Words mean things, but their mileage may vary

So, in the interest of completeness, I’m finally working on getting all of the things I read last quarter up here.  Next quarter starts next Monday, so that means way more posting than usual this week!  Also lots of working on my vlogging techniques, so you’ll probably see a fair bit of day-to-day variation as I test and tweak things.

For this entry, I’m starting by just copy-pasting my very first “reading response” in, as-is.  So there’s discussion of the articles/chapter/TED talk followed by a reference list (still lacking a hanging indent, alas).  This first batch of readings was about how we define sexual orientation and what the heck it even means.

(Vlog is still processing …)


I’m primarily interested in studying LGBTQ populations, particularly subpopulations that include ethnic or language minorities. As the readings discussed, these are groups that are rare when sampled at the population level (Midanik, Drabble, Trocki, & Sell, 2007, p. 32). As the TED talk (Wright, 2012) showed, they (we) are also stigmatized as being wrong or perverse, which leads to hiding as a means to remain safe. This population, then, meets all three of these descriptors.

When I did my MSN study on Gender and Sexual Minority Healthcare Satisfaction in Connecticut, I had a hard time finding respondents. Had it been a quantitative study with a nicely faceless survey, that might have been different, and that is my planned follow-up. One very striking problem was that while the LGBTQ population in Connecticut, particularly in New London, includes a very high proportion of African American and Latino people, my sample ended up being 99% white with my one language variant being American Sign Language . There is also a very visible transgender population in New London, but until I expanded beyond the New London area, my sample was 100% cisgender.

Terms and definitions ensure that we are all having the same conversation, and measures let us try to ensure that we are comparing apples to apples and not to bicycles. Considering the varying and nuanced ways people can interpret sexual orientation, this is definitely a challenge. In my study, since I was using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis as my framework, meaning the focus was on the individual’s interpretations of their experiences, it made sense to simply use self-report of sexual orientation identity, as I did with gender identity. I left it a completely open-ended question, which left me with at least one response that was challenging to group with any others. For a small, qualitative study, that’s not as much of a problem as it would be in a larger, quantitative study. It does, however, beg the question of what data we lose when we restrict the options for participants in the interest of simplifying results.

I found it particularly interesting in the Midanik et al article (2007) that there were notable differences between the alcohol use levels of women depending on whether their orientation was measured by identity or behavior. I’m now curious to see whether any follow-up was done to see what that correlation means. Are women who consume more alcohol more sexually active with other women because it lowers inhibitions? Or are women who are more sexually active with other women exposed to more stressors that lead to more alcohol consumption?

The Sell Assessment (Sell, 1996; Sell 2007) approaches the problem of defining and quantifying sexual orientation along the dimensions of attraction, behavior, and identity. As mentioned in the reading notes, it does have some shortfalls, starting with its reliance on the sex and/or gender binary. If the person being assessed is intersex or has a non-binary gender identity such as genderqueer or agender, then the same-sex/opposite sex measures just don’t work, and that’s before you look at the flip side of attraction to others who may not fit into the gender or sexual binary.

I can see the value, depending upon what one is studying, of reducing the scope of the assessment to the past year. It can, however, be misleading. What if the person being assessed or their long-term partner (if they have one) experience chronic illness that has made sexual behavior together either not an option or just a very low priority to the extent that it ends up back-burnered for a year or more? If you’re looking for high-risk sexual behaviors, then perhaps all that matters is that the person isn’t having sex and thus isn’t engaging in them. If you’re trying to measure their orientation, however, this could give misleading data.

It is also problematic in how it asks the respondent to classify their sexual orientation identity. As a bisexual, I found myself initially looking for the “none of the above” option and ultimately selected “not at all homosexual” and “not at all heterosexual.” With an understanding of how the measure works, I realize that it would be more accurate to respond at the opposite extreme, but that was really, really hard to do. Bisexuals are often asked (or ordered) to shoehorn ourselves into either the homosexual box or the heterosexual box, so it’s a conditioned response to vehemently reply, “I’m not either of those things.” That has the potential to group people with a bisexual identity in with those who have an asexual identity. (We don’t mind hanging out together, and have several similar issues, but you probably don’t want bis and aces classed together in your research.) I’m glad to see from the reading notes that the current recommendation for self-identification has shifted, though I would like to see asexuality included as an option along with heterosexual/straight, homosexual/gay, and bisexual. It would also be valuable, depending on what is being studied, to specify whether other non-monosexual identities such as pansexuality should be grouped in with bisexuality or not.

Speaking of asexuality, sort of, I liked the Shively and DeCecco (1977, cited in Sell, 1996, p. 299 & Sell, 2007, p. 366) approach, which looks at physical and affectional preferences as separate dimensions. Online, one can often find the asexual community fine-tuning distinctions between sexual orientation and romantic orientation as well as other dimensions of attraction. While there is little research out there on this community so far, it seems that a scale such as Shively and DeCecco’s would be useful in quantifying this distinction .

References (from assignments)

Midanik, L.T. , Drabble, L., Trocki, K., & Sell, R.L. (2007). Sexual orientation and alcohol use: Identity versus behavior measures. Journal of LGBT Health Research, 3(1), 25-35.

Sell, R.L. (2007). Defining and measuring sexual orientations for research. In I.E. Meyer & M.E. Northridge (Eds.) The Health of Sexual Minorities: Public Health Perspectives on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Populations (pp. 355-374). New York, NY: Springer.

Sell, R.L. (1996). The Sell assessment of sexual orientation: Background and scoring. Journal of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Identity, 1(4), 295-310.

Wright, I. (2012). Fifty Shades of Gay. Retrieved September 25, 2015, from https://www.ted.com/talks/io_tillett_wright_fifty_shades_of_gay


Other references:

Farrell, S. (n.d.). Sharon Farrell. Retrieved December 28, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/user/sharonmakeupartist

Lange, S. (n.d.). Stephanie Lange. Retrieved December 28, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/user/stephilalalange

Karima McKimmie. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/user/karimamckimmie

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