Sexual Health » STIs / STDs, Safer Sex, Sex Ed: "Define This: Bugchasing and the Quest to Acquire HIV"

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Define This: Bugchasing and the Quest to Acquire HIV
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Bugchasing: the quest to acquire HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). That's right, it's a thing! Are you asking, "But why would someone ever want to get HIV?" Read on and find out...

  Where Is Bugchasing Prevalent?

So who are these people trying to get HIV? Pretty much anyone.

However, there has been notable prevalence within the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) and BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism) communities. But why?

Many from the LGBT population, particularly those who have partners or know someone who is HIV positive, want to be able to better relate to loved ones affected by HIV/AIDS. Others believe it is "inevitable" they will get HIV, either from their partner or community, and want to feel "in control" of their life, and would rather choose to get HIV of their own accord. Others, still, may believe it is "the last taboo act to do" or "the most ultimate act of taboo," while others may simply enjoy the thrill of risk.

Although it is arguable that those who bugchase for the "risk" of it are not actually bugchasing, those types of people may not necessarily wish to acquire HIV, but think of it as a thrilling happenstance.

  What It Is Not

Bugchasing is the act of pursuing HIV specifically, not AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) or any other STI.

What is the difference between the three?

HIV is best characterized by a CD4+ cell count of less than 200. It is a simple retrovirus.

Meanwhile, AIDS means that you have HIV and two or more opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections are things like staph infections and tuberculosis. In the past, doctors were able to tell which patients had HIV by tuberculosis infections alone. They could look at an X-ray of someone's lungs, see that tuberculosis was present, and question the person's HIV status from there.

Finally, STI is an umbrella term that encompasses HIV and AIDS, as well as a slew of other sexually transmitted infections. They may come in the form of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. Bacteria may be chlamydia or syphilis; fungi may be yeast infections; viruses may be HIV, HPV, and herpes; and parasites may be crabs, to name a few common ones.

It is possible to apply the term "bugchasing" to the act of chasing any STI. However, it is not commonly used in this manner. Primarily, it is the act of chasing HIV.

  Political and Greater Significance

These days, the phrase is common, "You don't die of HIV. You die of AIDS" and "HIV is curable" or "HIV is virtually curable."

Politically, it is significant that people are now chasing HIV. It demonstrates the breakdown of medical condition related stigma, yet begs the question, "How taboo and dangerous is HIV-- how radical is it-- if cures/'cures' for it are a commodity?"

Further, bugchasing may be a demonstration of privilege: trusting that you will be able to take care of yourself once you get HIV. After all, bugchasing is not the desire to acquire AIDS. AIDS would occur if HIV were left untreated. Similarly, bugchasing is not suicide. Some who bugchase may be suicidal, but bugchasing is not the pursuit of death or death via sexual interaction. Bugchasing is the act of pursuing HIV, which requires very specific medical treatment, such as anti-retrovirals, to keep it in check and prevent AIDS and death from happening. (There are, however, a few exceptions to this. A very limited population of people may acquire HIV but never experience any of its symptoms, even when they are not on medication.)

Also, while it may be argued that bugchasing is a form of self injury, I disagree. The act in itself is not guaranteed to cause "injury". Also, to consider it "injury" or "potentially injury-inducing" at all is a notion stemming from stigma associated with medical conditions. I also think that if you are chasing HIV, again, that does not mean you are chasing AIDS or death; many bugchasers insist they are not chasing AIDS, but simply HIV. For that reason, if they specifically seek HIV, some help (such as medical treatment to keep HIV viral loads maintained) is necessary, and the individual must take care of oneself in this way, as opposed to being "self-injurious".

Finally, the question is raised: How will radical "species endangerment" activists react? Save HIV? Do not attempt to eliminate it? But at the rate HIV mutates, which is very quickly, the question also arises: Which strain(s) are you saving, and how can you insure that no further mutations occur, or will you let them occur?

In short, bugchasing can be a complicated issue, causing many questions to arise, such as "What greater global health concerns are implicated? How will bugchasing affect the rate of spread of HIV, and will it matter, if HIV is so "curable"?" and creating difficulty and division, in terms of defining the term for each person.


Contributor: Silverdrop

I disagree. Bugchasing is self-injury. The injury may not show, but the fact that medication has to be taken regularly from then on is proof that it exists. Someone who cuts themselves will heal, but someone who deliberately gets HIV will have their body fighting to overcome that infection for the rest of their lives.

It's also immoral. I would never condone withholding healthcare from anyone, but it does put a strain on an overburdened healthcare system to have to treat people for years or decades for an infection they could have easily avoided.

I believe that bug-chasers should be treated for potential mental health problems, hopefully before they manage to infect themselves.

Contributor: fizzygato

Hi Silverdrop,

While I respect your opinion and understand what you are saying, I think everyone has their own definitions of self-injury. Like I mention in the article, they only want to have HIV. You can have HIV in your body, but never show symptoms of it, if you are on anti-retrovirals.

I don't think they necessarily need "mental health" checks because as I mention it could be a form of masochism/ kink in that it is "taboo." I think that would be like saying those who do gun play, blood play, etc. other often "dangerous" play things have "mental health problems."

I'm not sure how I feel about considering someone a "burden on healthcare." It seems a little like victim blaming. (Not saying that someone who gets HIV is a victim, but feel similar parallels in accusatory "why did you let this happen to you" sort rhetoric.)

