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The Existence of a Bug Chasing Subculture

Author(s): David A. Moskowitz and Michael E. Roloff


Source: Culture, Health & Sexuality, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 2007), pp. 347-357
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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Culture, Health & Sexuality, July-August 2007; 9(4): 347-357
Routledge
Taylor & Francis Group
The existence of a bug chasing subculture
DAVID A. MOSKOWITZ, & MICHAEL E. ROLOFF
Department of Communication Studies, Northwestern University, USA
Abstract
This study attempted to authenticate the existence of a controversial subculture of gay men, the 'bug
chasers', whose main attribute is an active desire to voluntarily contract the human immunodeficiency
virus (HIV), and examine the tenacity with which this subculture actually searches for seroconversion.
Using a quasi-randomized survey of personal profiles, bug chasers were compared against
barebackers, a culture of gay men that practice intentional unprotected anal intercourse. Bug chasers
were authenticated as an observable subculture of barebackers where most reported apathy to the
serostatus of their partner or an active want of a serodiscordant partner, and a preference towards
practicing unprotected anal intercourse. As anticipated, two subgroups with varying tenacities were
found within the sample of bug chasers. Apathetic chasers were found only to be in search of partners
with sero-ambiguous status. Ardent chasers were found only to be in search of certifiably
serodiscordant partners.
Keywords: Gay subcultures, bug chasing, barebacking, HIV
Introduction
A new danger to HIV prophylaxis has been suggested by several news and magazine
journalists, and further supported by healthcare authorities (Gendin 1997, Gauthier and
Forsyth 1999, Freeman 2003, Hatfield, 2004, Moskowitz and Roloff in press). Some
physiologically healthy, HIV-negative gay men appear to be actively seeking seroconversion
by engaging in unprotected sex with HIV-positive partners, or what has been labelled 'bug
chasing'. The existence of such a subculture is counterintuitive. Why would healthy
individuals seek to infect themselves with an ultimately terminal disease? Unfortunately,
there are few peer-reviewed, qualitative and/or quantitative studies focused on this group
(namely Gauthier and Forsyth 1999, Hatfield 2004, Moskowitz and Roloff in press);
hence, the behaviours and preferences of the subculture are virtually unknown. To fill this
void, we report the results of a quantitative study that examines both the authenticity and
tenacity of bug chasing. By comparing the content of personal profiles created by those who
self-identify as bug chasers with those who self-identify as just barebackers, we definitively
show the existence of a legitimate subculture. In the next section, we will preview the
fundamental differences that place bug chasing as a subculture of barebacking, and then
offer hypotheses that test the existence of these differences.
Correspondence: D. A. Moskowitz, Department of Communication Studies, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Rm
#2-168, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA. Email: d-moskowitzl@northwestern.edu
ISSN 1369-1058 print/ISSN 1464-5351 online ?) 2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/13691050600976296
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348 D. A. Moskowitz & M. E.
Roloff
Barebackers v. bug chasers
In reviewing the scarce unpublished and published materials on bug chasing, as well as
general healthcare speculations, a common theme appears
-
the lumping together of bug
chasers with barebackers (e.g., Gendin 1997, Peyser 1997, Gauthier and Forsyth 1999).
This is an extremely misleading tendency. Although the two groups share some of the same
practices, namely unprotected anal intercourse (UAI), there are distinctions that help to
differentiate bug chasing as a subculture of the greater barebacking culture. That is to say,
that even though all bug chasers are indeed barebackers, not all barebackers are bug
chasers.
Mansergh and colleagues (2002: 653) define barebacking as 'a phenomenon whereby
some men intentionally engage in unprotected anal sex'. Although the prevalence of the
culture varies by the inclusiveness of its definition, conservative estimates under this
previously mentioned definition claim that about 14% of gay men practice barebacking
(Halkitis et al. 2003a). No such estimate exists for the amount of, or prevalence of bug
chasers. The salient feature of Mansergh and colleagues' (2002) definition is the concept of
intention; and it is this intention that differentiates the two groups into culture, and
subculture. The purported intention of the bug chaser is to become infected with HIV;
barebackers do not share this same goal (Tewksbury 2003, Schwartz and Bailey 2005).
