Monday, January 7, 2013

The Benefits and Problems of Sex Surveys

Benefits of Sex Surveys

Surveys, in general, are versatile and effective means of gaining information such as attitudes, feelings, experiences, beliefs, and knowledge directly from participants (Murray, Marks, Evans, & Estacio, 2011). Surveys can be implemented across a wide variety of individuals, which provides data representative of wider populations. With regard to sexual behavior, surveys may be the most reasonable means of collecting data, since natural observation might be construed as controversial or unethical. Understanding sexual behavior enlightens science on infectious diseases, such as HIN/AIDS, the risk factors involved, transmission, and the generation of epidemics (Fenton, Johnson, McManus, & Erens, 2001). Surveys are often the best means of gaining insight into individuals' private behavior.


One disadvantage, and an inherent flaw of questionnaires and surveys, is that they depend on self-reporting, wherein information and experiences may be reported in various and inconsistent ways according to mood, recent experiences, and the participants' perceived expectations of the survey (Craig, 2005). Bowling (2005) found that responses to questionnaires or surveys can be influenced by the environment in which it is taken. Self-report questionnaires are highly susceptible to lying, over and understating, and malingering (Craig, 2005). Additionally, surveys typically use closed-ended questions which may limit the accuracy and personal nature of responses (Knapp, 2008). Closed-ended questions encourage brief responses, although they may limit the respondent's ability to be subjective as well as emotional (Knapp, 2008). It may also be the case that simply asking questions of a sexual nature may confound responses (Fenton et al., 2001).

Cultural and Contextual Considerations

A sex survey may provide reliable and valid information when utilized in one population, although it may not necessarily provide the same from other populations (Sedlacek, 1994; Sue & Sue, 2008). When discussing sexuality or sexual behavior, it is imperative to understand that norms and social expectations are not universally agreed upon (Sue & Sue, 2008). The private nature of sexual behavior presents with significant religious, moral, and cultural constraints that may incline participants to misreport sexual information (Fenton et al., 2001). It seems important that a survey should not imply superiority of values or beliefs, and responses should neither suggest pathology, nor imply superiority. A survey that contains such bias might easily skew the responses of participants.

Collecting reliable and valid information on sexual behavior can be a daunting task, although according to Fenton et al., (2001) is not unlike other behaviors that must rely on self-reporting. Presently, social researchers are learning to rely more on technological data gathering methods, which enhances their ability to reliably identify and record sexual behaviors. Consequently, as psychologists can more easily and accurately study these behaviors, they can disseminate critical information and strategies for safer and healthier sexual behavior (Fenton et al., 2001).


Bowling, A. (2005). Mode of questionnaire administration can have serious effects on data quality. Journal of Public Health, 27(3), 281-291. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdi031

Craig, R. J. (2005). Assessing personality and mood with adjective check list methodology: A review. International Journal of Testing, 5(3), 177-196. doi: 10.1207/s15327574ijt0503_1

Fenton, K. A., Johnson, A. M., McManus, S., & Erens, B. (2001). Measuring sexual behaviour: Methodological challenges in survey research. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 77, 84-92. doi: 10.1136/sti.77.2.84

Knapp, H. (2007). Therapeutic communication: Developing professional skills. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Marks, D. F., Murray, M., Evans, B., & Estacio, E. V. (2011). Health Psychology: Theory, Research, and Practice (3rd ed.). London: Sage.

Sedlacek, W. E. (1994). Issues in advancing diversity through assessment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 72, 549-553.

Stewart, J. B. (2002). Using the culture grid in culture-centered assessment. Guidance & Counseling, 18(1), 10-17.

Sue, D.W., Sue, D (2008). Counseling the Culturally Diverse Theory and Practice (5th ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

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