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My Boyfriend is a Bug Chaser (BUG CHASERS AND GIFT GIVERS)
Jul 12, 2007

I started dating someone several months ago, and into our relationship I found out through computer usage surveillence that he proactively wants to contract HIV. He and I are both HIV-negative, and we tested and obtained results together. However, I know he has and is contacting HIV-positive tops in an attempt to get together a "pozzing party" -- whereby he is the bottom and is gang banged in the group. Apparently this is a fantasy of his, and I am not sure if it is all online talk, or if he has met these very real people that have agreed to "poz" him. I do know that he has had unprotected group sex in the past, and has asked me to have group sex with him.

Rather than taking no action, I want to help him, but not sure how. Not only does his lifestyle of unprotected group sex need to change, but his mentality of actually wanting HIV needs to change.

What do you think could be done? Is there a directory of psychologists that would specialize in this kind of thing? Preferably a gay psychologist that would make talking about something this serious and personal a little less frightening?

Response from Dr. Frascino

Hello,

The concept of "gift givers" and "bug chasers" appears to be much more hype than reality. As you point out, your boyfriend has a "fantasy" and basically engages in online chat about "pozzing parties." Dangerous fantasies are really only dangerous if they are put into practice. From most of the research done, it appears that "gift givers" and "bug chasers" are in reality extremely rare outside of the fantasy world. (See below.)

That said, that your boyfriend has had "unprotected group sex" is worrisome. I think it's time for "the talk." You need to let him know exactly how you feel about protecting your health and negative HIV status. If he's willing to seek counseling about risk reduction or perhaps even couples counseling and you want a gay therapist, check listings for the GLMA (Gay Lesbian Medical Association http://www.glma.org/). They have a directory of gay health care workers arranged by location. You can also check with your local AIDS service organizations for a referral. Just Google AIDS service organizations and the name of your city or town and a list should pop up.

Good luck.

Dr. Bob

Chasing Bugs or the Truth?

By David Salyer

May/June 2003

Rolling Stone is an odd magazine -- sort of a rock/pop/rap biweekly featuring music news and interviews along with regular investigative reports on subjects as diverse as heroin use and presidential elections. It's always been a publishing hybrid in search of relevancy and prestige, not unlike Playboy -- a magazine that's really all about naked women and sex despite regular bits of serious journalism. Some men claim to read Playboy for the articles; how lucky for them that the words are squeezed between photos of airbrushed babes in their birthday suits. Similarly, Rolling Stone tends to feature pop and hip-hop stars wearing next-to-nothing while simultaneously running articles designed to give the magazine an illusion of substance and depth. It's a rather calculated pitch for relevance that, more often than not, reeks of desperation.

Take Rolling Stone's February 6th issue, for instance. Shania Twain graces the cover. Directly to the right of her exposed navel and slightly higher than her awfully short skirt, is a little graphic touting a special report on "bug chasers," gay men who say they want to get infected with HIV. Yes, these men exist. It's a minor phenomenon of the last decade. It's real. It's controversial. HIV prevention advocates and public health officials acknowledged "bug chasers" at least four years ago. Credible studies estimate that one to two percent of infected gay men sought out infection, nearly always in rash behavioral decisions that they later regretted. Oops. That sage medical journal, Rolling Stone, doesn't care much about any of that ... unless twisting and distorting it can generate greater newsstand sales.

Rolling Stone's bug chaser article was written by Gregory A. Freeman, a married freelance writer and former Associated Press employee currently living in Roswell, Georgia. According to Freeman's bio, he's "an award-winning writer with 20 years experience in journalism and historical nonfiction." A graduate of the University of Georgia and author of two books, his publicist asserts that "Freeman's books are scrupulously researched and entirely factual, yet they read more like novels because he weaves the personal stories of his subjects into a compelling narrative." Hmmm.

