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3% of Metro Vancouver men gay or bisexual: study

New, 'most accurate' data on men who have sex with men will help public health services and policy, hopes UBC scholar.

Ashleigh Rich, UBC School of Population and Public Health researcher, member of Momentum health study of men who have sex with men at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, on Davie street on Aug. 17, 2017.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

Ashleigh Rich, UBC School of Population and Public Health researcher, member of Momentum health study of men who have sex with men at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, on Davie street on Aug. 17, 2017.

Forget what you may have heard about "one-in-10" people being gay β€” a long-discredited figure that arose in sexologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey's 1940s research.

This week, a team of public health researchers at the University of British Columbia believe they've finally come up with the most accurate-to-date measure of actually how many men have sex with men, at least in Vancouver.

Their answer: 27,000 men, or 2.9 per cent of the male population over 16.

"People sometimes talk about the Kinsey Study's 10-per-cent number as the size of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer community in the population," researcher Ashleigh Rich told Metro. "The number β€˜one-in-10’ was likely so high because there were issues related to their methodology, and the way (Kinsey) selected participants."

But the problem of such calculations has eluded public health researchers, who need it to improve services for a demographic at higher risk of HIV.

"The opportunity to produce a local estimate is of course useful for local policy making and public health planning," she explained.

As a population and public health researcher at UBC, she'd worked on research of gay and bisexual men's health for the B.C. Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS, the Momentum Health Study. Its massive dataset inspired Rich to see if she could glean from it a population total.

"We wanted to take advantage of a good opportunity," she said. Combined with data from a similar national health study, a local clinic's files, and even Facebook account information, her team narrowed the range from 10,000 to 42,000 men, the median of which was 27,000.

But she avoided the labels "gay," "homosexual" or "bisexual," sticking with the term "men who have sex with men" (MSM); focusing on activities, not identities, is favoured in the public health field, and some people refuse those labels.

"MSM describes a behaviour," she explained, "whereas gay or bisexual describe a sexual identity.

"Sexual orientation is thought of as a three-part construct: how you identify, who you are attracted to, and your behaviour or who you have sex with. Our data sources spanned the three aspects of sexual orientation."

Although she said she hasn't considered estimate how many women have sex with women, who were not part of Momentum's dataset, "it would certainly be possible," she said. "And it would certainly be interesting."

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