“California Lowers Penalty for Knowingly Exposing Partners to HIV,” read CNN’s headline about the passing of SB 293. The Los Angeles Times‘ headline, “Knowingly Exposing Others to HIV Will No Longer Be a Felony in California,” was no better.
While these headlines are technically correct, they are also misleading and contradictory to the true intentions of the bill. Yes, SB 293 does reduce the “crime” of knowingly transmitting or attempting to transmit HIV, dropping it from a felony to a misdemeanor (bringing it in line with penalties for willful exposure to other sexually transmitted infections), but that is just one part of it. The bill’s primary goal is to address several outdated laws and sentences that were created over 30 years ago, at the height of stigma and ignorance around HIV.
— “Media Fumbles HIV Decriminalization Bill,” Plus Magazine
Those laws and sentences are called “HIV criminalization laws.” Passed thirty years ago, they do not reflect current medical advancements in HIV care and prevention. Most people at the forefront of HIV activism consider them harmful and outdated.
These laws prosecute HIV-positive individuals for acts of consensual sex, regardless of condom use, along with spitting and biting. They are built on the underlying notion that blood, saliva, and semen are “biological weapons” as dangerous as firearms. Last year, The Huffington Post reported that between 2008 and 2015, there were at least 226 reported cases that either directly or indirectly deemed the potential and unlikely transmission of HIV a crime. That number rose to at least 279 by the end of 2016.
These laws were established when gay men were largely seen as social miscreants bent on spreading their virus through hedonic lifestyles — threatening the health of good, God-fearing Americans in the process. They were put in place when little was known about HIV. We know more about HIV now, and we’ve trashed the evil notion that queer men and trans women of color (populations still most affected by HIV in the U.S.) are willingly generating its spread. AIDS wiped out a generation of our forebears.
These laws make the punishment for unintentional, accidental, or consensual HIV infection rather severe. They regurgitate and prolong harmful notions about men who have sex with men and queer people of color. And because of the heavy stigma these laws perpetuate, they dissuade people from getting tested. Many would rather live in ignorance than wear a descriptor with heavy social stigma attached to it — and potential legal ramifications at their throat. But living (and fucking) in ignorance is the reason HIV is still spreading. When you’re not on medication, your virus is transmittable. When you actively treat your virus with medication, it isn’t. The goal of medication is to make HIV-positive people undetectable. Undetectable equals untransmittable.
The law in California was passed to fight stigma and encourage people to get tested. More laws like this need to be passed if there’s any hope of curtailing the spread.
None of this should come as a surprise. You’ve heard the slut-shaming that comes with HIV, and may have participated in some of this slut-shaming yourself.
A common misconception about HIV-positive people is that we are reckless sluts who “do it to ourselves.” I can’t tell you how many guys have asked me, “How’d you get it?” with that juicy, excited look, hoping to hear some sordid story, only to learn that I got infected the same way most people get infected — being a dumb kid, playing around, not using a condom, and assuming nothing bad would happen.
HIV terrifies people. That terror makes us want to blame the infected, to try and find fault in our lives and actions that made us sick. That, my friend, is stigma.
A conservative lawmaker in Atlanta (where HIV is still spreading at an epidemic rate) recently suggested quarantining people with HIV. This harmful, terrifying idea hasn’t been proposed since the 80’s, at the height of AIDS panic.
The California law is a good thing. Click here to read accurate coverage of the law and its intended purpose.
Now, on to bugchasing.
Readers: Bugchasing is the practice of HIV-negative people seeking sex with HIV-positive people for the purpose of catching HIV (the “bug”). “Giftgivers” or “gifters” are HIV-positive people who fuck bugchasers in order to infect them.
I honestly can’t say how the thrill in any fetish evolves. If you’re into fisting, does the thrill become something else when you finally get a hand in your butt? Nope. A bugchaser probably thinks bugchasing is hot even after he seroconverts (gets HIV).
After catching the bug, the fetish may change. It may turn into an erotic practice of helping other bugchasers catch it. In the beginning, my fisting fetish was entirely about my body. Now that I’ve advanced a bit, my fetish has turned outside of me, to other bodies, and to the larger fisting community. I want to put my hand in other butts, and find more people to play with. So while I can’t say for sure, bugchasing may be similar. I really don’t know. I’m not a bugchaser or gifter. You’d have to ask someone who is.
