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Small green orbs of HIV around a pink and blue cell
A scanning electron microscope image of human immunodeficiency virus (green) in and around a cultured lymphocyte

Bugchasing (alternatively bug chasing[1]) is the rare practice of intentionally seeking human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection through sexual activity.[2]

Bugchasers—those who eroticize HIV—are a subculture of barebackers, men who have unprotected sex with other men. It is statistically rare for men to self-identify as bugchasers, and many of those who do never participate in sexual acts that can lead to HIV infection. There are some explanations for the behavior and fantasies of bugchasing, ranging from sexual excitement at the idea of HIV-positive status, to finding a shared sense of community with other HIV-positive people, to suicidality.[3]

By 2003, the concept had entered the public consciousness after Rolling Stone published "Bug Chasers: The men who long to be HIV+", an article—since widely disputed for its statistical methods—describing the practice. It may have existed since the AIDS crisis began. It has since been mentioned in or the focus of pieces of media and popular culture. As of 2021, bugchasing behavior still persists as a niche behavior, in spite of the widespread availability of effective PrEP and HAART treatments that protect against HIV transmission.


The precise origins of bugchasing—the pursuit of HIV infection—are largely unknown, with its inception located either at the beginning of the AIDS crisis or closer to the 1990s.[4] But it existed by at least 1997, when Newsweek published an article about the subject,[5] followed by Rolling Stone in 2003. The Rolling Stone article, "Bug Chasers: The men who long to be HIV+", written by Gregory Freeman, was the first to bring widespread concern and attention to the practice.[6] That article claimed that around 25 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States (10,000 of 45,000) were linked to bugchasing activity.[6] Freeman's statistics erroneously counted all men who engaged in barebacking, regardless of motivation or attempts to seek out HIV infection, as bugchasers.[7] Authorities that Freeman cited have since claimed he fabricated their statements, and his data have been widely criticized.[8] In the estimation of sexuality studies scholar Octavio R. Gonzalez, Freeman's article was perhaps most responsible for bringing the term bugchasing to a mainstream audience,[9] and public interest in and understanding of the practice increased following Freeman's article.[10]

Motivation and activity[edit]

Bugchasers are men who have sex with men (MSM)[A] who eroticize HIV infection, particularly through engaging in online sexual fantasies of being infected with HIV, or who actually pursue infection with the virus.[11] Since little is understood about the practice in general, the motivations for developing bugchasing identity and behavior remain largely undefined.[12] However, at least four motivations have been suggested.[13]

Once the initial shock dissipated, he felt relieved, like he had been given a free pass to have consensual bareback sex without worry of being infected.

— Journalist Bobby Box on a bugchaser's reaction to HIV-positive diagnosis (2020)[14]

First, some men may become bugchasers as a result of fear of HIV infection, which had previously altered their sexual behavior, such as men abstaining from sex entirely, committing to one partner, or using preventative measures such as condoms.[15] In this way, bugchasers may view their actions as empowering, both sexually and personally;[16] the transformation of bugchasers from HIV-negative to HIV-positive status is understood by the group as masculinizing, which grants them additional status.[17] Second, some men view HIV-positive status as erotic or sexually stimulating. It may be a subject of pleasure or the ultimate taboo to overcome.[18] Third, bugchasers may understand HIV-positive status (or its pursuit) as granting a shared identity and sense of community.[19] And fourth, bugchasing has been described as a political device and action against social norms (such as those tied to heteronormativity) through transgression of—or rebellion against—popular sentiments about gay life.[20] There is a fifth possible motivation—suicide[21]—but this remains an unclear or imprecise explanation for bugchasing behavior.[22]

Bugchasing is a rare sexual taboo.[23][24] Many self-identified bugchasers do not deliberately seek out sex with HIV-positive people.[25] Many men who self-identify as bugchasers never attempt to become HIV-positive.[26]

The widespread availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), capable of preventing HIV infection in otherwise unprotected sexual encounters, has not resulted in the disappearance of bugchasing.[27] Some men incorporate taking PrEP alongside bugchasing behavior, others experiment with bugchasing while on PrEP, and others view it as emasculating and refuse to use it.[28]

Group dynamics[edit]

While barebacking and bugchasing are both centered in risky sexual activity, they are distinct activities. Bugchasing is a subculture of barebacking, and intent is a distinguishing characteristic between bugchasers and barebackers: most barebackers do not intend to be infected (or infect others) with HIV, which is the apparent focus of bugchasing behavior.[29]

In the view of ethnologist Jamie García-Iglesias and researcher Tim Dean, bugchasers circulate several metaphors that distinguish their identity from other MSM communities: insemination, pregnancy, and paternity.[30] According to Dean and the psychological researcher Hugh Klein, since HIV is able to spread and reproduce through the sexual activity belonging to bugchasing, its cultural dimensions—institutions, norms, practices, and forms of kinship that, taken together, form a community situated around HIV status—may be transmitted through viral infection, similar to cultural propagation through birth and paternity.[31]

Similarly, bugchasing spaces may reinforce certain notions of masculinity. The sex researcher Ellie Reynolds writes that HIV-positive men who purposely seek out others to infect with HIV—known as giftgivers—are constructed as hypermasculine through a penetrative sexual role, while bugchasers are understood to lack masculinity: penetrated (rather than penetrating), having their rectums described with words relating to women such as "pussy" and "mancunt", they occupy a feminine role in the social order.[32] Whether giftgivers continue to exist is uncertain, given what García-Iglesias calls their "statistically rare" population and "biological implausib[ility] (on the basis of widespread successful treatment)".[33]

