Sexual behaviour-based screening questions: Understanding and mitigating donor discomfort

What is this research about?

Screening blood donors to determine their eligibility to donate is an important layer of safety within the blood system. To screen prospective donors, blood operators use a donor questionnaire (DQ) that asks questions about potential exposure to infections that could be transmitted via transfusion to recipients. With the current DQ used in Canada, men are deferred from donating blood for three months since the date of their last sexual contact with a man. This screening approach has been criticized for being discriminatory. Despite incremental changes in recent years, these time-based donor eligibility criteria still exclude many sexually active gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM), including some trans, non-binary and other gender diverse people, and do not consider an individual donor’s risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections, regardless of sexual orientation. In late 2021, Canadian Blood Services filed a proposal with its regulator, Health Canada, to use an alternative approach to screen donors. If approved, questions that ask about men having sex with men will be replaced with gender neutral, sexual behaviour-based screening questions asked of all donors. This study assessed the approach’s feasibility by exploring: 

  1. How donors understand proposed alternative sexual behaviour-based screening questions; 
  2. How acceptable they think the questions are; and 
  3. How comfortable they feel answering them.  
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