Men who have sex with men


Today, men are eligible to give blood if it has been more than three months since their last sexual contact with a man. 

Canadian Blood Services’ goal is to remove the current waiting period for men who have sex with men and use sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors instead. To this end, we intend to make a submission recommending this change to Health Canada, our regulator, by the end of 2021.  

Evolving eligibility criteria for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men

Frequently asked questions

What is Canada’s current eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men (MSM)?

As of June 3, 2019, men are eligible to give blood if it has been more than three months since their last sexual contact with a man, and they meet all other eligibility criteria for donation. 

Canadian Blood Services’ goal is to remove the current waiting period for men who have sex with men and use sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors instead. To this end, we intend to make a submission recommending this change to Health Canada, our regulator, by the end of 2021. 

How do you respond to the comment that the deferral of men who have sex with men is “not based on science”?

As a blood operator, Canadian Blood Services recognizes that few blood donor criterion are as contentious as the eligibility criteria for men who have sex with men. We understand that individuals and groups that are not eligible sometimes take the criteria very personally, but that is not the intent. We empathize with all those who for various reasons are not able to donate. While we are committed to being as minimally restrictive as possible that commitment must be balanced with ensuring the safety of the blood supply. This responsibility for blood safety includes minimizing the risk of any infection being transmitted through the blood system to an already vulnerable patient.

All of the eligibility criteria used to screen donors is part of a science-based, multi-tiered safety system that helps save patient lives.

At the outset of every blood donation, donors are screened to assess whether they are eligible. The screening involves answering an extensive list of questions to ensure the safety of both the donor and the patient who will receive the blood products. And still, despite: 1) rigorous adherence to testing for known pathogens, 2) regular surveillance and 3) incorporation of advances in both testing and detection, there isn’t a way to anticipate pathogen mutations or other unknown risks to our system.

As new data and evidence is collected, it becomes part of a body of research used to inform recommendations and decisions about donation criteria, collection methods, equipment used, storage, transportation and all else in-between. Ultimately it is the patients who bear the risk of exposure to infection, and it is for patients that we must ensure that science-based evidence is applied in all decision-making including donor eligibility criteria.

Why does Canada’s approach differ from that of other countries in terms of MSM eligibility criteria?

Canada decided on the current waiting period for men who have sex with men, based on several factors. Among those are donor and population-based screening considerations specific to the Canadian context, which is different from that of other countries.  

Because the patterns, causes and effects of HIV differ by country, there is no international scientific consensus on an optimal deferral period for men who have sex with men. Some European countries still have lifetime bans on blood donations from men who have sex with men, while others have moved to a one-year deferral. For example, the United States and Australia have reduced their waiting periods to one year.  Some blood centres in Spain and Italy have taken the approach of asking about safe sex practices or monogamy, but those countries have different blood systems than Canada’s. In those countries, physicians interview individual donors and may be able to perform individual health assessments. It should be noted, however, that the rate of donors with HIV-positive test results in those countries is more than 10 times higher than in Canada. 

What evidence do you have that it is safe to reduce the criteria to 3 months?

The previous eligibility change, which was implemented in 2016, was an incremental measure based on the evidence available at the time. The data collected and analyzed over the period since 2016 (when the previous time-based eligibility change came into effect), shows that no significant risk was introduced into the system. The proposed further reduction to the waiting period represents the next available step forward in updating our blood donation criteria. As we have collected data and built an appropriate body of evidence-based research, we have evolved the eligibility criteria accordingly. This is the approach we will continue to take. 

Isn’t all blood tested?

We test every donation for several infectious diseases, including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. While our technology is sophisticated, there is a brief period shortly after infection when HIV is not detectable. If an individual were to donate blood during this "window period" in the early stages of infection, our testing process would not detect the virus and that donation would be infectious to a patient.   

