It is not easy to ask people about their sex lives, and getting honest answers may be even harder. But there are ways to do it. One good method is to have a computer ask the questions, while the interviewee listens through earphones and enters the answers on the screen — without the intervention, or even the presence, of another hum
Last month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on sexual behavior that used this technique with laptops to gather data on Americans’ sexual behavior, attraction and identity by age, marital status, education and race. Anjani Chandra, the lead author, said the process was developed to assure total anonymity for the respondents.
Dr. Chandra, a demographer with the agency, explained: “The computer tells the interviewees what key to press to lock away the responses. When they return the laptop to the interviewers, they can’t get in. It’s transmitted to a central place where the data processing happens without names or addresses. We get a file that can’t be linked back to the person.”
The researchers got a 75 percent response rate, very high for a household survey, when they interviewed more than 13,000 people ages 15 to 44 from 2006 to 2008.