- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Less than 3 percent of the adult U.S. population is a sexual minority, the federal government says in a new report that asks people about their sexual orientation and health.

About 97 percent of the adult U.S. population, or 224 million people, described themselves as “straight” or heterosexual, the National Center for Health Statistics said in a new study on sexual orientation data in the National Health Interview Survey.

Another 5.6 million adults said they were gay or lesbian (1.6 percent), bisexual (0.7 percent) or “something else” (0.2 percent). Around 1 million adults refused to answer sexual orientation questions, and more than 800,000 said they didn’t “know” what to say.

Researchers are eager to understand sexual minority populations and especially their health issues.

But these population groups are so small and diverse that it has been difficult to craft sexual orientation questions that all respondents can easily grasp and answer correctly, James M. Dahlhamer and colleagues wrote in their new report on the NHIS.

For instance, of the nearly 34,000 adults interviewed in the NHIS, 155 people said they didn’t “know” what their sexual orientation was, while another 56 people said they were “something else” rather than straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Upon further questioning, most of these 211 people said they were still figuring themselves out, didn’t like labels or didn’t think of themselves “as having sexuality.” But at least two people said they were “queer, trisexual, omnisexual or pansexual,” while three people said they were “transgender, transsexual or gender variant.”

Researchers cautioned that because many of their survey numbers were small, there were wide margins of error, and their estimates of national prevalence “should be used with caution.”

The new NHIS report said that 1.8 percent of U.S. men, or about 2 million, said they were “gay.” Another 0.4 percent, or 481,000 men, said they were “bisexual,” while 0.2 percent of 196,000 were “something else.”

Among women, the sexual minorities included 1.4 percent, or 1.7 million women, who said they were lesbian, 0.9 percent of women, or 1 million, who said they were bisexual, and 0.2 percent, or 204,000, were “something else.”

The NHIS further asked people about their health status, body mass index, HIV testing history and type and location of health care.

It found that gay men (79 percent) were far more likely to get HIV testing than straight men (37 percent) or bisexual men (42 percent). Among women, slightly more than half of all orientations had been tested for HIV at least once.

On health status, straight women (71 percent) were far more likely to rate themselves as in “excellent” or “very good” health, compared with lesbians (56 percent) or bisexual women (61 percent). About 70 percent of men in all categories ranked themselves so highly.

Obesity was found to be higher in bisexual women (39 percent) and lesbians (37 percent) than straight women (26 percent), but only in a fifth or a quarter of men.

At least two-thirds of men and women in all categories said they had access to health care.

The NHIS, which asked about sexual orientation for the first time in 2013, is the third federal source of data on sexual orientation. The 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth and 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey also collected data on sexual minorities.

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