Similarly, barebackers have different goals from gay men who accidentally eschew condom
use (Wolitski 2005, Parsons and Bimbi 2006). And this is where the concept of culture
becomes salient. Barebacking is not a case of individual absentmindedness. Men who
practise barebacking have deliberately created their own culture in which men bond over,
and value unprotected anal intercourse as a primary and important construct representing
exclusivity, defiance, and unadulterated pleasure (Mansergh et al. 2002, Crossley 2004,
Halkitis et al. 2005a, Wolitski 2005, Parsons and Bimbi 2006).
Barebackers are not as haphazard in their sexual encounters as once thought. The group
employs strategies to minimize the risk of infection at statistically significant levels
(Wegesin and Meyer-Bahlburg 2000, Van de Ven et al. 2002, Halkitis et al. 2005a). Sexual
positioning and 'coitus interruptus' are two such methods to reduce risk while enjoying the
virtues of UAI. HIV-negative barebackers who engage in UAI with either an anonymous
other or sero-ambiguous other are more likely to 'top' instead of 'bottom', be insertive
rather than receptive; and seronegative barebackers in serodiscordant relationships are
substantially more likely to 'top' than 'bottom' (Wegesin and Meyer-Bahlburg 2000, Van de
Ven et al. 2002, Halkitis et al. 2005a, b). Coitus interruptus is also used more often than not
by barebackers suggesting that internal ejaculation is merely an ancillary occurrence (Van
de Ven et al. 2002, Parsons and Bimbi 2006). Dawson et al. (2005) confirm that those
using websites to look for bareback experiences search for seroconcordant partners, or
'serosort' as a qualification. Strewn throughout the previously mentioned research, these
methods do not ensure that transmission will be avoided, but they hold the potential to
decrease the likelihood of HIV seroconversion. The research, in its totality, strongly
suggests that (a) infection is not a goal held by the bareback culture, and (b) some sorts of
'protective' measures are being utilized. In short, barebackers display antithetical
behaviours to those likely enacted by bug chasers.
Further qualitative research suggests that the motivations of barebackers and bug chasers
vary significantly. Interviews with barebackers conducted by Crossley (2004: 227) show
that a strong psychological reactance effect (see Brehm and Brehm 1981) guides this group,
where UAI is '... a kind of symbolic act of rebellion and transgression which they are not
necessarily consciously aware...'. UAI becomes a protest tool against the bombardment of
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The existence of a bug chasing subculture 349
safe-sex propaganda and against gay cultural norms (Gendin 1997, Gauthier and Forsyth
1999, Tewksbury 2003, Crossley 2004). Although this explanation accounts for why some
gay men do not practice safe sex, it does not indicate why some barebackers might
exclusively seek serodiscordant, HIV-positive partners, and thus become bug chasers. In
other words, the threatened freedom hypothesis posited by Crossley (2004) concerns
sexual practices (e.g., not using condoms or avoiding certain sexual actions) rather than
avoiding HIV-positive partners; as such, it cannot be extended to fully explain bug chasing.
Where the goal of the chaser is seemingly to catch the bug, the goal of the barebacker, and
his larger culture, seems to be empowerment (Gauthier and Forsyth 1999, Tewksbury
2003, Wolitski 2005). Interviews suggest there are senses of self-expression and pride for
the barebacker in performing and premeditating UAI. Although it is likely bug chasers do
enjoy the same self-expression and excitement as their parent culture, because they also
enjoy the possibility of seroconverting, a unique attribute, they cannot be synonymous
groups.
If not fairly evident from the definition of barebacking (from Mansergh et al. 2002), bug
chasing may be regarded as a subculture of this larger bareback culture. But to apply the
same rationales to both of their existences is tantamount to generalizing barebacker
psychology to all homosexual males. Though their practices are quite similar, namely UAI,
HIV obsession and fascination force a cleft in the greater bareback culture, and thus, force
the development and recognition of a bug chasing subculture. If it is quite likely that such
variability exists between the barebacker culture and bug chaser subculture, it is also quite
likely that variability exists among bug chasers themselves.