Again, I get what you're saying though, but wrote the article this way for a reason, because it's what I think. You're welcome to your own opinion


Contributor: Silverdrop

Since there's a thread up in the forum now, I've responded here.

Contributor: K101

Being someone who's totally just learning that this even existed (thanks for sharing, amazing article! I very much appreciate this), my opinion at the moment is that if someone is "bugchasing," and they do end up contracting this sought-for HIV, then once it is contracted, then it becomes self-injury. HIV's symptoms may not be severe for every person, but it does harm the body and if the person intentionally sought out the virus, then well, I don't see it to be anything other than self-harm. I suppose I'd call it "attempted" self harm if a bugchaser went out chasing, but didn't contract it. I'm sure I have a lot to learn though, but this does make me sad.

I like a lot of what Silver Drop said. I wouldn't have even though of how bugchasers could even be putting a much larger number of people at risk either until I read her thoughts and kind of went from that. I mean, unless said bugchaser decides that after catching HIV, they'll strictly only sleep with other HIV+ people, then I feel they'd be putting a much bigger portion of the world at risk than if they chose to never again sleep with a non-HIV+ person after they knew they had the HIV.

Whew! That was long winded. Sorry. I like learning about this. I am very happy to have read your article.

Contributor: fizzygato

Hi Kendra,

Just because you have one strain of HIV does not mean that you cannot get other strains of HIV. There are MANY! It is constantly mutating, due to the fact that many do not adhere to their anti-retroviral regimen, many were on AZT (which allowed the virus to mutate and develop immunity properties), and it mutates in general.

Thus, I think it is a complicated issue and not one that can be solved by, "Oh, you can only have sex with people who have HIV because you have HIV."

You had a lot to say, though, and I appreciated the comment.


Contributor: Champagne and Benzedrine (Roland Hulme)

I have to admit, I think this article tries so hard to be "politically correct" that it kind of loses the impact of what its trying to say.

Fizzygato writes: "So who are these people trying to get HIV? Pretty much anyone. However, there has been notable prevalence within the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) and BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism) communities."

That is technically accurate (most likely) but I think we need to call a spade a spade here.

"Bugchasing" is (presumably) almost unheard of in heterosexual and lesbian communities (I say "presumably" because while I have never heard otherwise, including in all the articles I've read about bugchasing, including Wikipedia, I won't assume it's completely unheard of.)

It's basically something that (almost or probably) only gay and bisexual men engage in, and that is significant because it reveals some of the serious issues about how our society treats gay and bisexual men, and those with AIDS. Bugchasing exists because of how society makes HIV negative gay and bisexual men feel, and unless we're willing to address that feeling, by recognizing the demographic impacted, we can't do anything to correct that problem.

Contributor: Champagne and Benzedrine (Roland Hulme)

The problem with society, just to clarify - I don't view gay or bisexual men as having any problems that need correcting.

Contributor: fizzygato

Hi Champagne,

I agree at times I can try to remain "as PC as possible." I think that is just part of how I usually talk.

I somewhat agree about bugchasing being unheard of in heterosexual/lesbian communities. I think it's moreso unheard of in communities that aren't very informed about STIs in general. I can think of so, so many heterosexual, lesbian, queer, etc-non-bi-male/gay male people who know what bugchasing is. Coincidentally, they are also part of STI-informational/outreach/etc. organizations.

I also somewhat agree about bugchasing being more prevalent in bisexual male and gay communities, but only to a certain extent. I feel like it's only ever notably studied in those communities, thus only those communities are featured. They may be more likely studied because of the stereotype that "it's hard for woman-woman sex to transmit an STI." Or possibly phallocentricism. Or that male-male casual sex encounters (that could be "unsafe") are more accessible (i.e. grindr, whereas lesbian communities are often like, "Where's my equivalent?!!!")

The first time I ever heard about bugchasing was through an article about HIV in the FTM community. At the time, I was doing an honors project about HIV in the trans* community. I have since tried to expand that and make that part of my honors thesis, focusing on bugchasing in the trans* community. I feel like significantly less information is available about that population.

But yes, I agree it was probably over-encompassing of me to say LGBT when a bigger portion is G/maybe some B.

Where I come from, quite a lot of everyone tries to be as inclusive as possible (i.e. you don't know how someone identifies, so make it as inclusive as possible). Also where I come from, LGBT is often used as a catch-all without thinking. i.e. Throw the T in without considering if you're including the T or not. I guess I have become very used to that sort of thinking and did the same, but at the same time because LGBT is often used in that way where I come from feel like it has sort of become the new catch-all, sort of like trying to use "gay" or "queer" to be all-encompassing.

But yes, I'm on a rant.

I agree and think I could have used a different term than LGBT. That was something I considered as I was writing it but could not think of a simpler way to phrase it. I did not want to say gay/bi men in case they did not identify as such, and am opposed to using "queer" as a catch-all.


Contributor: Wicked Wahine

Okay, this entire topic/debate, (yes, I read the thread, too.), has made my head hurt! I give you credit for mentioning it, researching it well & supporting your stance on this, regardless of my personal views.

Contributor: Champagne and Benzedrine (Roland Hulme)

Fizzygato - no comment except to say what an awesome, well thought out, brilliant reply!



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