Skip to main content


Table 2 Recommendations for inclusive sexual health research involving general populations

From: “I am yet to encounter any survey that actually reflects my life”: a qualitative study of inclusivity in sexual health research

Topic Recommendations
General Eliminate question ambiguity by identifying the true aim of each question and the type of data you wish to collect. To achieve this, ensure questions are specific, clear and use defined time periods
  Avoid language that assumes participants are heterosexual or cisgender, or that certain behaviours are ‘normal’
  Use language that is culturally appropriate
  Avoid forced-choice, single option items and binary categorisations where possible
  Avoid skip patterns based on participants’ recorded gender or sexual identity; these require assumptions about participants’ attraction, identity, behaviour and genitals
  Routinely update questions based on cultural changes, feedback and relevant research while still considering data comparability across time
  Consult with GSD people and organisations if unsure of best wording of questions – avoid making assumptions
  Check relevancy and appropriateness of questions, particularly if space or your budget is limited, and aim to balance these considerations with making language as inclusive as possible
  Be aware of your own biases and knowledge limitations as a researcher
  Carefully consider all recommendations within the context of the research (including location and audience)
Gender/sex Determine whether your research is interested in sex assigned at birth, gender identity, neither, or both
  If interested in sex and gender, consider a two-step process, i.e., asking for sex and gender separately
  When asking for participants’ gender identities, use open-ended or free text options if possible. If free-text is not an option, ensure options are more diverse than ‘female’ and ‘male’. Include recognition of transgender participants, non-binary/genderqueer participants, and other gender identities. Allow selection of multiple options or be specific with wording
  Ensure gender/sex questions are optional
  Avoid treating gender as binary (male/female) throughout the survey, including avoiding language implying a binary such as ‘both genders’ or ‘opposite sex’
  Avoid conflating gender and sex and be consistent with terminology
  Ask about intersex variations separately from sex and gender
Sexual orientation Consider sexual orientation in terms of identity, attraction and behaviour, if relevant
  When asking about sexual identity, use open-ended or free text options where possible. If free-text is not an option, avoid ‘othering’ participants by including a range of sexual identities and options such as ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t label myself’.
  Consider selection of multiple identities
Sexual behaviour Avoid defining ‘sex’; instead, be specific to the sexual behaviour of interest
  Clearly identify when questions are referring to STI transmission risk, risk of pregnancy, or other objectives
  Consider appropriate skip patterns for questions that may be irrelevant to participants based on previous response patterns (this will also help reduce participant fatigue)
  Consider respectful and appropriate inclusion of sexual behaviours beyond penetrative sex