Our analyses lead to the following two hypotheses concerning the (1) authenticity, and
(2) tenacity of bug chasers: Hypothesis 1: When examining preferences for sexual partners
and behaviours associated with acquiring HIV, bug chasers can be identified as a distinctive
subculture within the larger culture of barebackers; Hypothesis 2: Based upon their
preferences for sexual partners and behaviours associated with acquiring HIV, two groups
of bug chasers can be identified, apathetic and ardent chasers.
Methods
Procedures
Three hundred personal profiles were printed off of www.ultimatebareback.com, a website
that exclusively caters to barebackers and the backbacker identity. In terms of which were
selected, the website only retrieved those profiles which had been recently visited by their
creators. So, the 300 analysed were the most actively used among all of those within the
website. This ensured that the bug chaser still advertised as a person in search of HIV, and
it also ensured that the non-bug chaser was still actively advertising on the site. We kept the
profiles perfectly intact and in their original order. We only drew profiles from this sole
website because it was the only one at the time to allow individuals to literally self-identify
as bug chasers.
Participants
We selected the first 150 most actively used profiles in which individuals self-identified as
bug chasers and the first 150 most actively used profiles in which they did not self-identify
as bug chasers. These non-bug chasers were just barebackers. Within the bug chasing
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350 D. A. Moskowitz & M. E. Roloff
sample, we identified several problematic cases. There were 19 (12.7%) aberrant profiles in
which the respondents self-identified as bug chasers but reported an antithetical preference
for exclusively HIV-negative partners. Because of this inconsistency, we reviewed each of
the 19 profiles for missing data, confusion, and other blatant anomalies. After careful
consideration, we decided to remove 16 of the 19 (10.7% of the initial sample) from the
statistical analyses. It was abundantly clear, above and beyond the HIV-negative only
partner preference, that the 16 were uninformed about the function and meaning of
creating such a profile.
The final sample consisted of 284 profiles. All bug chasers and barebackers reported that
they were HIV-negative. Bug chasers ranged in age from 20 to 50 years (M=31.0,
SD=7.4), while barebackers ranged in age from 20 to 58 years (M=32.8, SD=8.8). The
racial composite of the sample of bug chasers was comprised of 87.9% White men, 4.0%
Black men, 4.0% Latino men, 1.6% Asian men, and 2.4% other, whereas the sample of
non-bug chasing barebackers was 85% White, 7.4% Black, 4.4% Latino, 1.4% Asian, and
1.4% other. Location was divided into three ranges, local areas (population< 100k),
midsized cities
(100k,<population<500k),
and major metropolitan areas
(500k<popula
tion). Of the sample of bug chasers, 24.4% lived in local areas, 22.1% in midsized cities,
and 53.4% in major metropolitan areas. Of the barebackers, 19.9% lived in local areas,
36.3% in midsized cities, and 43.8% in major metropolitan areas,
Z2(2)=6.648,
p02= 0.024,
p=0.036. Except for location, the two groups were statistically similar on all demographic
variables. Considering the small effect size, and that location could not predict any other
variation between the groups, it was deemed noteworthy
-
but ultimately inconsequential.
Measures
Each profile contained two sorts of information that were analysed in this study, nominal or
ordinal categories, and free response spaces. The choices a respondent could select within
each category were created by the website and thus, we could not change any of the range
of possible answers one could make. Respondents could indicate a preference for the
serostatus of their partners (not specified=0, negative only=1, negative preferred=2,
doesn't matter=3, positive preferred=4, positive only=5). Because an individual is most
likely to contract HIV by engaging in UAI with a partner whose serostatus is either
unknown or positive, partner preference and willingness to bareback (i.e., willingness to
engage in UAI) were primarily used to assess the first hypothesis. Willingness to bareback
was coded: not specified=O, bareback curious= 1, bareback preferred
-
but not
required=2, and bareback only=3. Individuals could also communicate their sexual self
label
-
their preference for sexual position during anal intercourse (Sanderson 1994).
These labels were coded: not specified=O, top (insertive) only=1, versatile (insertive and
receptive)=2, bottom (receptive) only=3.
