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In Australia, who identifies as non-heterosexual varies on who, what & when you ask

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ALMOST two years after the heated discussions accompanying the 2017 marriage equality postal survey, LGB Australians remain at the centre of public debates.

For example, there are ongoing issues around religious freedoms, and homosexuality was at the centre of Israel Folau’s controversial statements.

But one aspect about the Australian LGB populations that is often ignored is who, and how many, belong to them.

In fact, there is a large degree of uncertainty internationally about the share of the non-heterosexual population. The accuracy of early US studies by Alfred Kinsey has been largely discredited. More recent work by demographer Gary Gates provided more robust information, but left many questions unanswered.

In Australia, there is comparatively less information – notwithstanding recent research efforts. Understanding the prevalence of non-heterosexuality — as well as how this varies according to who, what and when we ask — is an important endeavour.

It can contribute to more inclusive social policies and services. It also allows us to reflect critically on traditional narratives about sexual orientation and their applicability to current debates within Australian society.

Here, we collate and discuss estimates of the prevalence of sexual-minority status in contemporary Australia, leveraging recent information from several major social and health surveys.

SEE ALSO: Taiwan holds first gay marriages in historic day for Asia

Dimensions of sexual orientation: what you ask

Academic scholarship usually distinguishes between three dimensions of sexual orientation: behaviour, attraction, and identity. These lead to different definitions of non-heterosexuality:

  • engaging in same-sex sexual behaviour;
  • feeling some degree of sexual attraction towards people of the same sex; and
  • self-identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or other smaller sexual-orientation groups (for example, asexual, pansexual, demisexual).

Few Australian studies collect information on the three domains of sexual orientation from the same sample. But those that do provide an interesting picture: the prevalence of non-heterosexuality varies drastically depending on the domain asked about.

Take, for example, the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health, a long-running health survey tracking several cohorts of women over time. Its youngest cohort, comprising roughly 17,000 women, was asked about sexual orientation at ages 22-28 years in 2017. When sexual-minority status was defined on the basis of identity, 38 percent of these young women fell into a category other than “exclusively heterosexual” (that is,........

© Asian Correspondent