Despite a multi-tiered safety system designed to protect patients, which includes: 1) rigorous adherence to testing for known pathogens, 2) regular surveillance and 3) incorporation of advances in both testing and detection, there isn’t a way to anticipate pathogen mutations or other unknown risks to our system. As new data and evidence is collected, it becomes part of a body of research used to inform recommendations and decisions about donation criteria, collection methods, equipment used, storage, transportation and all else in-between. Ultimately it is the patients who bear the risk of exposure to infection, and it for patients that we must ensure that science-based evidence is applied in all decision-making including donor eligibility criteria.  

What’s next, when can you make additional changes?

Canadian Blood Services’ goal is to remove the current waiting period for men who have sex with men and use sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors instead. To this end, we intend to make a submission recommending this change to Health Canada, our regulator, by the end of 2021.  

Our criteria have always been intended to protect the safety of the blood system while being as minimally restrictive as possible. We believe we now have the evidence needed to make a request for change with our regulator, Health Canada, and that our proposed approach will preserve the safety of the blood supply. 

Why can we not just adopt approaches used in other countries, such as Spain and Italy, rather than doing our own research?

Because the patterns, causes and effects of HIV differ by country, there is no international scientific consensus on an optimal eligibility criterion for MSM. Some European countries have instituted lifetime bans on blood donations from MSM, others such as the U.S. and Australia use waiting periods like we do currently, and some blood centres in Spain and Italy have taken the approach of asking about safe sex practices or monogamy, but those countries have different blood systems than Canada’s. In those countries, physicians interview individual donors and may be able to perform individual health assessments. It should be noted, however, that the rate of donors with HIV-positive test results in those countries is more than 10 times higher than in Canada.

The model we are proposing to Health Canada in our upcoming submission is a different approach, based on the work done in the U.K. The evidence we have through the MSM Research Program, as well as findings from the international research community, epidemiological data and our own extensive modelling support the proposed change. The safety of Canada’s blood supply will always be paramount for Canadian Blood Services. We have more evidence than ever before indicating this change will not compromise the safety or adequacy of the blood supply. 

Why is screening necessary, shouldn’t everyone who wants to contribute be able to donate?

Canadian patients depend on us to provide a safe, secure and cost-effective blood system that meets their full range of health-care needs. Our screening practices are in place to protect both patients and donors. All donors are subject to the same eligibility criteria. These criteria ensure that we accept donations only from individuals from whom it is safe for patients to receive blood. To protect the safety of patients who rely on blood products for treatment, we often have to make difficult decisions, based primarily on scientific evidence of risk, about who can and cannot donate blood.

Donating blood isn’t the only way to support patients. There are many ways that those who may not be eligible to give blood can work with us to make a valuable contribution to patients in need, such as financial donations, by registering as an organ and tissue and/or as a stem cell donor. 

Are there any conditions that make it possible for MSM donate blood?

Currently, in addition to meeting all other donor eligibility criteria (at the time of screening), men are eligible to donate blood if their last sexual contact with a man (anal or oral sexual contact) was three months before. In addition, MSM who live in the Vancouver area are eligible to donate blood for important research and development projects at our Network Centre for Applied Development (netCAD). 

What is the historical context for Canada’s blood donation eligibility criteria for MSM?

An indefinite deferral for men who had had sex with another man (even once since 1977) was instituted in the United States in the early 1980s, before the virus that causes AIDS was identified and when men who have sex with men were noted to be a particularly high-risk group. Being solely responsible for Canada’s blood supply at that time, the Canadian Red Cross Society followed suit. This criterion was in place until July 2013, when both Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec reduced the eligibility criteria from an indefinite deferral to a five year waiting period following sexual contact with another man. While this change allowed only a small percentage of MSM to donate blood, it was still significant as it was the first update to Canada’s donor eligibility criteria for MSM since the criteria was implemented more than 35 years ago. All changes to screening practices were made after an extensive review of scientific and epidemiologic evidence. Equally important was the consultation with high-interest groups, including patient groups representing heavy users of blood and blood products as well as members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ+) community groups. Many of these organizations sent letters supporting the policy changes to Health Canada.

Why not ask about safe sex practices or monogamy instead of making all MSM wait three months before donating blood?