Within each advertisement, several items asked about a respondent's preferences for
scenes and 'individual types'. The first examined preferences for party-n-play (PnP), i.e.,
mixing legal/illegal drugs and sex. Research suggests that mixing drugs like Ecstasy,
cocaine, and Viagra may lead to an increase in risky sexual behaviour (Halkitis et al. 2003b,
Crosby and DiClemente 2004); and crystal meth not only lowers sexual inhibitions and
increases risk-acceptability, but may also suppress immunological responses that can
reduce the likelihood of HIV-infection (Urbina and Jones 2004). PnP was coded, not
specified =0, no =
1, or yes
= 2. The second indicated the degree to which the respondent
identified with, or were attracted to the party culture. Research suggests that involvement
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The existence of a bug chasing subculture 351
with the party scene and drug use/abuse is highly related (Colfax et al. 2001, Wolitski
2005). Adherence was coded absent or present; e.g., 'I'm a party boy', or 'I'm looking for a
party boy', became, no 0, or yes= 1. Again, since the website created these categories and
the choices a respondent could select, we could not specifically identify the sorts of drugs
used, or the degree to which drugs were used before or during sexual behaviour. We are,
however, confident these measures suggest general trends on drug acceptability and use.
We conducted an exploratory factor analysis with Varimax rotation in order to determine
whether these previously mentioned predictors reflected underlying factors. A minimum
Eigenvalue of 1.0 was used as a cut-off and selected items were clustered based on a
minimum primary factor loading of 0.50 (Kaiser 1960). First, we ran the analysis with the
all the previously mentioned variables. Two factors emerged, preferences for the drug
scene, and preferences for seroconversion behaviours. Sexual self-label was removed from
the analysis because it would not sufficient load into either of these factors (r<0.3). The
analysis was rerun with the following variables: HIV partner preference, bareback
preference, PnP preference, preference for a party boy partner, and self-identification as
a party boy. As table 1 illustrates, regardless of the removed variable, the same two factors
emerged that reflect preferences for the drug scene, and preferences for seroconversion
behaviours. Factor scores were used for the regression analyses.
Finally, two trained individuals working independently coded the free-response areas of
the 284 profiles. To further verify the differences within bug chasers, each profile was
coded as to whether an explicit reference was made to chasing (0=not present; 1 =present).
The main definition used for active interest in bug chasing was the use of expressions that
explicitly referred to aspects of the behaviour, slang terminology of the behaviour, or the
behaviour itself. Exemplars were taken from the literature available on bug chasing (Gendin
1997, Gauthier and Forsyth 1999, Freeman 2003, Hatfield 2004). Some of the phrases
that were coded as present include: 'poz me', 'looking for diseased loads', 'convert me',
and/or 'all bugs welcomed'. The coding was reliable, K=.91. A third party settled all
disagreements.
Results
Considering the dichotomous nature of the dependent variable
-
participants could self
identify as either barebacker (0) or bug chaser (1) logistical regression was used to assess
the authenticity of the label and thus, the subculture. This type of regression was also used
Table 1. Factor analysis: loadings for bug chasing predictors
Components
Preferences for the Preferences for seroconversion
drug scene behaviours
HIV partner preference 0.124 0.860
PnP preference 0.697 0.174
Bareback preference 0.110 0.865
Preference for a party boy partner 0.839 0.003
Self-identification as a party boy 0.789 0.110
Note. Extraction method: Principal Component Analysis. Rotation method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization.
Loadings bolded to show the defining components of each of the two factors, i.e., PnP preference, preference for a
party boy partner, and self-identification as a party boy largely defined 'preferences for the drug scene'.
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352 D. A. Moskowitz & M. E. Roloff
to assess the tenacity of bug chasers, i.e., which variables contributed to the apathetic (0)
and the ardent chasers (1)? Individual X2-statistics were used to produce specific
percentages indicating the prevalence of certain attributes. SPSS version 14.0 was used
to generate all statistical analyses. Missing data was found to be problematic. Since the
participants had the option to leave certain fields blank or 'unspecified' in their profiles,
some chose not to enter a response. Hence, the sample size will vary across the analyses.
