A brief look at ‘bug chasing’
Posted Oct 14, 2014
Research has been carried out suggesting various reasons for why men would want to deliberately contract HIV. Dr. In a 2004 paper in the British Journal of Social Psychology, Dr. Michele Crossley some men indicate that the practice is highly exciting because it is such a highly risky behaviour (in that they could ultimately die from contracting the virus). However, such a reason suggests that such individuals don’t actually want to contract HIV (and seems psychologically akin to playing Russian roulette). The same paper also noted that some bug chasers appear to be very lonely people who want to contract AIDS so that they will receive the attention, nurturance and care that they feel they need (and therefore share similarities with those who have Munchausen’s Syndrome). Similarly, others see the contracting of HIV as way becoming part of a community that elicits public sympathy and caretaking.
Writing in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, a paper by Dr. Mark Blechner in 2002 examined the the psychodynamics of barebacking and safer sex. Dr. Blechner argued that the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, gay men had personal experience of multiple deaths and were “terrified by a new, mysterious, and untreatable disease”. This was contrasted with today’s gay men who were much less afraid of contracting HIV and considered condom use as more restrictive, less intimate and less pleasurable than older gay men. There also appears to be a small minority of gay men who are so anxious and overwhelmed about the thought of contracting HIV that actually contracting it would help overcome the negative psychological states they experience.
“The behavior may stem from a ‘resistance to dominant heterosexual norms and mores’ due to a defensive response by gay men to repudiate stigmatization and rejection by society. Some people consider bug chasing ‘intensely erotic’ and the act of being infected as the 'ultimate taboo, the most extreme sex act left’. A number of people who are HIV negative and in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive seek infection as a way to remain in the relationship, particularly when the HIV positive partner may wish to break up to avoid infecting the HIV negative partner. Some contend that this behaviour stems from feelings of inevitability towards HIV among the gay community and the empowerment of choosing when to contract the virus”.
One of the best (and most interesting) papers published on bug chasers and gift givers was published in a few years ago in an issue of the journal AIDS Education and Prevention by Dr. Christian Grov and Dr, Jeffrey Parsons. Their research examined the online profiles of over a thousand bug chasers and gift givers (n=1228) and classified such people into one of six types. These comprised:
• Committed Bug Chasers (7.5% of the total sample): This type comprised men who were HIV-negative but actively seeking HIV-positive partners.
• Opportunistic Bug Chasers (12.1%): This type comprised men who were HIV-negative but were not bothered about the HIV status of their prospective partner.
• Committed Gift Givers (0.4%): This type comprised men who were HIV-positive and sought HIV-negative partners.
• Opportunistic Gift Givers (26%): This type comprised men who were HIV-positive but were not bothered about the HIV status of their prospective partner.
• Serosorters: This type comprised men whose description of being a bug chaser or gift giver did not match their intentions and were seeking partners of equal HIV status. For instance, some HIV-positive men (8.5%) sought other HIV-positive men, whereas some HIV-negative men (12.5%) sought other HIV-negative men.
• Ambiguous Bug Chasers or Gift Givers (16.3%): This type comprised men who did not know their HIV status. Therefore, it was not determined whether these men were bug chasers or gift givers.
References and further reading
Blechner, M. (2002). Intimacy, pleasure, risk, and safety. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 6(3), 27–33.
Crossley, M.L. (2004). Making sense of 'barebacking': Gay men's narratives, unsafe sex and the 'resistance habitus'. British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 225-244.
Gauthier, D. K.; Forsyth, C. J. (1999). Bareback sex, bug chasing, and the gift of death. Deviant Behavior, 20, 85-100.
Grov, C. (2004). "Make me your death slave": Men who have sex with men and use the Internet to intentionally spread HIV. Deviant Behavior, 25, 329–349.
Grov, C. (2006). Barebacking websites: Electronic environments for reducing or inducing HIV risk. AIDS Care, 18, 990–997.
Grov, C. & Parsons, J.T. (2006). Bugchasing and Giftgiving: The potential for HIV transmission among barebackers on the Internet. AIDS Education and Prevention, 18, 490-503.
Hatfield, K. (2004). A Quest for belonging: Exploring the story of the bug chasing phenomenon. Paper presented at the National Communication Association Conference, Chicago, Illinois.
LeBlanc, B. (2007). An Exploratory Study of 'Bug Chasers'. Sociological Imagination, 43 (2): 13–20.
Moskowitz, D.A. & Roloff, M.E. (2007). The ultimate high: Sexual addiction and the bug chasing phenomenon. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, 14, 21-40.
Tewksbury, R. (2003). Bareback sex and the quest for HIV: Assessing the relationship in internet personal advertisements of men who have sex with men. Deviant Behavior, 25, 467-482.
Tewksbury, R. (2006). "Click here for HIV": An analysis of internet-based bug chasers and bug givers. Deviant Behavior, 27, 379–395.