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."(89:50)
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:
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 attributes.