current homosexual or bisexual self-identification (33.3%: 12/36) occurring in the group which became homosexually active between the ages of 12 and 14. For males whose first sexual experience occurred after the age of 14, however, much more than sexual exploration was involved. A total of 82.8% of males having their first same-gender sexual experience between the ages of 15 and 17 (24/29), and 92.5 percent of those in the 18- to 27-year-old category (37/40) self-identified as homosexual or bisexual when studied.

Questionnaire responses show (Table 2) that 9.2 percent of males (69/750) had been currently homosexually active (in the past 6 months), 4.3 percent (32/750) having been exclusively homosexually active. All self-identified homosexual males (5.9%: 44/750) were either current homosexually active (65.9%: 29/44), or had been homosexually active in the past (34.1%: 15/44). A total of 6.0 percent of males (45/750) are classified homosexual on the basis of being currently exclusively homosexually active and/or self-identification as homosexual. Some of these males also self-identified as bisexual and heterosexual, since the questionnaire permitted more than one self-description for sexual orientation.

A total of 7.7 percent of the sampled male population (58/750) are classified bisexual on the basis of having had at least one male and female sexual partner (4.9%: 37/750) in the last 6 months) and/or self-identifying as bisexual (6.1%: 46/750), the latter group overlapping with self-described homosexuals. Ten males in the homosexually active bisexual category self-identified as heterosexual only.

A total of 12.7 percent of males (95/750) are classified homosexual and/or bisexual (homosexually oriented) on the basis of being currently homosexually active (69/750: 9.2%) and/or self-identifying as homosexual and/or bisexual (11.1%: 83/750). A total of 15.3 percent of males (115/750) are either homosexual or bisexual, as defined above, and/or were homosexually active before the age of 18; most (105/115: 86.9%) having a history of consenting homosexual activity at some time since the age of 12, and the great majority (79.1%: 83/105) self-identifying as homosexual and/or bisexual.

Levels of current depression (Table 2) indicate significant variations only for the two celibate groups, heterosexual and homosexual. Sexually active homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual males had mean CES-D scores of 14.6, 15.7, and 13.7, respectively. Celibate homosexual and heterosexual males had mean scores of 27.1 and 23.6, respectively. Scores equal to or above 19.0 are indicative of some degree of depression for which the individual would seek clinical intervention (Radloff, 1978). A score of 28 or more has been shown in a previous Calgary study (Costello & Devins, 1989) to indicate a high likelihood of serious, clinical depression. For celibate homosexual and heterosexual males, 46 and 22 percent, respectively, were in this latter category.

Introduction / Study Results DiscussionNotes, Tables, Bibliography


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