Bug Chasers. Myth? Taboo?

by Accidental Bear




So, i’ve heard of the term Bug Chaser for years and thought it to be to FAR OUT to actually have any truth to it. I’ve often made humorless jokes using it as a punch line. Those  who know me personally know my crass humor. Maybe naive, but  I really thought it was ok to joke  because there couldn’t possibly be individuals out there that go out of their way to intentionally become HIV positive. Organized parties where the gift bag was HIV infection. How do you talk about such a subject without any judgment?  My first reaction is anger. I want to grab a ” Bugchaser” and scream, asking whether they would like me to put a gun to their head, because it would be less painful than going through the mental and physical pain one who is HIV goes through.

Secondly , they must have never lost anyone from complications to HIV. Or are they that out of their mind? That mentally unstable? That desperate for attention? Suicidal? During a conversation with friends the other night, the topic of Bug Chasers came up ( of course ,from me and my love of talking about taboo , awkward topics) . Half of the room laughed it off like ,” yeah right” they said. And the other half had different definitions of  what it meant to be a bug Chaser. So, I did a little research.

But I have to say, having no judgement on this topic, I cannot. I’ll work on being judemental when it come to bad haircuts, outfits and such. Don’t be afraid to talk about things taboo! Here is what I dicovered :

Wikipedia say’s

Bugchasing is a slang term for the practice of pursuing sex with HIV infected individuals in order to contract HIV. Bugchasers may seek HIV infection for a variety of reasons.

Bugchasers seek sexual partners who are HIV positive for the purpose of having unprotected sex and becoming HIV positive; giftgivers are HIV positive individuals who comply with the bugchaser’s efforts to become infected with HIV.

Writer Daniel Hill outlined a scenario where such behavior might occur:

In private sex clubs across the U.S. men gather for a chance to participate in what is called Russian Roulette. Ten men are invited, nine are HIV−, one is HIV+. The men have agreed to not speak of AIDS, nor HIV. They participate in as many unsafe sexual encounters with each other as possible, thus increasing their chances to receive “the bug.” These are the men known as ‘Bug Chasers 

What are bug parties?

Bug parties are sex parties often ranging from a few to as much as 30 people. Unsafe sex with every participant at the party is encouraged. There are several variations of bug parties. At some, there is one member of the “orgy” that is HIV positive. Only this individual and the host know his positive status. The remaining participants know that there is an infected person in the room, but do not know his identity. The participants then partake in a night usually filled with alcohol, drugs and of course unsafe sex.

In other variations of a bug party, there is one person who is not infected with HIV, however the other participants are or may be. Every one is aware of the person who disease free. The HIV negative person then allows the infected guys to have unprotected anal sex with him.

Why do people participate in bug parties?

Many psychologists theorize that participation in bug parties is actually an anxiety disorder where the non-infected individuals fear getting HIV so greatly that they would rather contract it and free themselves of the anxiety of living in fear. These parties are also seen as a sort of club for those living with HIV. Infecting a HIV negative and willing participant initiates them into their world. Some people also engage in unprotected anal sex (or barebacking) as the fear for AIDS dangerously dwindles.

The Gift” from filmmaker Louise Hogarth is a documentary about gay men who purposely contract HIV. According to Rolling Stone, one character in the film admits “I was relieved. I didn’t have to worry. Do I need to be careful — not any more.” Yet another willing 21-year-old regrets his choice. “I’ve made a terrible mistake and there’s no fixing that. There is no benefit in this and that’s what needs to be said.”

6 Responses to “Bug Chasers. Myth? Taboo?”

  1. I’m an hiv epidemiologist. You know me as seahorsebear on tumblr. I’ve always thought of bugchasing as an urban legend. Someone, somewhere may have done it. But the idea that it’s a movement, a phenomenon…that’s silly.

    • I totally agree. Urban legend is a good term for sure on the topic. I was surprised at how many articles online there are published on the subject. I like to get people thinking and talking on random topics. Nice to see you crossed over here , from Tumblr! 🙂 Can you think of any other bizarre health scenarios, that might go under “urban legend” as well?

  2. What are the numbers on people intentionally trying to contract it? I remember when the documentary came to the Seattle film Festival a number of years ago but I didn’t see it. I imagine it’s analogous to people who have deep seated self rejection and find refuge in dangerous drug culture or things like suicidal idolation, intense cutters. One person I know that is positive consciously played with fire but didn’t go seeking it.

    • After doing some digging, it appears to be more of a late 1990’s term. There will always be self loathing people, behaving in risking business. I guess bug chasing is just a catching, nicely packaged phrase.

  3. Jonathan Dollimore’s “Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture” (New York: Routledge, 1998) is perhaps one of the best explorations of the ways in which not only has queer mens’sexuality been construed as death-dealing (long before the advent of HIV), but the complicated ways in which sex among queer men – and, in fact, any sex at all – has been conflated with death. His points of depature include accusations that Michel Foucault was deliberately infecting other men with HIV in South of Market bathhouses in the 1980s, and queer poet Thom Gunn’s “In Time of Plague” –

    My thoughts are crowded with death
    and it draws so oddly on the sexual
    that I am confused
    confused to be attracted
    by, in effect, my own annhiliation.

    Dollimore’s work is useful, I believe, not only for its investigation of homophobia as a cultural dynamic, but also for more unsettling questions about what it could mean if bug-chasers were not an aberration. What if, contrary to any pro-queer, sex-positive impulse to champion sexuality as necessarily liberating and life-giving, sex were instead understood as being as complicated and self-contradictory as we ourselves are – and that the impulse to embrace mutability (even to the point of self-anhiliation) or to feel the desires that mutability engenders are what have repeatedly connected sex and death throughout the history of the West?


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