That may be harder than you think. Nearly every person I talked to when writing this said they think bugchasing is an exaggerated phenomenon generated by AIDS panic — a rarity that may have been bolstered by rare real-life cases.
Nearly all my friends view bugchasers as mythical bogeymen meant to demonize HIV-positive people by blaming them for their own illness — an extension of the pozphobic “you did it to yourself” concept.
I disagree. Most people I talked to are not as kinky as I am, and are not HIV-positive. If I polled kinksters, poz guys, gay men into hardcore group sex, and guys like me who enjoy bareback sex parties, I think I would see a different consensus. Because I’m poz, very sexually active, and very kinky, I likely draw a higher number of bugchasers than the average gay/bi man, so my perspective may also be skewed.
I have been positive for five years and have been asked by countless guys (via app and in-person) to poz them, to infect them with my “toxic” seed, and so on. I have always refused because a) I don’t want to go to jail (because of HIV criminalization laws), and b) my seed isn’t toxic. I’m on medication and undetectable, which means I’m unable to transmit the virus. When I tell bugchasers that, they tend to lose interest pretty quickly. They don’t want to get bred by someone fighting the virus with medication, because the medication renders the virus untransmittable. (I’ll repeat this as often as I can: undetectable = untransmittable.)
The only bugchasers I know are men who have sex with men. They are into a heavily tabooed, deeply frowned-upon fetish. As such, they are more likely to find playmates in the kind of people I play with, and I am more likely to encounter them in the kind of sex I like. At a bareback sex party, it’s hard to know who’s a chaser, who’s poz, who’s neg, who’s undetectable, and who isn’t — and that’s the point. Nobody wants to know which one you are. No one cares. Being there, you assume the risk that someone present may be there to spread HIV — or catch it.
If bugchasing is more myth than fact, it would make sense. Bugchasing easily ties into the myth that HIV-positive people are sex-crazed maniacs. But I believe bugchasing is more fact than myth — more so than most people want to believe. I say that because I’ve encountered it a lot, and because I can understand bugchasing as a fetish.
It’s easy for me to see the erotic nature of tabooed sex. Bugchasing is one of the most frowned-upon fetishes — that alone can make it exciting and intense. I understand how shame gets eroticized, how fear makes sex hot. I’ve enjoyed risky sex because it’s risky, tabooed sex because it’s tabooed.
I started playing bare after getting HIV, and had never heard of bugchasing or gifting until after I became positive, at which point the whole idea is rather moot. But playing bare as a poz man, I’ve been in many sexual situations where I’ve invited other sexually transmitted infections — and have gotten them. When you’re poz, a bareback sex party is still hot on some level because of its built-in risk — risk that you might catch everything from chlamydia to syphilis. That risk can amp up the sex, turn it into a Russian roulette of danger and thrill. That makes sense to me. It’s not a massive jump from eroticizing risk to eroticizing what the risk invariably leads to — which, in the case of bugchasing, is a specific infection.
I’ll confess further: I’ve masturbated to bugchasing porn. If I have, so have countless others. And if bugchasing porn is widely available (it is), more people are into it than my friends think.
Bugchasing is not an established scene in kink. You seem to think it is, and that’s not true. Kinksters — the crowd at your local leather bar — will respond strongly, perhaps even angrily, to the idea that bugchasing is a kink scene. Many, if not most, consider it a mental illness, a form of self-harm.
Kinky sex must pass SSC (safe, sane, and consensual) and RACK (risk-aware consensual kink) to be considered acceptable and healthy. While I have a hard time saying for certain that bugchasing doesn’t pass RACK, I know most kinky people consider bugchasing an unhealthy and dangerous fetish at best, one that shouldn’t be indulged.
We have these guidelines — SSC and RACK — to act as the dividing line between the things we do, the acceptable fetishes, and the many unhealthy, harmful fetishes you’re not allowed to do, because they aren’t safe. Most people consider bugchasing on that list.
The leather community was among the first to mobilize against AIDS, so while we generally welcome extreme sex acts, bugchasing is a step too far for most of us. Many of us have lost lovers and mentors to AIDS. For us, HIV is a personal and painful thing, something hard to eroticize, and offensive to do so.
