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Bad Blood

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I am proud to be a blood donor. Every three months, I walk to my local donation session and pump out a bag of the red stuff as quickly as I can. No, seriously. I try and beat my best time.

The NHS relies on 6000 blood transfusions a day to help treat cancer and sickle-cell, during surgery and after childbirth. So, I’m really proud to be a part of it. I’m on team A negative, who when I last checked had the highest blood stocks (because we’re awesome). That means my blood can be used to treat people with A positive, A negative, AB positive and AB negative typing.

In fact, I would urge you, if you can, to give blood. The NHSBTS hands out all sorts of freebies for giving blood, and you get video-game-style achievements for hitting certain targets. That’s a reward system I can get behind.

However, as of late I’ve been trying to change my details from female to male. Which puts me in a rather difficult situation.

Men who have had oral or anal sex with men in the last 12 months, with or without protection, are banned from giving blood.

I am in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man. We use condoms, gloves, and dams. My last HIV test was less than a month ago. In short, we practice some of the safest sex you’ll see outside convents.

Meanwhile, I had a friend who went three sexual partners without getting any kind of STD check, and had unprotected oral sex with at least two of them.

Her blood is fine and dandy. Mine is a biohazard.

I understand the theory. Statistically speaking, men who have sex with men are at higher risk of blood-borne STDs, and sometimes these can take a while to become detectable. However, in 2013 in the UK, less than 50% of new HIV infections in the UK were due to men having sex with other men.

The majority of those other cases? 36% were heterosexuals who contracted HIV from having sex with other heterosexuals.

In fact, I’m going to break down the numbers.

Year MSM Straights Drug users Mother-to-infant Other
2013 2947 (49.1%) 2135 (35.6%) 112 (1.9%) 83 (1.4%) 16 (0.3%)
2012 3037 (48.6%) 2569 (44.1%) 113 (1.8%) 77 (1.2%) 18 (0.3%)
2011 2839 (46.0%) 2815 (45.6%) 131 (2.1%) 105 (1.7%) 11 (0.2%)

You can prove anything you like with statistics. In fact, I chose these three years without looking at the data because I didn’t want to skew it. However, if intravenous drug users, who make up around about 2% of new HIV cases, are banned from giving blood for life, why on earth are straight people who have sex allowed?

I’m not arguing about IV drug users though. I’m arguing about responsible men who just happen to have sex with other men. My point is that although people pretend the blood ban is all about statistics, it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at them.

In fact, oral sex (which I am not allowed to give blood after having) has a lower rate of transmitting HIV and Hep B than penis-in-vagina sex (which I can do with a different person every night unprotected and still be good to go).

Men who have sex with men do have disproportionately high rates of blood-borne STDs, it’s true. But you know what would help with that? Regular screening and interaction with healthcare services. Two things you get by becoming a blood donor.

Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems, has proposed the Blood Donor (Equality) Bill which is currently making its way through Parliament. However, until it does, I, and thousands of others, have been put in a difficult position: stop giving blood, or give up the good stuff.