We’re Getting Queerer

  • Figures suggest ONS statistics do not offer a true picture of sexuality in this country
  • More than half of those aged 18-24 and a third of 35-44-year-olds regard themselves as being not ‘completely heterosexual’
  • 60% believe sexuality is fluid and should be judged on a scale.

Research released today has shown that a quarter (26%) of UK adults identify as something other than ‘completely heterosexual’ according to the Kinsey Scale – and this rises to a third (35%) of those aged 35-44 and more than half (55%) of those aged 18-24.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults was carried out by YouGov and commissioned by media agency UM as part of UK by UM, an ongoing research project examining stereotyping in advertising. It also highlighted that 60% of Brits – including 85% of those aged 18-24 and even 48% of those aged 55+, believe sexuality should be viewed on a scale, rather than people being simply gay or straight.

It tells a very different story to the data compiled by the Office for National Statistics in 2016. The ONS found that only 2% of the adult population identified as something other than straight, accounting for around one million Brits, whereas this new survey suggests the number is actually closer to 17 million.

Similarly, YouGov research from 2015 found that 49% of those aged 18-24 and only 8% of those aged 60+ self-defined as something other than completely straight. This new survey found that the former figure has risen to 56% and to 13% of those aged 55+ – statistically significant increases.

Michael Brown, head of insight at UM, comments: “The comparison of this year’s anonymous data with that from the ONS might seem jarring. However, what this shows is that Kinsey was right to view sexuality as a spectrum. After all, trying to define something as complex as sexuality in binary terms is at best crude, and at worst – fantastical.”

Overall, around one in six Brits (16%) has had a sexual experience with a member of the same sex, which rises to a quarter (25%) among those aged 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44. Heterosexual women are also more open to same-sex experiences than men, with one in five (20%, vs. only 8% of straight men) saying they could maybe or definitely be attracted to someone of the same sex.

Research by UM has also revealed the strides that UK society and advertising has made in recent years when it comes to fighting negative stereotypes around sexuality. Almost half (40%) think gay/bisexual men have become more positively perceived by society over the past three years, while 37% see a more positive perception of lesbian/bisexual women over the same period.

Seven in ten Brits (71%) think this positive change in perception for gay/bisexual men comes from a general opening-up of society, but more than half (54%) think more positive media coverage is responsible.

Similarly, 53% see media coverage as the reason for a better perception of lesbian/bisexual women – and even more (64%) see it as a driver of positive perception for transgender individuals.

But at the same time, 61% of lesbian/bisexual women and 60% of gay/bisexual men still believe their respective groups are negatively stereotyped. Two-thirds (66%) of gay/bisexual men aged 18-34 think that there aren’t enough LGBTQ+ people shown in ad campaigns, and half (52%) think the community is ‘invisible’ in advertising.

Furthermore, 60% of lesbian/bisexual women think they have less visibility in the public eye compared to gay/bisexual men.

Michael Brown adds: “The data shows we’re queerer than we used to be. While younger people may be compelled by the spirit of free identity symbolised by icons of today’s popular culture, like Cara Delevingne, it also seems that older people are perhaps finally feeling more able to allow their sexuality to be non-binary.

The advertising and media community has a huge role to play, both in avoiding harmful negative stereotypes and in creating ads and content that appeal to an increasingly queer UK populace, whether young, middle-aged or older. A quarter of the UK is a massive audience for companies that can strike a genuine chord with the LGBTQ+ community. So important marketing practices, like better representation and more investment in LGBTQ+ media platforms, should be prioritised by brands and agencies.