2. within the community as a whole, is it frowned upon to poz someone without their knowledge or consent, or is it for the most part kept to chasers coming to the infected (I’m not sure the community name for this sorry) directly?
Pozzing someone without their consent is not the same as gifting. To my understanding, gifters help pozzers in their fetish to achieve their goal. This is done consensually and intentionally. If infection happens, it’s intended by both/all parties involved.
Stealthing (cumming in someone’s ass without their consent) and intentionally attempting to give someone HIV without their knowledge is something else, and you won’t find many who will argue that it is acceptable. Sure, stealthing may be a hot fantasy (I’ve jacked off to stealthing porn too) but attempting to give someone HIV without their knowledge or consent is one of the most frowned-upon, illegal, cruel things you can do to someone.
If word got out that someone in our community was doing that, he’d get shunned and reported to the authorities. (Just a nitpick particular: He’d have to be detectable and therefore not taking medication in order to do this, and most HIV-positive guys I know are on meds.)
The line between deceiving someone into infection and two people consensually engaging in sex to produce a desired result may seem arbitrary, but the major difference between the two is consent. Like all kinky people, I take consent seriously. Consent is a hard line. You can’t cross it. I can condone most things as long as they’re done consensually, even bugchasing. Doing something without someone’s consent is assault. Assault isn’t kink.
You ask: What about tops who are HIV-positive and not on medication (who are infectious) who go to sex clubs and fuck guys bare without telling them they have transmittable HIV? I say: What about bottoms who willingly take their loads — who climb into slings and bend over in anonymous backrooms? These situations are examples of situational, nonverbal consent. Being there, you consent to these activities and assume risk. Consent is present. No one forces you to go to a sex club and take loads.
I need to say this: If we’re going to talk about social bogeymen, I believe the guy who goes around recreationally lying and infecting others is more myth than fact. Sure, he exists, but right-wing media would have us believe that most HIV-positive men are this guy — that we routinely deceive HIV-negative guys into taking our “toxic” loads and enjoy infecting others. That’s not true. We’re not monsters.
Here’s the reality: Most people who infect others don’t know they have HIV. Their virus is spread accidentally, unintentionally.
Here’s some medical info. You can believe you’re HIV-negative for some time, and even read negative on an HIV test, while having transmittable HIV. I did. I tested negative one month, positive the next. I had transmittable HIV the first time I took the test, just not “enough” in my blood to trigger the test.
You have to have a certain amount of HIV in your blood to test positive. It may take weeks or months for HIV to replicate itself enough to get to this point. During this time, you may have no symptoms, but you are still able to transmit the virus. A frightening number of HIV-positive people don’t know they have it. This is how HIV is spread. This is why laws like the one passed in California are important. Every sexually active person needs to get tested — regardless if they have symptoms.
3. in other risk centered kink there’s usually a defined dominant/submissive bond. are the roles defined like that with bug chasing? I guess what I’m asking is how the encounters work. is it better if things are kept casual or do relationships form between the chaser and the infected person?
You’re confused about what bugchasing is. It’s not a scene in kink. Not every kink scene has a dominant/submissive dynamic, and bugchasing isn’t considered an established kink. It’s hard to even say there’s a bugchasing community.
Bugchasing is so stigmatized, so frowned-upon, that the community of guys into it is effectively invisible. You’d have to scour chat rooms and websites like Bareback Real Time and hunt through anonymous profiles seeking seed parties (sex parties arranged around an HIV-negative bottom taking as many loads as possible from infectious tops) to find the guys who share this fetish. It stays in the dark, underground, nameless and anonymous, because of its massive taboo.
I may have several friends into bugchasing, but they won’t come forward, and I’ll never know about their fetish, because of how strongly people respond to the concept of bugchasing, how much ire and revulsion it generates.
And this is unfortunate, because the only way we’re ever going to understand bugchasing is if we give bugchasers adequate space to come forward without judgement — to raise their hands and say, “Hey, yeah, I’m into this.”
I don’t want to pathologize them, demonize them, or shame them. I don’t think they’re sick or evil. I think they have a fetish that will give them a virus, and if they don’t treat that virus once they have it, they’ll die. I want to encourage bugchasers to get on medication after they’re HIV-positive and push them to care for their illness as I do.
