A sperm bank for HIV-positive sperm donors has opened in New Zealand, and one of the reasons for its creation is to help reduce the stigma of being HIV-positive.
As one of the HIV-positive donors, Damien Rule-Neal, told The Guardian, “Being able to help others on their journey is so rewarding, but I also want to show the world that life doesn’t stop post-diagnosis and help to remove the stigma.”
Rule-Neal was diagnosed with HIV in 1999 and the virus apparently is undetectable now in his body. He is married and has two children and three grandchildren.
"We've got the science behind it to say that medication makes you untransmittable," Rule-Neal told the BBC. "I've seen a lot of my female friends that have HIV go on to have children, it shows that science and medication have given us that ability back."
The new sperm bank, Sperm Positive, has three donors so far, including Rule-Neal. These donors have an undetectable viral load, which means "the amount of the virus in a person’s blood is so low that it cannot be detected by standard methods," reported The Guardian.
"Although this does not mean the HIV has been cured, it does mean that the treatment is working well," reported The Guardian, and the virus "cannot be passed on" at such low levels, "even through sex without a condom or childbirth."
Sperm Positive is not a fertility clinic. But for HIV-positive people who want to try to pass on life, the sperm bank will refer them to fertility clinics.
"The online sperm bank said it will be made clear to people looking for a donor that they have HIV but are on effective treatment and so cannot pass the virus on," said The Guardian.
Sperm Positive was established by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Positive Women Inc., and Body Positive.
Commenting on the new bank, Dr. Mark Thomas, an infectious diseases doctor, said, “Stigma can lead to inconsistent taking of medicines, and result in much less effective treatment of HIV, and risk of transmitting HIV."
“Fear of stigma and discrimination can stop people at risk from getting tested, and those living with HIV from accessing treatment and support," he added. Sperm Positive is designed to help counter that stigma.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Gay and bisexual men are the population most affected by HIV. In 2017, gay and bisexual men accounted for 66% (25,748) of all HIV diagnoses and 82% of diagnoses among males."
The CDC also reports that, "In the United States, HIV is spread mainly by
- "Having anal or vaginal sex with someone who has HIV without using a condom or taking medicines to prevent or treat HIV.
- "For the HIV-negative partner, receptive anal sex (bottoming) is the highest-risk sexual behavior, but you can also get HIV from insertive anal sex (topping).
- "Either partner can get HIV through vaginal sex, though it is less risky for getting HIV than receptive anal sex.
- "Sharing needles or syringes, rinse water, or other equipment (works) used to prepare drugs for injection with someone who has HIV. HIV can live in a used needle up to 42 days depending on temperature and other factors."
In addition, the CDC warns that people can get HIV through oral sex, although the risk is much lower than with anal sex. There is also the risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases (STDS).
"You can get other STDs from oral sex," says the CDC. "And, if you get feces in your mouth during anilingus, you can get hepatitis A and B, parasites like Giardia, and bacteria like Shigella, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli."