Experts have warned about a new craze in which men are secretly seeking and spreading HIV.
The reckless practice, known as bug chasing, started in the US as a bizarre means of getting sexual excitement from risk-taking.
Now, hundreds of men are introducing themselves on online forums, Facebook groups and Twitter. They meet up and try to transmit the potentially life-threatening virus.
To bug chasers, HIV isn’t a ruthless killer. HIV-infected semen is treated like liquid gold.
It’s a gift – the most beautiful a man can willingly receive – spread through a secret breeding ground.
Some bug-chasers actually claim the virus gives them a better quality of life because of the medication they subsequently have to take.
Nick, 30, an admin worker from the Midlands, said:
I feel fit as a fiddle. I feel full of energy and healthier as a result of being on my medication. I don’t regret the sex I had or becoming HIV. The only downside of contracting the virus is it took some of the excitement away.”.
Nick claims he has had unprotected sex with more than 1,000 men, including many he knew were HIV positive, in his quest for the virus.
When Nick was first diagnosed, he wrote on Facebook:
Tested positive on 21st September and totally loving it! Wanna share with any chasers, CD4 is 971, VL 100,000 – nice and toxic!”
CD4 refers to his white blood cell count while VL is the “viral load”, which indicates how likely a carrier is to pass the virus on. VL 100,000 is extremely high.
Since his diagnosis, Nick claims to have had unprotected sex with 20 men.
I have faced a lot of vitriol on my blog,” he said. “But I just think that as it’s between two consenting adults, it’s no one else’s business.
If you brought me a person I had infected and sat them in front of me I would probably feel some guilt over it if they hadn’t been educated about the risks. But all the people I have had sex with have made educated decisions.”
Another bug chase Carlos explained how much he wants HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
His eyes light up as he says that the actual moment of transmission, the instant he gets HIV, will be “the most erotic thing I can imagine.”
I know what the risks are, and I know that putting myself in this situation is like putting a gun to my head,” he says.
When asked whether he is prepared to live with HIV after that “erotic” moment, Carlos dismisses living with HIV as a minor annoyance. Like most bug chasers, he has the impression that the virus just isn’t such a big deal anymore:
It’s like living with diabetes. You take a few pills and get on with your life.”
While the rest of the world fights the AIDS epidemic and most people fear HIV infection, this subculture celebrates the virus and eroticizes it.
A US website which promotes meetings of bug-chasers and gift-givers – those who are already HIV positive – has more than 5,000 members!