An authentic phenomenon
We began by testing the most conspicuous attributes that could be used to both
authenticate bug chasing and also distinguish the bug chaser subculture from the
barebacker culture. Using logistical regression, we found that a model containing
preferences for the drug scene and for seroconversion behaviours fit well with the actual
distribution of bug chasers and barebackers,
Z2(2)=
107.462, R2=0.462, p<0.001. The
model accurately predicted 77.1% of barebackers and 87.3% of bug chasers. In addition,
each set of preferences added significantly to the fit of the model: preferences for drug use,
b=0.659, p=0.006, and the factor representing preferences for seroconversion, b=2.544,
p<0.001. This suggested that bug chasers and barebackers do differ with respect to key
behaviours. That is to say, an individual who tends to practice UAI with serodiscordant
partners, or uses and/or abuses drugs (especially before or during sex) is also more likely to
be a bug chaser than a barebacker. And conversely, an individual who tends to be either
only curious about, or practices UAI with seroconcordant partners, or does not use and/or
abuse drugs (especially before or during sex) is more likely to be a barebacker than a bug
chaser.
More specific results suggested that bug chasers unilaterally reported either ambivalence
towards the status of their partners or expressed a preference for a serodiscordant partner,
X2(4)= 155.63,
02= .599, p<.001. Barebackers (82%) reported wanting some variety of
HIV-negative, seroconcordant partner, and none reported a preference for a serodiscordant
partner. This was considerably different from the preferences of bug chasers
-
supporting
both bug chaser existence, and their divergent goals. Bug chasers are purportedly in search
of 'the bug'. Interestingly enough, only 8.7% reported a preference for a certifiably positive
partner and the majority (60.6%) of bug chasers reported that HIV status 'doesn't matter'.
This suggested that most were not necessarily looking for seroconversion, but were looking
for ambiguous situations or partners through which they could or could not be engaging in
a behaviour in which HIV could or could not be transmitted. Granted 31.5% (the sum of
positive only and positive-preferred) were looking for infection, the rest seemed to be
looking for something else. In general, barebackers seemed to be looking for the pleasure
and freedom derived from unprotected sex
-
bug chasers, for the uncertainty and the risk
derived from unprotected sex.
In theory, there should have been no difference in the preference towards unprotected
sex if bug chasing was inauthentic. However, the specific data indicated the majority of
barebackers preferred, but did not require unprotected intercourse in their potential
partnerships; whereas most of the bug chasers made it a prerequisite behaviour,
X2(2)=73.538,
02=0.292, p<0.001. Only 6.4% of barebackers reported wanting a
bareback only experience versus 56.7% of bug chasers. This supported the notion that
barebackers were more oriented as a group towards pleasure than disease. The 'preferred'
attribute allowed more leeway in partner selection, which ensured a higher number of
partners
-
those wanting to use condoms, or not; and barebackers (66.4%), more often
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The existence of a bug chasing subculture 353
Table 2. Sexual self-identity of barebackers vs. bug chasers
Identity
Top Versatile Bottom
Barebackers
n 27 68 50
Of barebackers 18.6% 46.9% 34.5%
Of the identity 93.1 53.1 41.7
Bug Chasers
n 2 60 70
Of bug chasers 1.5 45.5 53.0
Of the identity 6.9 46.9 58.3
Note. Whole model comparison of barebackers vs. bug chasers: x2(2)=24.830,>2 =0.089, p<0.001.
than not, selected this choice. More partners could lead to more pleasure and more sexual
freedom. Conversely, bug chasers were more aroused by the disease than the pleasure.
Their intent was not merely to have sex, but to have the riskiest sex possible.
Table 2 shows the distribution of sexual self-identity of respondents by group (either top,
bottom, or versatile). Note this variable was not included in the original logistic regression
reported at the beginning of this section because of poor fit with either of the factors. As a
side note, even if we had ignored the poor fit and included it, sexual self-label would not
have affected the direction or significance of the regression. Considering previous research
(e.g., Wegesin and Meyer-Bahlburg 2000, Van de Ven et al. 2002, Hart et al. 2003), it was
expected that barebackers would be more likely to report the sex role of versatile, and bug
chasers, interested in the riskiest behaviours, bottom. Results supported the previous
studies and indicated a significant difference in the roles reported. Barebackers were more
likely to claim versatility whereas bug chasers were more likely to self-label as bottoms.
Also, because only 1.5% of chasers reported being exclusive tops and 53% exclusive
bottoms, this suggested another difference between the groups. Bug chasers were sexually
passive as a subculture
-
barebackers, more 'sexually egalitarian' as a culture.