Our goal is to remove the current waiting period specific to men who have sex with men and use sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors and collection types instead. To this end, we intend to make a submission recommending this change to Health Canada, our regulator, this fall. Our upcoming submission to Health Canada will propose screening all donors, regardless of their gender or that of their sexual partners, according to the risk associated with their sexual behaviour.

How many more donors in Canada will be eligible now that the eligibility criteria for MSM has been reduced from one year to three months?

We don’t have an estimated number because it isn’t something we have a way of tracking. Engaging new donors is not the main reason for making this particular change. Our goal is to maintain the safety of the blood supply while being as minimally restrictive as possible.

Can MSM donate organs or stem cells?

Regulations for organ and stem cell donations are different than those for blood donation. MSM can register to become organ donors through their provincial organ donation registry. Organ and tissue donors are asked questions on topics ranging from their general health to specific risk behaviours. Each case is assessed in consultation with the attending physician and based on patient consent. To find out more about organ donation, visit the Organs and Tissues section of our website.

MSM who are between the ages of 17 and 35 can also join the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry. Similarly, to organ donations, stem cell matches require input from an attending physician as well as patient consent. To find out more about stem cell donation, visit the Stem Cells section of our website.

Can MSM donate source plasma?

Currently, sexually active MSM can donate source plasma at our collection centres in Calgary, Alta. and London, Ont. if they have not had a new sexual partner in the last three months, and if their partner has not had sex with another partner, and they meet all other eligibility criteria.  Learn more about the gbMSM Plasma Program

Can women who have sex with MSM donate blood?

If a woman has had sexual contact with a man who has had sex with a man in the last year, she must wait three months from last sexual contact before donating blood. 

Why do the same rules not apply for women who have sex with women?

Women who have sex with women are not in a high-risk group for HIV, which is why they are eligible to donate blood without a waiting period as long as they meet all other criteria.

What about trans  individuals?

Currently, trans donors are asked MSM risk questions based on their anatomical sex (genitalia) at the time of donation. Donors who have not had lower gender affirming surgery are screened using questions based on their sex assigned at birth, and are eligible to donate or are deferred based on these criteria. Donors who have had lower gender affirming surgery are deferred from donating blood for three months after their surgery. After the three months, donors will be screened using questions based on their affirmed gender. 

We really don’t want to have to keep asking trans people about their genitalia. We know it can cause pain. Our upcoming submission to Health Canada, if approved, will let us stop screening in this way. 

What was Health Canada’s role in changing the eligibility criteria for MSM?

Health Canada is the regulator of Canada’s blood system. Health Canada alone has the authority to approve changes to donor selection criteria that impact human safety or the safety of blood. For Canadian Blood Services to apply to make a change, we must be able to provide evidence that the proposed change will not compromise safety.

Is this legal? Isn’t it a person’s right the give blood?

In 2010, the Ontario Superior Court found that blood donation is a gift, not a right, and that Canadian Blood Services’ donor eligibility criteria for MSM are not discriminatory based on sexual orientation, but rather are based on epidemiology and safety considerations. However, we do understand that these criteria may cause strong feelings and emphasize that it is not intended as a negative reflection on any one individual. 

Research resources webpage


Two research programs are providing Canadian evidence critical to support submissions to the regulator to evolve eligibility criteria.

Evolving eligibility criteria for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men


As we prepare a new submission to our regulator to remove the current criteria for gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, learn where we’ve been, where we’re going, and the next steps we’re taking to get there.  

Knowledge Synthesis Interim Report


At a forum last fall, researchers funded by the MSM Research Program presented their interim results and engaged in open dialogue with attendees on their potential impact.

MSM stakeholder dialogue 2018 - Summary report


Consultation with stakeholders on reassessment / change submission for men who have sex with men (MSM) donor eligibility criteria.

MSM Research Grant Program


Second funding competition made available for MSM research grant program

Letters of support


Letters from community groups in support of the latest submission to Health Canada for changes to donation criteria

Key facts


A summary of key facts about the current eligibility criteria

Access more MSM news and media resources


Access more MSM news and media resources