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Advice Column: Bug Chasers & Gift Givers

By Justin B. Terry-Smith

January 14, 2013

From "Just*in Time," Justin's column in A&U Magazine, America's AIDS Magazine.

I have a question for you: What is your opinion about gift givers and bug chasers? I hear that there are people out there who want to spread HIV and others who are looking to get infected with HIV on purpose. I have been diagnosed with HIV for about one year now and I had to go on meds because I didn't know I had it for so long. I hate taking them, but I know I have to in order to survive. I don't know anyone who would want to go through anything that I go through or anything you go through, either. I just don't get it. Can you give me some insight?

-- Ali

Let me first explain what a bug chaser is. A bug chaser is slang for someone who pursues sexual intercourse with people who are HIV-infected in order to eventually contract HIV. A gift giver is an HIV-positive person who wants to infect HIV-negative participants who willingly seek to become HIV-positive.

Well, when I first heard of bug chasers, I thought they were crazy. I really didn't understand why someone would want to be infected with HIV. It is not until a close friend who is also HIV-positive talked to me about it that I understood more about it. He himself was a bug chaser at one point in time, until he was diagnosed with HIV himself.

Here is what might be one reason why people "chase" HIV. The HIV community has been through a lot since HIV/AIDS had been discovered and named. Some people who are negative view the community as one of acceptance, where one is able to be sexually free. Bug chasers, in my opinion, want to belong to a community and that need for belonging has somehow manifested itself as a need that's targeted towards the HIV community. Basically some feel that being a part of the HIV community makes them a part of something special.

Another possible reason: Some bug chasers believe that getting HIV will make safe sex a moot point, and so, therefore, in this mentality, they believe that catching HIV is getting rid of any anxiety of always having to worry about catching HIV. Obviously some of them have not contracted other viruses like hepatitis C, or they would realize that they are at risk for other infections like a different, possibly drug-resistant, strain of HIV. In my opinion, these men probably do not want HIV, but they think it will happen no matter what they do sexually.

Loneliness also may have something to do with it, as well. A lot of these men do not want to die alone or at least want to control their own destinies when it comes to death. Death comes for everyone, but with suicide, for example, a lot of people believe that at least death is on your own terms and nobody else's.

And in some countries being HIV-positive may put you in front of the line for some healthcare benefits and services.

Also, a lot of people feel that society has treated them like crap and they feel liberated about being positive because they feel that HIV has shown them how to be stronger and to find themselves as well. When someone feels like they are a part of a society so strongly, it hurts when that society shuns them. For example, religion gives a lot of people a sense of who they are and a sense of belonging. When a person is shunned for their religion they will try to look for something to fill that empty void; they will look to another community for that same sense of belonging.

All in all, when anyone is infected no matter how, it is a travesty. To have someone willing to infect another with "the gift" of HIV is just as awful. This is not a gift and, trust me, I think it sucks ...

Please visit Justin's column for A&U, America's AIDS Magazine.

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