Curious Chaser has been online for nearly three months, with this being the 21st article published. As expected prior to launching my website and social media account, I have started receiving some nasty comments from people who strongly disagree with bug chasing and/or gift giving and deliberate HIV transmission. The main theme of these messages has been from people being concerned with HIV-positive people intentionally and recklessly infecting individuals who are not aware that they are being infected, which is definitely a serious issue. I believe some of these messages are coming from people who do not fully understand being HIV-positive and are expressing their hatred, so I am publishing this article to reveal my position on the subject.
The act of intentionally infecting another person with HIV against their knowledge is a crime in various places and is called “stealthing”. Stealthing can also involve someone who agrees to have sexual intercourse with another person through the use of a condom, where the condom gets removed at some point afterwards, unknowingly to the other person involved, which means the sex then becomes unprotected against the knowledge of both parties. There’s a growing number of laws around the world that make stealthing illegal. I also consider the word to be very interesting, because if you remove the letters “th” from the word stealthing, you get “stealing”, which is the perfect word to describe taking the decision making process away from another person.
There have been numerous criminal cases involving people who have been jailed for intentionally infecting people against their knowledge such as Stuart McDonald from Australia, Steven Boone from Canada, Darryl Rowe from the United Kingdom and Michael Johnson aka Tiger Mandingo from the United States, all who were involved with intentionally infecting multiple sexual partners by lying to them about their HIV status. It’s true that people have been infecting other people with HIV since the 1980s, but the difference is that most of these infections were unintentional transmissions, or cases where all parties involved were fully aware of what was happening. The difference between accidental HIV transmission and stealthing, is that stealthing involves one person who knows what’s going on, but they become reckless by misleading the other person by lying to them directly or by misleading the other person in some way.
When it comes to just about everything in life, making informed decisions is important, even when it comes to bug chasing or gift giving. This is extremely important when it comes to sexual intercourse, because sex can involve risks, whether it involves the use of a condom, which could mean the difference between pregnancy (for heterosexual intercourse) and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (for homosexual and heterosexual intercourse). Quite often stealthing does specifically refer to condom usage, but the term can also be used by barebackers who have agreed to have unprotected sexual intercourse with someone based, when the other person lies when asked about their HIV status.
Here are some examples of stealthing from a barebacking perspective that involve one person making a statement that is untrue that could result in serious health and legal implications:
- One person says he is HIV-negative, but he is actually HIV-positive and is not taking antiretroviral medication, meaning he has a detectable viral load and can transmit HIV to another person.
- One person admits to being HIV-positive, but says he is taking anti-retroviral medication to give him an undetectable viral load, when he specifically knows he is not taking any anti-retroviral medication and most likely has a detectable viral load and can transmit HIV to another person.
I try to keep my articles neutral, but I wanted to include something personal in this article, because it relates to this topic and it might give you more insight into my own thinking when it comes to this subject. When I was in my final year of high school, I found out that one of the boys in my class (who was gay like me) became HIV-positive by having unprotected sex with another guy or multiple guys. We were only sixteen at the time, which is the legal age for sexual intercourse in my location, which includes same-sex intercourse, so it was perfectly legal for him to have sex, but he was not equipped to know all the risks associated with having unprotected sex from a male to male perspective. Our school did not teach any sexual education at the time, so we were on our own to learn about it and the internet was only new back then, so information wasn’t as readily available as it is today.
Even though we were both gay, we didn’t talk to each other much about sex stuff, plus I was sexually inactive at the time, but he became really messed up as a result of his diagnosis at such a young age. I don’t know whether the guy or guys he was having sex with knew their HIV status when they were having unprotected sex with him and PrEP was not available at the time, so unprotected sex was extremely risky (which we now know, but didn’t as much at the time). These days, people have more information and options to protect themselves, but people can still be vulnerable, so it’s important for us to think about other people when it comes to having sex, even if we think they know what they’re getting themselves into when they agree to have unprotected sex.
