Why Gay and Bisexual Men Can’t Give Blood

On Reddit there’s a Today I Learned about how gay and bisexual men can’t give blood.

I know people who feel the decision is homophobic, and I’ve wondered what the argument from health organizations is regarding the decision. I’ve never heard it explained and I can’t believe there wouldn’t be some logical reasoning behind it.

According to the CDC, as of 2006, males who have sex with other males (MSM) make up more than half of new HIV infections.


This commenter has what appears to be a good summary of why gays and bisexuals can’t donate blood:

This is straightforward risk management.

About 50% of HIV/AIDS cases are related to male-to-male sexual contact. I’m no homophobe, and think homosexual males are about 5% of the population (under assumption 1 in 10 people are homosexual). Thus a random homosexual male has a 20 times increased chance of having AIDS. Even if the risk of false negatives is small (say 0.1%) for an HIV screening, its 20 (2000%) times riskier to accept blood from gay males to get only 5% more blood, which is not worth it.

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t all donated blood screened?

Well, yeah – but it’s not that simple.

It is all screened. The problem is the screening test looks for antibodies. If someone is in the very early stages of the disease, the test may come back negative. The chance of the virus getting through the screen process is small, but if blood is allowed in from high risk individuals, it increases the risk of infected blood making it through and infecting someone else.

Blood.co.uk also has a page of explanations I’ve never seen before:

How can the National Blood Service justify a policy which discriminates against gay men?
The policy is in place for the sole purpose of protecting public health by minimising the risk of transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses to patients through the blood which we supply to hospitals. Men who have ever had sex with men are at a higher risk of carrying such viruses. Since it is specific sexual behaviour which places individuals at risk, rather than their sexuality, there is no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with another man, nor of women who have sex with women.

It’s nothing personal.