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 need to understand why the law in California was passed. The law has nothing to do with bug chasing. If the law is confusing, that’s because many media 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 The bill’s primary goal is to address several outdated laws and sentences that were created over 30 years ago, at the height of stigma and ignorance around HIV.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 implemented in the height of AIDS panic 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, dangerous, and badly outdated. 

These laws prosecute HIV-positive individuals for acts of consensual sex, regardless of condom use, along with spitting and biting, because of the underlying belief that blood, saliva, and semen are biological weapons as dangerous as firearms. This belief is founded on fear, not science. You cannot transmit HIV through saliva, and even if you have sex without a condom, the conditions for infection have to be pretty perfect in order for infection to actually happen.

Last year, The Huffington Post reported that between 2008 and 2015, there were at least 226 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.

HIV criminalization laws were established at a time when gay men were seen by lawmakers and most of the general public as social miscreants willfully spreading their virus through hedonic lifestyles. We now know this idea is false. Most new HIV infections happen because people don’t know they have it. You can have transmittable HIV for months and even years before showing symptoms, during which time you may be unintentionally and unknowingly spreading the disease. 

Despite this fact, these laws still exist, and their existence fuels the social fear and stigma of HIV. HIV stigma has an adverse effect on public health because it keeps people from getting tested. Since HIV is a legally punishable, stigmatized illness, why would you want proof that you have it? The law in California was passed to lessen HIV stigma, and by extension, encourage more people to get tested.

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

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 can’t say how the thrill in any fetish evolves. If you’re into fisting, does the thrill become something else when you get a hand in your butt? Nope. A bug chaser likely still thinks bug chasing is hot even after they seroconvert (get HIV). That said, the fetish may evolve into helping other bug chasers catch it. Or the end goal may not be catching HIV at all. Many people, including many people I know personally, admit the hotness of the bug chasing fantasy but do not actually want HIV.

Nearly every person I talked to when writing this said they believe 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. That would make a lot of sense. It’d be an extension of the poz-phobic “you did it to yourself” idea.

That said, I respectfully disagree with these people. Most of them are not as kinky as I am and are not HIV-positive. If I asked kinksters, HIV-positive gay guys like me, and gay men who enjoy hardcore, bareback sex as I do, I think I would get a different consensus. I have been HIV-positive for five years and have been asked by countless guys to poz them, to infect them with my “toxic” seed, and so on. I probably get a message from a bug chaser every month. For me, bug chasers are very real.

The only bug chasers 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 when pursuing the kind of sex I like. So my perspective may be skewed — I probably encounter a higher number of bug chasers than the average gay man (even the average HIV-positive gay man).

I was not bug chasing when I tested positive, so I have no personal experience as a chaser or gifter. I only learned about bug chasing after I was already positive, at which point the whole idea becomes a little moot. But I know how shame becomes erotic fantasy and how fear makes sex hot. I’ve enjoyed risky sex because it’s risky. I’ve had tabooed sex because it’s tabooed. So while I can’t speak on bug chasing from personal experience, I can hazard a guess that the fetish evolves the way any other fetish evolves: Your experience and perspective of it deepens or wanes, but doesn’t disappear entirely. You’re likely to simply get bored and move on to something else.

 

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 with HIV without their consent is seen as a terrible, evil, criminal thing to do. No one gets a free pass for doing so. It’s very frowned upon. 

Stealthing — attempting to infect someone with HIV without their knowledge or consent — is not bug chasing. Bug chasing is the willful act of seeking HIV and finding people to willingly, knowingly attempt to infect you.

This must be said, and probably should have been said sooner: Someone can only spread HIV if they are not taking anti-HIV medication. Taking HIV medication as prescribed will render you undetectable, which means you are unable to transmit HIV. Finding someone who is knowingly HIV-positive and not on meds is a difficult task since most people who test positive in the U.S. start taking medication as soon as possible. 

When bug chasers ask me to infect them, I tell them I’m on meds and undetectable, and they usually lose interest after that or, more likely, still want me to fuck them and “pretend” that I’m infectious. Many of them are into the fantasy of chasing over the actual reality of getting HIV. 