Media and culture[edit]

American filmmaker Louise Hogarth released a documentary, The Gift, in the same year the Rolling Stone piece was published. It focused on narratives of bugchasers,[34] emphasizing the self-reported positive aspects of HIV infection.[35] Three years later, Ricky Dyer, an HIV-positive man, released a documentary through BBC3 entitled "I love being HIV+", suggesting that most bugchasing activity is simply fantasy.[36] In 2009, gay playwright Erik Patterson ran the tragicomedy He Asked For It,[37] dealing with bugchasing and HIV-positive status in contemporary Hollywood.[38] Bugchasing was also a part of the show Queer as Folk.[39]

In 2012, Canadian Steven Boone was tried and convicted of three counts each of attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault after having unprotected sex with four men after previously contracting HIV. A self-described "poz vampire"—the word poz referring to acquiring HIV[40]—he was immersed in bugchasing culture. His convictions on attempted murder have since been quashed after appealing to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, while the aggravated sexual assault convictions remain. The appeals court said it was not proven in the original case that he intended to kill his sexual partners; it offered the government the possibility of a new trial.[41]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ While other groups are also disproportionately impacted by HIV, including trans women, García-Iglesias 2022, p. 38, writes: "I have found little to no evidence (even anecdotal) of trans people engaging in bugchasing, and there is also an absence of trans people from online narratives and discourses about bugchasing. This suggests that it is not objective HIV prevalence but rather the cultural background of HIV that determines the makeup of bugchasing."


  1. ^ Tomso 2004, p. 88.
  2. ^ García-Iglesias 2020b, p. 1232; Holt 2010, p. 473; Klein 2014, p. 54; Malkowski 2014, p. 211; Tewksbury 2003, p. 468.
  3. ^ Moskowitz, David A.; Roloff, Michael E. (2007). "The Existence of a Bug Chasing Subculture". Culture, Health & Sexuality. 9 (4): 347–357. doi:10.1080/13691050600976296. JSTOR 20460937. PMID 17612955. S2CID 31893571.
  4. ^ García-Iglesias 2020b, p. 1232.
  5. ^ Howard & Yamey 2003, p. 454.
  6. ^ a b Anderson 2018, p. 32; Malkowski 2014, p. 213.
  7. ^ Graydon 2007, p. 280.
  8. ^ Weiss 2006, p. 389.
  9. ^ Gonzalez 2010, p. 88.
  10. ^ Malkowski 2014, p. 213; Romero-Palau & Cuenca-Martínez 2021, p. 46.
  11. ^ Buys 2010, p. 483; García-Iglesias 2020b, p. 1232; García-Iglesias 2021a, p. 2; García-Iglesias 2021b, p. 154; García-Iglesias 2022, p. 34; Grov 2006, pp. 990–991.
  12. ^ Medeiros 2016, p. 67.
  13. ^ Carballo-Diéguez & Bauermeister 2004, p. 5; Gauthier & Forsyth 1999, pp. 93–96; Moskowitz & Roloff 2007b, pp. 22–23; Romero-Palau & Cuenca-Martínez 2021, pp. 47–48.
  14. ^ Box 2020.
  15. ^ Ames, Atchinson & Rose 1995, p. 70; Gauthier & Forsyth 1999, p. 93.
  16. ^ Bollas 2021, p. 7.
  17. ^ Reynolds 2007b, p. 263; MacKinnon & Crompton 2012, pp. 428–429.
  18. ^ Dean 2009, p. 48; García-Iglesias 2020b, p. 1237; Gauthier & Forsyth 1999, p. 94; Jaspal & Bayley 2020, p. 57; Santiesteban Díaz, Orlando-Narváez & Ballester-Arnal 2019, p. 1420.
  19. ^ Dean 2008, p. 91; Gauthier & Forsyth 1999, p. 94; Palm 2019, p. 131; Swan & Monico 2014, p. 466.
  20. ^ Crossley 2004, p. 235; Gauthier & Forsyth 1999, p. 94; Hammond, Holmes & Mercier 2016, p. 268; Inhorn 2020, p. 302; Reynolds 2007b, p. 259; Tomso 2004, p. 88.
  21. ^ Gauthier & Forsyth 1999, p. 97.
  22. ^ Tomso 2004, p. 102.
  23. ^ García-Iglesias 2021a, p. 5.
  24. ^ García-Iglesias 2022, p. 61.
  25. ^ García-Iglesias 2021b, p. 156; Moskowitz & Roloff 2007a, p. 353.
  26. ^ García-Iglesias 2022, p. 34.
  27. ^ García-Iglesias 2022, p. 80.
  28. ^ García-Iglesias 2022, pp. 80, 84–85.
  29. ^ Moskowitz & Roloff 2007a, p. 348.
  30. ^ Dean 2008, p. 86; García-Iglesias 2020a, p. 229; Klein 2014, p. 56; Reynolds 2007a.
  31. ^ Dean 2008, p. 86; Klein 2014, p. 56.
  32. ^ Reynolds 2007b, p. 262.
  33. ^ García-Iglesias 2022, p. 103.
  34. ^ Huebenthal 2017, paras. 34–35.
  35. ^ Breitfeller & Kanekar 2012, pp. 117–118.
  36. ^ Shoffman 2006.
  37. ^ Parashar 2009.
  38. ^ Los Angeles Times, p. E20.
  39. ^ Crook 2004, p. 2.
  40. ^ García-Iglesias 2020a, p. 221.
  41. ^ Yogaretnam 2019, p. A4.