A Letter on Common Inclusivity Problems in Surveys

5 08 2011

Here’s a quick copypaste of a letter that I wrote in response to the UBC survey on Asexuality and Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=g640oLPU1qawb/xBlsiMgKCSsp/m5DwbfIbbNILxBN4%3d). Since many of these problems also occur all too frequently in surveys by other institutions and individuals on a whole range of topics, I thought it might be useful to put it up here for reference/ideas. For obvious reasons, discussion of sexual acts and characteristics follow, so it may not be SFW.

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Hi,

I’m writing to highlight a few of the problems with your survey about asexuality. I’m not sure if it was you or a colleague who was involved in this, so feel free to forward it to the relevant person/s if that’s the case. A lot of the questions seemed to omit trans people and people who sit outside the common gender/sex binary. Such people are more common than is often thought.

For example, before one set of questions I was presented with stating that my sex is either male or female. My body is niether, so I had no option available to provide information with. If I were to be asked about my primary sexual characteristics, I could give one answer, secondary, another. Both of these factor into how I experience sexual activity. I know many people who would be in a similar situation if they were to take this survey, some of whom are asexual. If you wish to ask people if they have a penis, vagina, both or something else, then perhaps that would be more specific. Bodily sex refers to a whole host of different sexual characteristics (most commonly defined as primary and secondary). Many people’s bodies have a blend of those most commonly assigned to male and female, and this can emerge at birth, during puberty or adult life, or as a result of chemical or surgical changes the person has undergone. With this in mind, the issue is not as black and white as it is often thought to be. As a result of this, identities like lesbian, gay and bisexual do not cover many people’s sexualities (ie; pansexual, asexual). These are not merely theoretical concerns; they impact the day-to-day lives and sexual experiences of many people.

For similar reasons, I was also stumped when asked whether my sexual experiences had been mainly homosexual or heterosexual in nature. As someone who is genderqueer, I’ve slept with both without those experiences fitting under either umbrella. I would also like to add that the definition of sexual intercourse as penis-in-vagina and nothing else is extremely limited and heteronormative. You might like to include a wider range of activities under the definition in later surveys. The questions on depressive symptoms were also problematic, in that they didn’t allow room for the experiences of those with chronic depression, for whom “I feel X more than I did before” would not apply, but they may nevertheless be affected by the symptoms, simply on a longer scale than the question takes account for.

I apologise if this email comes across as wholly negative; The subject matter of the survey is an important one, and many of the questions are open and well phrased. I just thought that I should highlight the parts where people will be excluded, and good data will be omitted or misconstrued as a result.

Sincerely,

Ratbagqueer

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