According to Freeman's Rolling Stone article, a mind-boggling 25 percent of new gay male HIV infections are due to bug chasing. And Freeman bases that astonishing statistic on one doctor's completely unsubstantiated estimate. That doctor, Bob Cabaj, is a psychiatrist and Director of Behavioral Health Services for San Francisco County. Within days of publication, Cabaj denied giving Freeman the 25 percent figure. Admitting he has conducted no studies on the matter and has no hard data, Cabaj told Newsweek, "That's totally false. I never said that." Is there a study to support that 25 percent figure? Nope.

It gets worse. Dr. Marshall Forstein of Boston, quoted by Freeman as saying that "bug chasers are seen regularly in the Fenway health system, and the phenomenon is growing," declares the quote "is entirely a fabrication." Forstein reports he actually told Freeman, "We have seen a few cases, but we have no idea how common this is." Who do we believe? Conveniently, Freeman did not tape his conversations with the doctors, suggesting maybe his memory and his notes aren't as specific as he'd like the general public to believe.

Freeman's story has completely fallen apart. How many actual bug chasers did he interview? A grand total of two, one of who is undeniably mentally disturbed and quoted under a pseudonym -- hardly representative of a trend. Freeman's article consists of one anonymous source; one named source; two doctor's completely unsubstantiated remarks; and lurid details from some Internet Web sites (the kind of Web sites where virtually all gay men are hot and generously endowed). When the only two medical professionals you quote both claim to have been grievously misquoted and none of the major AIDS and gay activists interviewed agree that bug chasing is a major phenomenon, let alone responsible for 25 percent of all new HIV infections, you don't have a story. Apparently, that did not deter Gregory Freeman from making one up.

That aside, Freeman's estimate of the number of bug chaser-related cases of HIV infection ultimately discredits him. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there are roughly 40,000 new HIV infections in the United States each year. For his calculations, Freeman uses the made up 25 percent figure and merely applies it to the CDC's 40,000 statistic. From that, he concludes that 10,000 gay men a year are deliberately getting infected with HIV.

Apparently, Freeman failed to realize the 40,000 statistic is for all people, male and female, regardless of sexual orientation. According to the CDC, male-to-male infections only make up 42 percent of the overall 40,000, or roughly 16,800. Not only does Freeman's 25 percent figure have no basis in reality, but he also applies it to a statistic he doesn't even understand.

America's mainstream media has never been very good at reporting on HIV. Gregory Freeman's Rolling Stone article on bug chasers is a vivid example of how not to write a story about HIV, and yet it's typical. The interpretation of HIV statistics requires scientific precision; Freeman is all about buzzwords, faulty number crunching and groundless conclusions.

Note to Mr. Freeman: In the future, tape your interviews, leave the stories about HIV and gay men to qualified journalists and consider writing about cars or sports or Victoria's Secret models from now on ... unless your goal is to develop a reputation as an unethical, homophobic dumb ass.

Why would Rolling Stone print such a shamefully distorted article full of fabricated quotes and fake science? Having already lost its identity and now losing readers to hipper publications, Rolling Stone is using shoddy journalism and semi-naked pop stars to generate interest. Bug chasers are real and the phenomenon deserves scrutiny. Who are these guys that want HIV in their bodies? Are they confused individuals who put too much faith in today's HIV treatments? Or desperately lonely guys who would trade their health for any kind of intimacy or sense of belonging? Do they believe HIV infection is inevitable anyway and have given up on safer sex? Are they self-loathing? Mentally ill? Why would they knowingly put themselves in harm's way? Are they hedonistic guys who just don't care about anything beyond their next orgasm? Rolling Stone was not compelled to explore those possibilities. The editor and publisher opted to print a preposterous, wildly exaggerated piece of crap that could only be relevant to right wing, fundamentalist, gay-hating crazies looking for a new opportunity to denigrate homosexuals and call for AIDS funding cuts.

Note to Rolling Stone: Stick to reviewing CDs and interviewing boy band members -- or better yet, let's hear you expound upon whatever lurid logic or compulsion makes pop divas like Shania Twain and Britney Spears tart themselves up like hookers for an appearance on your cover. Sounds juicy!

David Salyer is an HIV-positive journalist and AIDS educator living in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a Georgia co-chair of the Global Campaign for Microbicides, leads safer sex presentations for men and has facilitated workshops for people infected or affected by HIV since 1994. Reach him by e-mail at cubscout@mindspring.com.

