Lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people: key data sources

Both sexual orientation and sexual behaviour are clearly sensitive data items and questions need to be asked with care. Recording self-defined sexual orientation is of importance both in terms of individual and population health. Unfortunately, there are very few routine data sources on the health of the LGB.


The Scottish Government published Sexual Orientation in Scotland 2017 - A Summary of the Evidence Base in January 2017.  It includes a chapter on health and wellbeing.


Information about the sources of data on equality and diversity within the NHS can be found on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equality webpages of the Scottish Government website site. It may be technically possible to identify same sex cohabitations from routine data sources. The National Centre for Social Research carried out a review of international research methodologies and data sources on sexual orientation, which contains a useful summary of some key national surveys that could provide information about same sex cohabitations. This review has been published by the Scottish Government under the title Sexual Orientation Research Phase 1.


The 2011 census collected information on same sex civil partnerships. Although questions on sexual orientation were piloted, they were not included in the Census. The census 2011 records 7,150 people in same sex civil partnerships (table KS103SC). Of these 3,685 were males and 3,645 were females (table DC1107SC)                                                            (see Scottish Census results).

The 2001 Census recorded the number of people who reported living with someone of the same sex (available online within SCROL - Scotland's Census Results On Line via the SCROL analyser - see table UV49), but did not collect information about the sexual orientation of the population.

Office for National Statistics (ONS)

The ONS website contains information about uptake of civil partnerships since The Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force in December 2005, including monthly and quarterly data by the local authority area in which the civil partnership was formed, sex and age at the start of the partnership.

National Records of Scotland (NRS)

Information on civil partnerships formed in Scotland (98Kb) from the start of civil partnerships in 2005 to 2016 is held on the National Records of Scotland (NRS) website (scroll down to see links to tables).

National Surveys

The Better Together survey data from 2010 was analysed by sexual orientation in the  Variations in the Experiences of Inpatients in Scotland report (2011). This contains information on how the experience of LGB patients differs from that of other patients. Out of 56 questions asked, nine of the ten differences found between LGB and heterosexual patients were accounted for by the younger age structure of the LGB patient population. The one experience reported as worse by LGB people was that of overall arrangements for leaving hospital. Better Together also produced an equalities analysis for primary care in the  Variations in the Experiences of Primary Care Patients  (1.3MB) report, (2013). LGB patients reported similar experiences to heterosexual patients; however there was a high (6%) non response level to the question about sexual orientation.   

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) was carried out in 1990, 2000 and 2010. The third Natsal study  (Mercer et al, 2013, see key references) started in 2010 and was published in 2013. These surveys collect information from the British population (including Scotland) about sexual behaviour and were prompted by the lack of information available when HIV and AIDS first appeared in Britain. The surveys include information about cohabitation history, types of homosexual or heterosexual experience and number of partners.

Prescription for Change  (3.1MB) reports the results of a UK wide survey of lesbian and bisexual women carried out in 2007 by Stonewall. The main report does not describe sampling methods or response rates and so it is not clear how representative the survey was. However, the sample size was large (6178 women) and very few such surveys achieve rigorous representativeness, so the survey represents a unique and important source of information. In addition, a more detailed breakdown of results (to Health Board level) has been published for the 514 Scottish respondents in the Prescription for Change Scotland report (3.1MB). It should be noted that the number of respondents is small for some Scottish NHS boards and that results for these boards should therefore be treated with caution.

A 2012 Stonewall report on Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual People in Later Life (286Kb) provides insights on health issues for older LGB people. The research surveyed a sample of 2,086 people over the age of 55 across England, Scotland and Wales throughout October 2010. The sample comprised 1,050 heterosexual and 1,036 lesbian, gay and bisexual participants. There is no information on the response rate or sampling methods. A 2013 report from Stonewall Scotland on Gay and Bisexual Men’s health (Scotland) (3.4Mb) reports results from a 2011 sample of 633 gay or bisexual men in Scotland. The research used a range of methods to recruit the sample, and results can be compared with the overall results for the UK study to provide a snapshot of a wide range of common health problems, not limited to sexual health.


The Scottish Workforce Information Standard System (SWISS) collects information about the sexual orientation of those employed within the NHS in Scotland for the purposes of monitoring discrimination and supporting equal opportunities policy. The provision of information is voluntary and valid responses include "declined to answer".