The aforementioned results supported our first hypothesis that chasers could be
behaviourally distinguished from barebackers as a subculture. Ignoring all the psycholo
gical, relational, or chemical influences driving this trend, ignoring the initial proof that a
large enough sample could be found, the shear statistics that there was a group, of which
92. 1 % reported an apathy to the serostatus of their partner or a desire for a serodiscordant
partner, and an 87.4% preference in practising unsafe sex, proved a living and real
subculture.
Variability in tenacity
The results arising from testing the first hypothesis suggested that indeed there were the
two sorts of bug chasers posited in the second hypothesis, the 'ardent' and 'apathetic'
chasers. It would seem a small portion of the chaser group was dismissible as been
misinformed as to what the identity of a bug chaser entailed, about 8%. These few reported
preferring an HIV-negative partner, but would not necessarily exclude partners with sero
unknown or serodiscordant status. This left two groups. The first followed the original
hypothesis and was comprised of the legitimate or ardent bug chasers, about a third
(31.5%). This group reported a strong tenacity towards putting themselves at an extremely
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354 D. A. Moskowitz & M. E. Roloff
high level of risk through preferring UAI with serodiscordant partners. The other group was
comprised of the apathetic chasers (60.6%), their data suggesting a weaker, uncertain
search for seroconversion. They were not the tenacious bug chasers just examined, but a
different breed more enamoured by the risk of converting rather than actually converting.
Again, logistic regression was used to find predictors of apathetic and ardent chasers. We
found that a model containing the variables, bareback preferences and explicitly referencing
bug chasing, fit with the actual distribution of ardent and apathetic chasers, X2(2) =34.425,
R2=0.259, p<0.001. The model accurately predicted 84.0% of apathetic chasers and 60%
of ardent chasers. Each of the variables added significantly to the fit of the model: bareback
preference, b= 1.024, p<0.001, and explicit bug chasing references, b=2.008, p<0.001. No
other variable differentiated the two groups within the bug chasing subculture.
This model suggested that if a large enough fascination or obsession exists to push the
chaser to actually begin an active discussion of chasing, then this chaser is likely ardent. Or
if the chaser will only engage in UAI and thus, will dismiss partners that are unwilling to
comply, then this chaser is also likely to be ardent. So besides requiring serodiscordance,
these differences in practising exclusively unsafe intercourse and actively communicating
the desire to chase HIV sufficiently separate the 'looking for infection' ardent chaser from
the 'looking for the risk of infection' apathetic chaser. Therefore, the regression endorses
variability in the tenacity of bug chasers.
Discussion
The questions driving this research were whether a bug chasing subculture was indeed real,
and to what degree it existed. The results confirmed the first hypothesis by showing that
bug chasers can be distinguished from barebackers. Partner HIV preference and drug use
preferences are just some of the differences that distinguish bug chasers from those
uninterested in infection. As predicted in the second hypothesis, bug chasers may be
broken into two groups, ardent and apathetic chasers. The results show that in a rough
33%/66% distribution, one third of the group actively searches for positive partners
through partner and bareback preferences, and bug chasing references, whereas the other,
overwhelming majority of the group searches for the ambiguity and risk surrounding unsafe
sex with a potentially positive partner. It is this certainty, versus uncertainty dichotomy that
illustrates this important intragroup difference regarding tenacity.
Although an incidental outcome, many of the theories espoused by previous research
(e.g., Mansergh et al. 2002, Van de Ven et al. 2002, Tewksbury 2003, Dawson et al. 2005,
Halkitis et al. 2005b) have been further endorsed by the results. Barebackers do employ
tricks to reduce the likelihood of infection through partner preferences, sexual positioning,
etc. And most certainly, HIV infection is not in anyway a goal or intent of their behaviour.
This current research proves that at the very least, bug chasers exist, and they comprise a
legitimate subculture within the greater barebacker culture.
