Sunday, March 1, 2009

Excellent Health among Polish MSM

In the Polish General Social Survey, they asked about the gender of sexual partners in 1994.
Extreme caution should be used interpreting these numbers, because I'm sure there are cultural and linguistic differences in how the questions are interpreted and answered between the US and Poland.
That and the numbers are fairly small. In general I try to avoid combining gay and bi, or MSM with MSMW, but in this case, the numbers were small enough that I wanted to get more stable estimates.

Only 2 of 31 men who said they had sex with at least one man since age 18 reported excellent health (6% {0%-15%}), while 48 of 322 men who said they never had sex with a man since age 18 reported excellent health (15% {11%-19%}).

I'm nervous about saying much of anything about this data, but it seems like the proportion of men reporting excellent health is lower than the US data, but I would attribute that to language differences until proven otherwise. However, within that context, it does appear that men who have had sex with men in Poland are less likely to report excellent health, perhaps speaking to the general attitudes towards homosexuality in Poland - although not having been to Poland I'm not in a position to say. Anyone with more relevant experience want to comment?

Also interesting is that 31 of 322 men said they had had sex with a man, a much higher percentage than we usually see in US telephone surveys. Should I interpret that to mean that more men have sex with men in Poland, that more are willing to admit it during a telephone survey, or that the question wording is confusing enough that a relatively large proportion gave answers incongruent with their experiences?

I got this data from ICPSR.


  1. Hmm... would the language difference be such an issue if the question is written and asked in their own language?

  2. Hey Daniel, always a pleasure to hear from you. The questions were written and asked in Polish, but I used the data in English. Since I don't know Polish at all, I used Google translator to get a sense of what the questions said in the original, and they seemed to be very closely based on the US General Social Survey, but that's all supposition since I don't know Polish.

    I guess my concern comes up because I don't know what the valence of the questions are in Polish - what if, for instance a small percentage of men answering the survey interpreted "sex with men" as "sex as a man", or something like that.

    It may sound far-fetched, but for instance, in one of the early telephone surveys addressing sexuality in the US in the late 1980's, they had to add an unspoken response category "normal", because so many of the people they interviewed swore up and down that they weren't homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual, none of those "sexual" things, they were "normal" in their marriages. I'll have to check, but I think it was almost 10% of the men responded that way. Similarly, in the 2003/2005 California Health Interview Survey, the data on sexual orientation among respondents over the age of 70 is pretty much useless, since at least half of the people who identified some sort of same sex attraction in the initial interview were surprised to get a call back interviewing them about their same-sex experiences, and denied ever having suggested such a thing.
    So, I know there's frequently a language issue among English-speaking respondents to English-written questions, and I just don't know enough about Polish culture in 1994 to say what they might have been. I'm just skeptical that Polish same-sex sexual men outnumber US same-sex sexual men by about a 4:1 ratio (10% vs. 1.5%-2.5%), so language or cultural context might explain that.