 

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 heard of bug chasing described as a dominant/submissive scene. I think you may be confused about what bug chasing is. Bug chasing is not an established, public scene in the world of kink. If you went to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, you wouldn’t find a tent set up with bug chasers handing out flyers and info pamphlets. Even among kinky people, bug chasing is heavily tabooed and not talked about. 

Bugchasing is so stigmatized, so frowned-upon, that the community of chasers and gifters is effectively invisible. They live on chat rooms and sex websites, with pictureless profiles and messages filled with capital Ts (drugs like crystal meth, or Tina, are pretty common in bug chasing scenes). 

I can’t say how encounters work since I’ve never arranged one, but I’ve known some guys who enjoyed 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 have 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 say for sure. If a pozzing party was described online as a normal bareback sex party, I may have been to one, but I didn’t know I was doing so. I’m not totally opposed to going to a possing party, but an ideal pozzing party (or seed party) is structured with multiple tops fucking an HIV-negative bottom. I’d want to be the bottom, and I’m already HIV-positive.

I’m sure some relationships have formed from chaser-gifter encounters, but again, that’s hard for me to say for sure. If any couples I know have formed that way, they won’t announce that information (although I wish they would — it’d make them a lot more interesting).

 

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. 

 

As someone with HIV, I’m not automatically part of the chaser/gifter scene, but I suspect that you think I am. I’ve said this already, but I was not chasing when I got infected, and I believe most people who test positive for HIV are not bug chasers.

I’m sure some gifters brag about how many people they’ve infected, but again, since I’m not in the community, I don’t know.

Assuming most people with HIV were intentionally seeking it is far from the truth. That assumption is dangerous — it effectively blames the sick for their own disease. This can’t be stressed enough: HIV is often spread unintentionally and accidentally by people who don’t know they have it.

Sure, I think bug chasing is kind of hot, and I have jacked off to bug chasing porn, but generally speaking, I’m not in the business of spreading my HIV — and I’m unable to because I’m actively treating my disease with meds. I have a hard time condemning bug chasing outright; if any fetish practice is done consensually, it usually gets a free pass from me. That said, my virus has not made my life any easier, and it still kills people every day all over the world. Everyone seeking HIV needs to think about that. 

 

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’re assuming I got HIV through bug chasing. This would only be a “personal” question if I did. I hope you know now that that was not the case.

I do not know who infected me, but I wasn’t going around asking guys to give me HIV. Like many gay men who test positive at 21, I was simply having sex, using condoms as often as I remembered them, and assuming I would be fine. I assumed the slip-ups, the times I didn’t use condoms, would never hurt me because I was young and attractive, and I believed HIV does not affect people my age. I was wrong.

I can’t say if there are uncomfortable parts of the encounter, since I’ve never had one, and I’ve never sat down with a bug chaser to ask — although I’d love to. As someone into many kinks, I can say that the first time you try anything is uncomfortable and strange.

There is something powerful and sexy in the idea of being “marked,” converted, and labeled as one of a tribe. Our most fervent religious impulses connect to this idea of becoming part of a populace — our most ancient traditions define this as an essential human experience. Religious concepts of ascension through suffering, being cleansed by blood, and saved through the exchange of one’s body have been around since ancient times. One could say that bug chasing has a very old precedent in the Last Supper, the Eucharist, and the ascension of Christ.

On top of all that, it’s easy to eroticize self-ruin. If we cannot acknowledge that — if we cannot confess the allure of giving up self-concern and freeing ourselves to destruction — then we will never understand many of our most basic human impulses. If HIV is equated to death, as it has been for the last fifty years, then we can expect many people who seek annihilation, either immediate or drawn-out, to seek this illness — an illness which, with modern medicine, is no longer a death sentence.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: Although I’ve never participated in bug chasing (and am therefore unable to answer your questions from firsthand experience), I can understand bug chasing and I have a very sympathetic, humane opinion of bug chasers. They’re not monsters, they’re not scary, and their fetish is no less vile or frightening as mine are. Bug chasing is not outside the realm of my fantasy and certainly not far removed from the sex I currently enjoy.

Bug chasers are real and I invite them to come forward. Let’s talk about this fetish, acknowledge its hotness, and decide how people like us — queer people, people with tabooed fetishes, and people living with HIV — will live with it and understand it. The only playmates I want in my life are ones willing to face dark truths about lust and desire, something we must do as a public health strategy and as humane, sex-positive people.

— Beastly

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