Rolling Stone Examines Practice of Seeking HIV Infection Through Sex Called ‘Bug-Chasing’
The Feb. 6 issue of Rolling Stone examines the subculture of "bug-chasing" -- an "underground world" in which HIV-negative men who want to be infected with the virus have sex with HIV-positive people "willing to infect" them. The HIV-negative men, or the "bug-chasers," who seek the virus from infected men, or "gift givers," do not view the disease as "horrible or fearsome," but rather as "beautiful and sexy" and treat HIV-infected semen as "liquid gold," Rolling Stone reports. Bug-chasers seek sex with HIV-positive men almost exclusively on the Internet and in online discussion groups, where condoms and "safe sex" are "openly ridiculed." The bug-chasers seek sex with HIV-positive people because it is the "ultimate taboo, the most extreme sex act left on the planet," and because many "feel lost and without any community to embrace them" and view those living with HIV as a "cohesive group," according to Rolling Stone. Dr. Bob Cabaj, director of behavioral-health services for San Francisco County and former president of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, said, "For kids who have had a really hard time fitting in or being accepted, this becomes like a fraternity." Many AIDS workers and public health officials "prefer to deny that the problem exists to any significant extent" and "don't want to address that this is a real ongoing issue," Cabaj said. Many advocates also deny bug-chasing exists because it is seen as an "easy way to disparage all gays and lesbians as sex-crazed and reckless," according to Cathy Renna, a spokesperson for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Cabaj said that because the "numbers are very hard to come by," many public health officials "dismiss" the practice as "an aberration practiced by a few." However, Cabaj estimates that at least 25% of all newly infected men who have sex with men actively seek HIV, but "are in denial" and would not classify themselves as bug-chasers. Cabaj said, "It may be a small number of actual people, but they may be disproportionately involved in continuing the spread of HIV," adding, "That's a major issue when you're talking about how to control the spread of a virus. A small percentage could be responsible for continuing the infection. The clinical impact is profound, no matter how small the numbers" (Freeman, Rolling Stone, 2/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.