I must be getting old (or maybe I’m not old enough): I just read about something called “bug-chasing” which, if I read it correctly, I can’t give credence to in a modern context. What is it exactly, and, related to this, what is a “bug-chasing party?” Is this a real fetish or is someone pulling my leg?
I first heard about the bugchasing phenomena myself about 10 years ago with the same sort of reaction you are having now. I am afraid to report that bugchasing is real, is still alive and well, as is a serious matter of grave concern to our community. Bugchasing refers to the activity of HIV-negative individuals purposely engaging in unprotected sexual activity with HIV-infected partners for the expressed purpose of becoming infected with the virus. The person desiring infectivity is called a “bugchaser,” and the compliant HIV-poz partner is known as the “giftgiver.”
The bugchaser often engages in such activity as the ultimate in risk-taking, dangerous and taboo sexual adventure, and eroticism. Others feel the risk of being infected with HIV is inevitable and just want to get it over with so they can (in their minds) feel free to engage in sex without future concern about infection. Sometimes there is an unconscious desire, perceived by a disturbance in rational thinking, to be connected with an elite group that holds the power of infectivity (life and death) over others through sex. Still others want to seroconvert in order to hold on to an HIV-poz boyfriend who may be struggling with the fear of infecting his partner.
The so-called giftgiver may be willing to engage in the bugchasing activity as the ultimate power play of sexual dominance. Others get involved as unconscious revenge to release the personal anger associated with their own shame, guilt, and frustration about being poz or feeling like “damaged goods.”
While many gay men bareback—engage in unprotected anal intercourse—bugchasers do so for the expressed purpose of putting themselves at risk for infection. Bareback behavior is always risky, but most barebackers do not actually seek out seroconversion.
A bugchasing party is a gathering of HIV-poz and HIV-neg men who engage in unprotected anal intercourse for the expressed purpose of spreading the virus. Various scenarios are possible, including having one HIV-neg man being penetrated by multiple HIV-poz men, or a sort of Russian Roulette, where there are a number of negative men and only one poz man who may have unprotected anal intercourse with several of the men but ultimately only ejaculates in one (or maybe two).
Obviously, bugchasing is a mental health problem with serious implications for all of us who wish to contain and minimize the human suffering associated with HIV infectivity. Safer sex practices do minimize risk of exposure, so the “inevitability” of infection is a completely bogus rationalization for engaging in bugchasing. Any bugchasers thinking that HIV is not a big deal because there are medications that are extending life need to talk to a few infected individuals who have to live on these meds.
Bugchasers and giftgivers alike who feel such a strong desire to engage in this high risk activity as a way to maximize sexual intensity, deal with HIV anxiety, retain a boyfriend or release anger, shame, self-hatred or frustration need to seek mental health care. It is NOT okay to purposely put yourself or others at serious risk of contracting a potentially life threatening virus.
Arlen Keith Leight, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and board certified clinical sexologist. He received his BA in psychology from The Johns Hopkins University, his MSW from The Catholic University of America, his psychodynamic psychotherapy training from The American University, and his Ph.D. from Maimonides University. Dr. Leight is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of Florida, Massachusetts and Washington, DC and is certified as a sex therapist, hypnotherapist and clinical supervisor for graduates working toward licensure.
Dr. Leight is a Diplomat of the American Board of Sexology and a member of National Association of Social Workers, American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Dr. Leight has been on the faculty at Florida Atlantic University where he has taught psychotherapy with families and groups, has taught at Catholic University and is currently in private practice in Wilton Manors, Florida.