Gender and sexuality in research

Collecting gender, sex and sexuality information

Collecting information on participants' gender identity or sexuality is frequently useful for data analysis. However, like any other data, you should only collect the data you need in accordance with Australian Privacy Principle 3. Where you do need to collect this information, it is important to collect and analyse it in a way which allows for diversity of gender identity and sexuality.

For example if you are asking for participants' gender, as well as options for "male" and "female", researchers should also provide a third option - at minimum "Other" and/or "Prefer not to say". If feasible it is also recommended to include a free text field where participants can specify how they identify. Cameron and Stinson (2019) suggest guidelines for collecting, analysing and reporting gender information.

Sex and gender in language

Where sex and/or gender is crucial to someone's eligibility to participate in research, you must clearly communicate what information you need and why, in a respectful manner. In most cases only gender information is required, but each research project may have different requirements, depending on the inclusion criteria for participation. For example:

  • A research project looking at discrimination against women might be seeking to interview participants who identify as women and would therefore need to collect information about participants' gender identity, but not necessarily sex. In recruitment materials, it would be appropriate to use words like "women" and "female" to describe potential participants.
  • On the other hand, a study into reproductive healthcare might instead be looking for participants who have a particular kind of reproductive capability. For research like this, rather than recruiting "women", it would be more accurate to use words like "people who have periods", or "people with uteruses", depending on the study focus. This would include transgender and non-binary people who have a uterus, and would not include, for example, women who have had a hysterectomy and would thus not be eligible to participate in a study of this nature.

In general, you should try to avoid using gender-specific language where there is an equivalent gender-neutral option, as per the ANU style guide and the ANU guideline on gender inclusive language - "parents" rather than "mother and father", singular "they" rather than "he or she", "chair" rather than "chairman/woman/person". 

Research into gender and sexually diverse populations

When conducting research with LGBTQI+ populations, researchers should be aware that in many places these communities are at greater risk of discrimination, violence, lack of access to services, and that participation in research may carry a greater risk of social harm. There is also an increased risk that participants may become distressed if recounting instances of discrimination or violence they have personally faced. 

When writing an ethics application you will need to consider the increased risks of social harm and/or distress or discomfort. You will also need to outline what the need for confidentiality is and how you will ensure confidentiality for your participants. 

Page owner: Research Services