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Giving blood: one of the many benefits of having a vagina.

July 16, 2010

Have you ever had sex with a man? Even once? Lucky you, you coy fox. Unfortunately your carnal actions have denied the nation from enjoying the gift of that other, more precious, bodily fluid: the blood in your veins.

But you used a condom? Regularly test negative for HIV? Have been in a monogamous relationship for the past 51 years? Sorry. Your intimate proximity to dick has made your blood too potentially tainted for the US to consider accepting a generous donation of your platelets and plasma.

Unless, that is, you have a vagina.

Who says the patriarchy can’t toss the ladies a bone when it wants?

Don't ask, don't tell?

The FDA Advisory Committee on Blood, Safety and Availability met this past June to re-evaluate the lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men (MSM in demographic and craigslist parlance). The AABB, America’s Blood Centers, and American Red Cross asked that it be lifted. Sixteen US senators asked that it be lifted. The former chair of the self-same advisory committee asked that it be lifted.

But the committee pruded out and cock-blocked changing the rules.

Statistical calculations are neutral. Interpretations, not so much. How the FDA is slicing the demographics of risk is not unlike how state legislatures slice the demographics of voting districts. Lump these neighborhoods, remove those, pretty soon you’ve gerrymandered the electorate into a politically expedient geography of choice.

The FDA argues that with the prevalence of undetected HIV among MSM 15 times that of the general population, the burden of risk MSM would put on the nation’s blood supply is too great to justify the benefit. But the filter of what-is-the-sex-of-your-sex-partner is no less a construct than a filter of what-is-your-neighborhood, or what-is-the-color-of-your-skin. Which is to say, expedient, lazy, and scaffolded by bias. As argued in a recent Slate article, using this same slice/dice number-crunch approach would likely put black-skinned individuals’ HIV risk, when compared to white-skinned, at an similar burden to MSM/hetero .

But what should be obvious is that the risk is based on behavior, not sexual preference, certainly not skin color. Sex without a condom, with an prostitute, with partners who themselves engage in high-risk behavior, or even, for women, sex with an MSM: these are all behaviors that, for the straights, result in a reasonable deferral for blood donation for 12 months.

So go vanilla, wait a year, and they’ll take your het blood. Men: touch another man’s penis even once, though, and you can fuck off forever.

And we haven’t even touched on exceptions to the traditional cis gender binary. One day at a time, troublemaker.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of slice-and-dicing before people start to bleed.

Recommended reading:

Galarneau, Charlene. 2010. Blood Donation, Deferral, and Discrimination: FDA Donor Deferral Policy for Men Who Have Sex With Men. The American Journal of Bioethics. 10(2):29-39
DOI: 10.1080/15265160903487619

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2010 7:31 am

    “Sex without a condom, with an prostitute, with partners who themselves engage in high-risk behavior, or even, for women, sex with an MSM: these are all behaviors that result in a deferral for blood donation for 12 months for the straights.”

    Really? I’ve donated blood a bunch of times and I don’t think I’ve ever been asked about condoms, or prostitutes, or anything other than sex with IV drug users, Africans, and men who’ve slept with men. Seems to me you could be the riskiest-sex-having straight person out there and still donate every 56 days for the rest of your life. It’s quite dumb.

    • July 16, 2010 8:59 am

      The FDA has the donor questionnaire and flowchart that they distribute to blood banks linked at their site. You’re right that condom use is not screened for. Sex with “a prostitute or anyone else who takes money or drugs or other payment for sex” is supposed to be, though.

      I’d love to see what what type of screening questionnaire could get written if reducing unnecessary stigma, stereotyping, or inequitable risk distribution was an explicit charge.

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