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Unsafe sex is and will probably always remain a "hot topic". Despite severely lacking abstinence-only sex ed in some countries, it's fair to say that almost everyone with an internet connection now knows that using condoms is sane, unless you're in a committed monogamous relationship and both partners were tested for sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV.
That knowledge doesn't always translate to practice. No age category, ethnic group, or sexual orientation holds a monopoly on unsafe sex — people from all backgrounds might decide to forego condoms for some reason, knowing they are taking a risk. The gay community is no exception. In fact, unsafe sex is so much of a phenomenon that it even has a name there: "barebacking". Borrowed from equestrianism where it refers to riding a horse without a saddle, the term simply means unprotected (anal) sex.
A Culture Of Risky Sex
Three gay men — Peter M, Wim D, and Hans M — started organizing barebacking sex parties in the Netherlands at some point after the turn of the century. So far, despite the risks, that's nothing unusual. Around the year 2005, these parties began to take on a more sinister character. The men, all of whom were HIV-positive and aware of their status, drugged the guys who came to their parties, had unsafe sex with them, and... injected some of them with their HIV-infected blood.
The first two men were found to be the main conspirators, and they are still in prison for what they did. At least four of their victims got HIV as the result of their criminal actions, you see. The motivation? It was said that the men wanted an exclusive group of men who were all HIV-positive, so they could bareback away without any worries.
Though injections to infect others with HIV aren't usual, passing the virus onto others deliberately is not that rare. It even has a name: criminal transmission of HIV. Cases are documented in many countries all around the world.
That's sick, right? Sick. If you're baffled, you're not alone. Something even more disturbing may be occurring in gay communities in developed nations however. We're talking about the phenomenon of "bug chasing". Here, too, HIV infection is intentional, but in this case we're dealing with HIV-negative people who want to get the virus.
The phenomenon comes with its own sick terminology. "Bug chasers" are those that want HIV. They refer to HIV-positive partners who are willing to gave unprotected sex with them — or "pozz them up", as they say — as "gift givers". Why on Earth would someone think HIV was a gift? Are people really being infected with a virus that was a definite death sentence not too long ago?
The 'Gift' Of HIV
HIV treatment has come a long, long way since those early days in which being infected with the virus wasn't just a death sentence, but also a ticket to die in a particularly nasty way. HIV-positive people from developed nations now have a good chance of living a long life. If they respond to their treatment well, their HIV never has to progress to AIDS.
Over 30 different HIV medications are on the market now, with new ones being developed all the time. Some people take only one pill that combines drugs from different classes. What's more, it's now possible to prevent infecting HIV-negative partners, and measures that prevent both men and women from passing the virus on to their children exist.
HIV doesn't sound all that scary any more, does it? If you never hear stories about HIV-positive people who don't respond to any of the numerous available medications, and if you never take the time to find out what symptoms you might experience if you have HIV, and what nasty side effects the medications can bring, living with HIV might sound a little like having iron-deficiency anemia: take some pills, and you'll be fine.
Some gay men may — given the prevalence of barebacking — feel that HIV infection is inevitable at some point. Once you know you have it, you can stop worrying about getting it, can't you? Others may seek HIV infection to prevent being rejected by their positive partners. It has even been said that HIV infection gains someone entrance into the (not so) exclusive club of HIV-positive people, where they will be loved and supported.