HIV 'bug chasers': Fantasy or fact? By Richard Pendry Producer and Director, "I Love Being HIV+"

Gay men fantasising about passing on HIV may encourage some to set out to become infected with the virus, a BBC programme has found.

According to previous media reports, HIV positive men, or "gift-givers", who want to transmit the virus to so-called "bug chasers" - HIV negative or untested men - do so in an apparently negotiated exchange.

HIV positive man Ricky Dyer, who investigates the apparent bug chasing phenomenon for a BBC programme, "I love being HIV+", says that an air of complacency about the realities of living with the virus may be one reason why infection rates have been rising.

Dyer tries to find out the truth behind the reporting by going online on a gay dating website, saying he is an HIV positive man who wants to talk to bug chasers.

"I'm not saying I am offering them sex...talk is all I want," he says in the programme.

Meeting men online fantasising about unsafe sexual practices could also send the wrong message Ricky Dyer

However, Dyer is appalled to find dozens of apparent bug chasers contact him within days saying that they want to be "pozzed up" - infected with the virus.

Conversion parties

Several UK-based websites deal with the phenomenon, as do many more in the US, where the phenomenon of bug chasing was originally reported.

Bug chasers supposedly look for "conversion parties" where HIV positive men have the opportunity to pass on the virus to multiple partners.

Dyer finds that the overwhelming majority of the talk is pure fantasy.

Most gay men with HIV do not want to pass HIV on, and most gay men who do not have HIV do not want to get infected Will Nutland

Men who say they are bug chasers and gift givers fail to stand by their claims on camera and one man who gave an anonymous interview subsequently appeared to be lying to the production team about his activities.

His findings are echoed by the HIV charities.

Will Nutland, head of health promotion at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "The concepts of 'gift giving' and 'bug chasers' are definitely based more in fantasy than reality.

"Most gay men with HIV do not want to pass HIV on, and most gay men who do not have HIV do not want to get infected."

And Deborah Jack, chief executive of the National AIDS Trust said: "There is very little evidence of people trying to get infected with HIV.

"The real issue is why risk-taking behaviour continues when HIV positive men have no wish to pass HIV on HIV negative men wish to avoid infection."

However, the fantasy on the internet may give the wrong idea to young and ill-informed gay men coming out on the gay scene, according to Dyer.

The Sexual Health Survey of Gay Men in London found that in recent years 50% of men who identify themselves as gay had had unprotected anal sex at least once.

Diluted message

Charities trying to reach these men may have diluted the safe sex message, according to Dyer.

"Prevention campaigns which tell men who engage in unsafe sex that withdrawing before ejaculation may lessen the risk may confuse a young guy coming out on the gay scene today," he says.

"Meeting men online fantasising about unsafe sexual practices could also send the wrong message."

Though much of the bug chasing talk on the net is just that - talk, which previous reports seem to have taken at face value - in the programme, Dyer also interviews an ex-Jehovah's Witness named Chris, who is HIV negative.

Chris says that he is engaging in a great deal of unprotected anal sex. He knows he will become infected and has made a conscious decision to welcome it into his life.

HIV diagnosis

In the course of filming, Chris is diagnosed HIV positive and in an on-camera interview tells his story.

Chris came out as gay to his parents 14 years ago and was told he would be dead in the eyes of God and the Jehovah's Witness community if he embraced his homosexuality.

Chris chose to leave home and live as a gay man.

Though he engaged in a great deal of unprotected sex for years and welcomes the "inevitable" arrival of the virus, he says he is not a bug chaser.

"I wasn't scared of the consequences of getting HIV," he says. "But by accepting it, I'm going to take the sting out of its tail."

According to the Health Protection Agency there has been a steady increase in diagnosis rates in the UK among men who have sex with men from 1500 in 1999 to over 2000 in 2004 - a 30% increase in five years.

"I love being HIV+" is on BBC3 at 2100 BST on Monday, 10 April.

Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/health/4895012.stm

Published: 2006/04/10 10:22:54 GMT

© BBC MMVII



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