Shouting at surveys


Dot writes: the Irish Times is publishing a series of articles on its recent Sex Survey. This offers a snapshot of sexual attitudes and behaviour among those people who read the Irish Times and are happy to fill in surveys about sex.

Now, I love filling in surveys, so long as they aren’t customer surveys, so I filled in this one. However, my love of surveys is perverse, because I also tend to want to shout at them. It takes an enormous amount of energy and attention to reduce discursive answers to the kind of graphic people want to publish, so surveys like this are normally multiple choice. There are grave problems with multiple choice answers: so often, the right answer just isn’t there. Moreover, you can often see the direction of thought that governed the construction of certain questions, and you can see it’s wrong.

In this particular survey the one I particularly wanted to argue with was a section that asked ‘Are you happy with your body?’ There were two possible answers: yes and no. Now, who can really answer yes or no to that question? Certainly not me. My body serves me well. It has successfully produced and fed babies, and I was very happy with it for doing that. It is not currently sick, and there are bits of it I think attractive. It is a convenient height and only slightly on the fat side. But there are plenty of other things I’m not so happy with, things I’ve always been self-conscious about and other things that are the result of ageing and my erratic hormones. So – yes, no, I don’t know. I answered no to that question, but really it was a coin toss.

This question was followed by one on whether you’ve ever had difficulty achieving orgasm. Here I was irritated by what seemed to be a transparent assumption underneath the organisation of the questions: discontent with your body might lead to difficulty achieving orgasm. And, especially now I’ve seen some of the reporting on this question in the paper, I’m also irritated again by the crudity of the question: do they mean recent difficulty? Difficulty that you actually consider a problem? Any difficulty whatsoever at any time? There are so many shades to this that are being ignored here, and since it’s a rather sensitive issue for people I do consider that a problem.

I realise I’m completely true to type in my reaction here. I’m an English lecturer. We believe in nuances and complication, because that’s the sort of thing literature is good at exploring. Ken, with his philosophical training, is capable of considering reductionism elegant, which is why it is so strange and intellectually stimulating for me to be married to him. I get the intellectual stimulation from having to explain to him why he is wrong…


4 thoughts on “Shouting at surveys

  1. Mairi Jay

    Well, I suppose the real purpose of the survey was entertainment for Irish Times readers and a demonstration of how daring the Times is.

    1. Dot

      Oh definitely, it’s a transparent device to be eye-catching and sell papers, though I think less frivolous than many such devices.

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