I don’t want to turn this article into a lecture, I just want to point out a few things based on the feedback I have received, because some people assume that all HIV-positive people aim to intentionally infect other people with the virus, which is not the case. Stealthing is fine in a fantasy driven state, but when it becomes reality based physical actions, it can have serious consequences for other people. I’m finding it hard to write about this section of the article, because I can still remember how this impacted the boy I went to school with and his HIV infection led to him spiralling in life and now he’s no longer with us because of a drug overdose, so that’s why I wanted to share the human impact that stealthing can potentially cause to a person.
It’s important to consider the impact our actions can have on other people. It seems as though some people have a “pump and dump” attitude, where their primary purpose is to get what they want, then leave, with the result having lifetime effects on other people. People should have the right to make their own decisions and choose what they want in life, but when they become a victim of stealthing, the ability for them to make a decision is taken away from them and this is where the issue with stealthing lies. I am contemplating bug chasing right now and even though I’m on the edge of doing it, I wouldn’t want someone to make that decision for me, because it’s my decision and I want to make it myself, because I will then be responsible for my decision and own it.
Stealthing does equal stealing, because you are taking away the ability for a person to make an informed decision when you lie to them, which could have lifetime implications for them. HIV is not something that can be cured or goes away, even though it’s true that it can be treated and lead to most people living a normal life, but HIV stays with a person for their lifetime and can create mental trauma for them. Even though stealthing might be exciting for one person involved in the action, they are not the only person involved, so we should think more about others, because it’s not only respectful, it’s the right thing to do. I’m very passionate about this, because of my beliefs about the importance of personal choice and decision making.
If you are wanting to share the gift with someone, you can still negotiate with them by being upfront and honest about what you’re wanting to do by giving the other person the opportunity to make a decision, then if they agree, then it’s no longer considered to be stealthing, as everyone involved understands what’s happening and the risks are accepted. We are all individuals and we have the right to choose what we want to do in life, but when what we do involves others against their will, it’s no longer just about us, it becomes about everyone involved, so sharing some kindness through honesty can really make us better people and may also lead to less aggression from people who judge bug chasers, gift givers and HIV-positive people in general.
This is also a good opportunity for you to get to know the laws about HIV transmission in your own part of the world. The Aidsmap article ‘HIV criminalisation laws around the world’ includes the option for you to select a particular country to view the laws and criminal cases from around the world. You can find the link to this website at the bottom of the page, along with a direct link to the Global HIV Criminalisation Database. The information varies depending on your location, but this website provides you with general information, along with a list of cases of HIV criminalisation. I have also used this website to understand the laws in my part of the world and the Public Health Act for my location states that “a person must not recklessly put someone else at risk of contracting a controlled notifiable condition (including HIV), or recklessly transmit HIV, but a person does not commit an offence if the other person knew the accused had the condition and voluntarily accepted the risk.”
This article is written for everyone, whether HIV-negative or HIV-positive, because everyone has the ability to become a stealther, which is why no particular HIV status should be singled out. Bug chasers, gift givers and HIV-positive people often get judged in life and this means the spotlight can be on us more intensely, as people like to delve into other people’s business and make judgements, which is why it’s important for us not to give anyone a reason to be right. We can still be who we are, we can chase the bug, we can offer the gift, but it’s just important to do so honestly and in compliance with the relevant laws to ensure everyone who is involved is aware and agree with what’s happening so they can accept what’s happening. We need to think about other people sometimes and not just ourselves, because that makes us a better person.
- HIV criminalisation cases recorded in 72 countries, including 49 in the last four years – https://www.aidsmap.com/news/jun-2019/hiv-criminalisation-cases-recorded-72-countries-including-49-last-four-years
- HIV criminalisation laws around the world – https://www.aidsmap.com/about-hiv/hiv-criminalisation-laws-around-world
- Global HIV Criminalisation Database – https://www.hivjustice.net/cases
Featured Photo: scholacantorum from Pixabay.
Article ID: CC021
Version Control: 1.0 – December 10, 2021: Original article published.