If anyone reading this is a bugchaser, you have a nonjudgemtnal source of information in me. I’m happy to talk to you about medication. Life on the other side of HIV is generally the same as life before it, except now there’s a plus sign next to my name. I’m able to live this life because of meds.
4. this question might seem sillier compared to the others but it’s mostly cause I’ve never seen too much about it. I’m sure there are people who get off on infecting others, much as how with pregnancy fetishes there’s the thrill of getting the person pregnant, but within that group are there bragging rights about infecting x number of people? I’m just kind of curious about this through the eyes of someone who has HIV.
Once again, you’re confusing chaser-gifter encounters with the practice of giving someone HIV without their consent. They’re not the same. I don’t know anyone who brags about hurting others, and I don’t want to.
I have the feeling you’re asking me these questions “as someone with HIV” because you assume I got the virus through bugchasing, which is not true — or you assume, as many do, that the bugchasing community and the HIV-positive community are the same.
The percentage of HIV-positive people who seroconvert as a result of intentionally seeking the virus is small in comparison to the number of people who get it unintentionally. It’s impossible to say how small, since I don’t think anyone is keeping tabs of the bugchasing phenomenon.
5. following up with a bit more of a serious question. it might also be kind of personal so how you answer is up to you. how does the initial setup work? is it an uncomfortable thing at first? I guess like, in the general sense, is there parts of it that are weird? I guess it’d make sense if there were, there is in any other kink.
I think you assume I got HIV through bugchasing. This would only be a “personal” question for me if you assumed that was the case. I wasn’t chasing when I got HIV, so I can’t say firsthand how these encounters happen, but use what you know about sex. You can probably guess how they happen.
Yes, I am kinky and have many fetishes. Yes, I have HIV. Yes, I love taking loads in the ass. But none of these facts mean I was seeking HIV. Truth be told, I was using condoms most of the time. I caught it on one of the rare times I didn’t. It only takes once.
I can make an educated guess on how these encounters work — a guess that comes from years seeking sex online, years of staying up too late clicking through apps, cruising countless profiles, sending messages and pics. These setups happen the same way sex happens everywhere else — a ping on your phone, a casual message, sent through one of countless apps, websites, and so on.
If you’re asking me these questions because you’re interested in bugchasing — because you also have jacked off to bugchasing porn — I don’t think there’s much I can say to change what you’re into. To everyone else, everyone reading this with horror, try, for a minute, to humanize it.
There’s something beautiful and powerful (and, yes, sexy) in the idea of being “marked,” converted, labelled as one of a tribe. Our most fervent religious impulse connects to this thing in us. Concepts of ascension through suffering, blood pacts, and unification through exchange are not new ideas. Every gay man in his own way is a soldier craving the battalion, the blood and sweat of his brothers. Uprooted from our families and often isolated in our communities, we flock to circuit parties and metro areas for sex and communion, to drink the fountain of belonging, to bask in our hypersexual fraternity.
There’s an eroticism to ruin. If we can’t acknowledge that — if we can’t confess the allure of giving up self-concern and freeing ourselves to the night — then we’ll never understand those who do.
When I was HIV-negative, I lived in paralyzing fear of HIV. I wanted to get gang-fucked by strangers, but I couldn’t. I didn’t dare. Now that I’m HIV-positive and undetectable, I do the things I wanted to do then. If I was being as honest as possible, I would say I’m grateful for the opportunity to do so — grateful for the raw experience of fucking freely with men that have enriched my life — and grateful for the lessons HIV have taught me. I don’t know why someone would want HIV, as the road hasn’t been easy. But I can understand why someone might want the things they perceive come with it.
HIV is not a cakewalk. You need to take meds every day. Your timeline for certain diseases gets shortened. Your risk for certain cancers increases. People with longterm HIV have higher chance of heart problems, higher rates of early dementia.
Guys will turn you down, judge you, and fear your status. If you’re willing to be satisfied with PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a once-daily medication that prevents HIV transmission) and keep fucking like a pig while protecting yourself from HIV, do it. But if you must fulfill your fetish and catch the bug, treat it.
Are you a bugchaser? That’s OK — let’s talk about it.