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For sample adults ages 18 and older, SEXORIEN reports the person's sexual orientation. Respondents were asked "Which of the following best represents how you think of yourself?" Response options included: "gay" or "lesbian", "straight, that is, not lesbian or gay", "bisexual", "something else", and "I don't know the answer". The wording of the question differed slightly for men and women, with men being asked if they are "gay" or "straight, that is, not gay" and women being asked if they are "lesbian or gay" or "straight, that is, not lesbian or gay". Persons who responded "something else" or "I don't know the answer" were asked follow-up questions about what they meant by "something else" or "don't know," but due to sample size constraints, those responses are not included in the publicly-available data.

According to the 2020 Survey Description, for some variables, including SEXORIEN, the 2020 responses of sample adults that were part of the 2020 longitudinal sample were overwritten with their 2019 responses "to mitigate disclosure risks associated with differences in response from repeated measures among the same Sample Adults" (33). The sample adults' actual 2020 responses can be accessed through a Research Data Center (RDC). For more information on the 2020 longitudinal sample, please see SALNGPRTFLG.

SEXORIEN was first introduced in 2013. Users interested in learning more about the cognitive testing involved in developing the NHIS sexual orientation questions can refer to the NHIS question evaluation report.


While the basic meaning of this variable is completely comparable over time, major questionnaire changes introduced in 2019 may affect comparability with earlier years. The NHIS questionnaire was substantially redesigned in 2019 to introduce a different data collection structure and new content. For more information on changes in terminology, universes, and data collection methods beginning in 2019, please see the user note.


  • 2013-2018: Sample adults age 18+.
  • 2019-2022: Sample adults age 18+.


  • 2013-2022