Data collection and publication - sexual orientation: guidance

Guidance for public bodies on the collection of data on sexual orientation.


What is meant by sexual orientation?

Sexual orientation is a combination of emotional, romantic, sexual or affectionate attraction or feelings towards another person. It is important to acknowledge that sexual orientation is not just related to sex but is also about a person's identity.

How a person determines their sexual orientation can be based on any combination of the above attractions or feelings or behaviours. It can be fluid over time and in different contexts and an individual may not even know what their sexual orientation is. A person can have a sexual identity while not being sexually active. Sexual orientation is the preferred language for asking questions in Scotland, as this is in line with the protected characteristic in the 2010 Act.

The specific protections afforded by the 2010 Act include discrimination based on sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, persons of the opposite sex, or persons of either sex. The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 is phrased slightly differently in that a reference to sexual orientation includes sexual orientation towards persons of the same sex, persons of a different sex, or both persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.[5]

When should the question be asked?

The question should be included on all surveys where collecting information about protected characteristics[6] is of interest. Most research investigates inequalities between different protected characteristics (e.g. by age, ethnicity, religion) and sexual orientation should be included as a key demographic variable in the same way as others are. The question alone will not provide all the information for certain pieces of research. In particular, those carrying out the survey may need to ask additional questions if:

  • sexual behaviour or attraction is of key interest
  • further information on the 'other' category is required



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