What You Need To Know About Bug Chasing

Anonymous Question:

hey, beastly! I’m ******* and I had contacted you on Twitter about some bug chaser questions. I want to make it extremely clear that I am not looking to cast judgment, or make any accusations about the community whatsoever. my questions come from a place of genuine curiosity, and wanting a deeper understanding. kink is a very interesting thing to me, I want to understand as many of them as I can (the ones that have communities attached at least).
the reason I’m thinking about these now is mostly due to the recent law in California, where it’s now a misdemeanor to knowingly spread HIV to someone else. so with that backstory out of the way, on to the questions:
1. there is a part of me that understands this kink at face value, there’s the risk and potential for something dangerous and there’s a thrill involved in that. so my first question is about in the case of someone who is looking to get pozzed, what happens after that? is the fantasy fulfilled or does it become the new thrill to spread it to someone else? I can see how it’s a case by case basis, just wasn’t sure if you’ve seen one outcome more than the other.

 

First things first: You must understand why the law in California was passed. The law has nothing to do with bug chasing. I can understand where some confusion comes from since so many news outlets reported it poorly.

 

“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 The bill’s primary goal is to address several outdated laws and sentences that were created over 30 years ago, at the height of stigma and ignorance around HIV.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 implemented in the height of AIDS panic are commonly 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 very 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 seen by lawmakers (and most everyone else) as social miscreants hell-bent on spreading their virus through hedonic lifestyles — intentionally, willfully spreading HIV. We now know that most new HIV infections happen because people don’t know they have it. You can have transmittable HIV for months before showing any symptoms, during which time you may be unintentionally spreading it.

Despite this fact, these laws still prosecute and criminalize HIV-positive people, and the punishment for unintentional, accidental, or consensual HIV infection is rather severe. As a result, these laws generate fear of HIV — what some call “stigma.” This fear, this stigma, has an adverse effect on public health since it actually keeps people from going in to get tested. Since HIV is a legally punishable, stigmatized illness, why would you want proof that you have it if you suspect you might? That’s the reasoning that keeps many people from getting tested, which in turn worsens the spread of HIV. The law in California was passed to lessen HIV stigma, and by extension encourage more people to get tested.

Now, with that out of the way, I’ll move on to bug chasing.

For readers who may not know this, bug chasing is the practice of HIV-negative people seeking sex with HIV-positive people with the intention of getting HIV, or catching “the bug.” “Gift-givers” or “gifters” are HIV-positive people who fuck bug chasers 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? No. A bug chaser likely still thinks bug chasing 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 bug chasers catch it. Or the end goal may not be catching HIV at all. Many people, including many people I know, admit the hotness of the fantasy of bug chasing and do not actually want HIV. The risk and the danger are hot, but actually getting infected? Not so much.

Nearly every person I talked to when writing this said they think bug chasing is an exaggerated phenomenon generated by AIDS panic — a bogeyman meant to demonize those with HIV by blaming them for their own illness — an extension of the poz-phobic “you did it to yourself” idea.

I respectfully disagree. Most people I talked to are not as kinky as I am and are not HIV-positive. If I polled kinksters, HIV-positive gay guys, gay men into hardcore sex, and guys like me who exclusively bareback, I believe I would see a different consensus. I’ve been HIV-positive for five years and have been asked by countless guys (via hookup apps) to poz them, to infect them with my “toxic” seed, and so on. In my experience, bug chasing and bug chasers are very real.

The only bug chasers I know are men who have sex with men. Let me be clear: 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 when pursuing the kind of sex I enjoy. So my perspective on this matter may be skewed — I may encounter a higher number of bug chasers than the average gay man (even the average HIV-positive gay man).

As with many other sexual taboos, it’s easy for me to see the erotic nature of bug chasing. I understand how shame gets eroticized, how fear makes sex hot, and how riskiness is thrilling. I’ve enjoyed a lot of risky sex because it’s risky, and a lot of tabooed sex because it’s tabooed. But do I understand bug chasing from personal experience, and can I say for certain how (or if) the fetish evolves from one thing to another following an infection? No, I can’t, because I wasn’t chasing HIV when I got infected and only heard of bug chasing after I was already positive.

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?

What “community as a whole” are you referring to? Gay men? Among most gay men, both HIV-positive and HIV-negative, infecting someone without their consent is considered an evil, terrible thing to do. I’d go a step further and say that even most guys into bug-chasing as a fetish think infecting someone without their knowledge is pretty bad (besides being still very illegal). Bug chasers seek out guys who are knowingly HIV-positive and often ask them to try and infect them.

This has to be said: Someone can only spread HIV if they are not taking anti-HIV medication as prescribed, or not taking it at all. This means that finding someone who is knowingly HIV-positive and not on meds is difficult since most people in the U.S. start medication as soon as possible after getting a positive diagnosis. I did. When bug chasers ask me to infect them, I tell them that my viral load is undetectable thanks to the medication I’m taking, and an undetectable viral load means I am unable to transmit HIV. Most everyone I know who is HIV-positive is like me — diligently taking meds every day, and therefore not an ideal candidate for someone seeking HIV. This needs to be said, since you seem to be operating under the assumption that everyone with HIV is able to spread it, and/or willing to do so. 

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?

