Kristian+Life @guy_interruptd

I hope you kept the receipt, bug chasers.

While the science world fights to find a cure for HIV, and the rest of the world fears becoming infected, there is much talk of a growing subculture of men for whom catching HIV is the ultimate erotic fantasy. 

Dubbed ‘bug chasers’, these men don’t fear becoming infected. They’re not even just nonchalant about the possibility – they’re actively seeking out positive men online in order to become ‘pozzed up’ with the ‘gift’ of HIV – filled with ‘bug juice’ and ‘converted’.

But why on earth would someone deliberately seek to become HIV-positive? I can’t fathom it. Nothing in even my kinkiest fantasies would involve a life of strict pill regimes and their myriad side effects, as well as the endless blood tests and hospital visits. Granted, HIV is no longer a death sentence, but it’s sure as hell a life sentence. I’m 34 and my cholesterol is sky high because of my medication, despite a strict diet and no booze or fags for over three years. The risk of me developing heart disease or diabetes is staggeringly high. Why in the hell would anyone get horny over the prospect of that?

There are people who believe that bug chasers want to become positive for a dark reason – a form of self-harm through contraction of a chronic condition, like some twisted ‘slow suicide’. Others believe these men want to feel accepted and a part of something. Even in today’s society, people with HIV are largely seen as ‘different’. But with a positive diagnosis also comes an automatic membership of perhaps the only gay subculture that still recognises the word ‘community’. Poz blokes are a nice bunch; we’re a cohesive and judgement-free group that welcomes its new members and gives them incredible support. After all, we’re all in the same boat here. 

But for some, it’s more a strategic move. For anyone who lived in the 80s and 90s, the possibility (and probability) of contracting HIV was very real, and drummed into them at every turn. Even nowadays, for negative guys having safe sex with multiple partners, there’s still that distant fear, the ‘what if?’ that sits in the back of your mind. Condoms aren’t 100% effective – we all know that, and who’s to say the guy whose dick is inside you even knows his status, let alone what his viral load is doing right now if he is positive?

Perhaps there are some who simply want a life free of the anxiety of catching HIV, so they decide to take control of the situation and infect themselves. It’s empowering in a sense. They’re no longer victims waiting to be infected; rather they are in charge of their own fates. And the eroticism? Well, let’s face it.  When it’s something you are not supposed to do, it is fun. It’s a different form of the turn-on you get from hard sex, SM, or fucking in public – you’re turned on by the risk. Deliberately infecting yourself is the ultimate taboo, the most extreme sex act left on the planet, and that’s got to be pretty erotic for those who have tried pretty much everything else. Some might argue that ‘after HIV there’s nothing worse’ but to be honest, that doesn’t really wash with me. Ask my friend, who was on drugs for hep C for over a year, and was driven to depression and near-suicide by the mental side effects. Or another, who had to go to hospital for daily antibiotic injections after he caught syphilis. Try explaining THAT one to your boss.

You might argue that bug chasers are wasting our precious tax money. After all, people with HIV are a drain on resources. Why should we support those who go out and catch it deliberately? Treating someone living with HIV costs the NHS an average of £10k a year. I should know – I’m one of them. But I go to work and I pay my taxes, so I have a right as a UK citizen, the same as someone with diabetes, or some other long term condition. People might look at it differently because it was ‘my fault’ and I ‘should have been more careful’. Maybe I should have, but it doesn’t change anything. 

Let’s face it. The gay community barebacks. There’s no getting away from it. So why should it be different for someone who has bareback sex without knowing their partner’s status – or not bothering to find out – than someone who barebacks intentionally?

Maybe these guys have a point. Why live under the shadow of catching HIV when you can take control of it and head fate off at the pass? I don’t claim to understand it, nor do I endorse it. But the simple fact of life is this: until we have a cure and a vaccine for HIV, gay men are going to bareback, and some of them are going to catch the virus. So instead of demonising people and thought patterns we’re never likely to understand, perhaps we should just concentrate our efforts on empowering and equipping those men who want to stay HIV-negative. 

As for me, I really do wish HIV was a gift, because I’d love to return it and get something I actually want.

Kristian Johns is an author and former editor. When he’s not raising awareness of HIV issues, his sole mission in life is to convince his boyfriend to let him have a dog.

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This article was taken from FS magazine issue 142. To read this issue in full, click here