Limitations
Methodological limitations require caution when interpreting our results. By choosing only
one particular website for drawing our sample that had strong pornographic overtones, it
was possible our results reflect a selection bias (Mustanski 2001). We could not be certain
that gay men who do not create personal profiles or create profiles for different venues
would show the same patterns that we uncovered. In addition, our analysis was confined to
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The existence of a bug chasing subculture 355
those nominal or ordinal responses independently created by the website. We could not
modify or add questions. Also, the origins and psychometric properties of the items were
unknown. Finally, we could not ensure the veracity of the responses. Responses were
completely confidential and anonymous and hence, we could not verify whether the
responses accurately reflected the view of the respondent (Joinson 1999).
Future research
An obvious question emerges from this research. How 'successful' are these profiles? To
truly understand this pathological behaviour, the rate of men actually finding HIV-positive
partners and undergoing seroconversion must be assessed. The most direct means of doing
so is to conduct interviews at testing centres. Whether chasers are frequenting HIV testing
centres is as of yet unknown. Our current research suggests that most may not. Because
most chasers are looking for HIV-ambiguous partners, the reality of infection may be
secondary to the feelings derived from the abstract of infection. But this cannot be entirely
proved until the frequency of post-HIV exposure testing is documented. Also, it is still
largely unknown if the bug chaser loses interest in the chasing culture. Is this behaviour
ephemeral or enduring? As we noted, about 8% of bug chasers indicated a loose desire for
an HIV-negative partner. If these responses are valid, then some bug chasers may be
attempting to control their propensities.
All that is currently clear is that bug chasing can no longer be considered an urban legend
or an inductive fallacy. Bug chasers comprise a certifiably real subculture; and further
analysis is necessary to prevent bug chasing from becoming the same sort of popular threat
to HIV prophylaxis as premeditated and unpremeditated unprotected intercourse.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Dr Gerulf Rieger for his substantial contributions. Without his help
and expertise, this study could not have been possible.
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Resume
Cette etude a tente d'authentifier 1'existence d'une sous-culture gay controversee, les "bug
chasers", dont la particularite principale est le desir actif de contracter le virus
d'immunodeficience humaine (VIH) volontairement. Elle a egalement tente d'examiner
la perseverance avec laquelle cette sous-culture est reellement en recherche de
seroconversion.
En utilisant une enquete quasi randomisee sur les profils personnels, les bug chasers ont
ete compares aux barebackers, une culture d'hommes gay qui pratiquent la penetration
anale non protegee de maniere intentionnelle. Les bug chasers ont ete authentifies en tant
que sous-culture observable des barebackers, dans laquelle la plupart des hommes ont
declare une certaine indifference par rapport au statut serologique de leurs partenaires, ou
un besoin tres fort d'avoir un partenaire de statut diff6rent, et une tendance 'a preferer la
penetration anale non protegee. Comme prevu, deux sous-groupes avec des niveaux divers
de perseverance ont ete identifes dans l'echantillon des bug chasers. Les moins perseverants
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The existence of a bug chasing subculture 357
se sont reveles comme uniquement en recherche de partenaires au statut serologique
ambigu. Les plus perseverants se sont reveles comme uniquement en recherche de
partenaires serodifferents, au statut verifiable.
Resumen
El objetivo de este estudio es identificar la existencia de una polemica subcultura entre
hombres homosexuales, el 'bug chaser' (el caza bichos), que se caracteriza por desear
contagiarse voluntariamente con el virus de la inmunodeficiencia adquirida
(VIH).
Asimismo examinamos la tenacidad con la que esta subcultura busca seroconvertirse. Con
ayuda de una estudio casi aleatorio de personas con determinadas caracteristicas,
comparamos los caza bichos con los barebackers, una cultura de homosexuales que
practican intencionadamente relaciones anales sin proteccion. Se identifico a los bug
chasers como una subcultura observable de los barebackers. La mayoria presentaba una
actitud apatica en cuanto a la condicion de seropositivos de sus companeros sexuales o un
deseo activo de una pareja serodiscordante y preferencia por relaciones anales sin
proteccion. Tal como anticipamos, se observaron dos subgrupos con tenacidades diferentes
en la muestra de los caza bichos. Se observo que los cazadores con una actitud apatica solo
buscaban compafieros con un estado seropositivo ambiguo. Y que los cazadores mas
entusiastas solo buscaban compafieros que fuesen sin lugar a dudas serodiscordantes.
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