I’ve never, ever heard of bug chasing described as a dominant/submissive scene. I think you may be confused about what bug chasing is. It’s not an established scene in kink. Not every kink scene has a dominant/submissive dynamic, and bug chasing isn’t considered a kink — at least not one with a public, acknowledged community attached. At best, it’s considered a risky, harmful, and ethically problematic fetish. 

Bugchasing is so stigmatized, so frowned-upon, that the community of people into it is effectively invisible. You’d have to scour anonymous chat rooms and sex websites to find people who state outright that they’re bug chasers — which isn’t hard to do if you’re a horny gay man at home on a free night. 

I can’t say exactly how encounters work since I’ve never arranged one, but I do know that many guys enjoy seed parties or pozzing parties, which are gangbangs where a central bottom is fucked by as many men as possible (ideally some of whom are HIV-positive and not on medication) with the purpose of getting infected. I’ve gone to countless bareback sex parties where there may have been a bug chaser or two present, but he wasn’t wearing a neon sign saying “Hey! I’m a bug chaser,” so I can’t know for sure. If a pozzing party was described online as a normal bareback sex party then I very well may have been to one, but I didn’t do so knowingly. I’m not necessarily opposed to going to a pozzing party, but an ideal pozzing party is structured with multiple tops fucking an HIV-negative bottom, which wouldn’t be much fun for me or the other guys present. I’m already HIV-positive, and I’d want to be the bottom.

I’m sure some relationships have formed from chaser-gifter encounters, but again, that’s hard to say, since the community is effectively invisible. Again, it’s not a public, out-and-proud community of people in the same way that leather daddies and people into fisting are. I don’t know any couples that formed as a result of bug chasing (at least to my knowledge), but I’m sure they’re out there.

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. 

I’m sure some gifters in the chaser-gifter community brag about how many people they’ve infected, but again, since I’m not active in the community, I don’t know. The last line of that question is jumping out at me, and I don’t know how to address it. As someone with HIV, I’m not automatically part of the chaser-gifter community and don’t have an all-access pass. Assuming I do is to assume that most people with HIV were intentionally seeking HIV when they got it, which is far from the truth. It also assumes most HIV-positive people enjoy spreading it, which is also far from the truth.

This can’t be stressed enough: HIV is often spread unintentionally and accidentally by people who aren’t showing any symptoms (yet) and haven’t gotten tested. Sure, I think bug chasing is kind of hot, and have jacked off to bug chasing porn before, but generally speaking, I’m not in favor of the spread of HIV. My virus has killed too many wonderful, beautiful people who deserved more time. I’m actively fighting to see the end of AIDS, and I view the AIDS crisis as a political one that is exacerbated and worsened by non-scientific, unfounded assumptions that all HIV-positive people are chasers and gifters. 

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.

You are assuming I got HIV through bug chasing. This would only be a “personal” question if that was the case. As you hopefully know by now, you can have sex with someone who thinks they’re HIV-negative and tells you they’re HIV-negative — someone who hasn’t gone to get tested in a while and hasn’t experienced any symptoms — and get infected by them. And that’s undoubtedly what happened to me.

I don’t know who infected me, but I wasn’t going around asking guys to give me HIV. Like most people who test positive at 21, I was simply having sex, living my life, using condoms as often as I remembered to, and thinking I would be fine.

So I can’t say if there are uncomfortable parts of the initial encounter, since I’ve never had one, and haven’t sat down with someone into bug chasing to ask (although I would very much enjoy doing so). Bug chasing doesn’t scare me, and I offer myself as a safe space and willing playmate for anyone into bug chasing to reach out to, but I have no firsthand experience to answer your question with. As someone into many kinks, I can say that the first time you try anything is uncomfortable and strange.

There’s something powerful and sexy in the idea of being “marked,” converted, labeled as one of a tribe. Our most fervent religious impulses connect us to this idea that becoming part of a populace is a worthwhile and necessary human experience. Religious concepts of ascension through suffering, blood pacts, and unification through the exchange of one’s body are ancient ideas, so one could say that bug chasing has a very old precedent literally in the Last Supper, the Eucharist, and the ascension of Christ.

On top of that, there’s an eroticism to self-ruin. If we can’t acknowledge that — if we can’t confess the allure of giving up self-concern and freeing ourselves to destruction — then we’ll never understand many of our human impulses to destroy, take certain drugs, and so on. If HIV is equated to death, as it has been for the last fifty years, then we can expect many people who seek death to seek this illness — an illness which, with modern medicine, is no longer a terminal sentence.

All this is to say that, although I’ve never participated in bug chasing scenes and am therefore unable to answer your questions as thoroughly as you’d like, I can understand bug chasing, since it’s not outside the realm of my fantasy and certainly not far removed from the sex I currently enjoy. I hope I cleared up some of the bug-chasing myths. Some may say that most discourse on bug chasing is about something mythical, and that bug chasing is nothing more than a social monster we invented during the darkest days in our nation’s history — the worst years of AIDS — but I say otherwise. Bug chasers are real, and I invite them to come forward. Let’s talk about this fetish, acknowledge its hotness, and decide how we’ll live with it. The only people I want in my life are the ones willing to face complicated truths about lust and desire. If nothing else, bug chasing makes everyone think, and probably more people a little turned on than they would ever admit.

— Beastly

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