A U.K. researcher said on Tuesday that many young gay men in the United Kingdom are flouting safe sex, with some even trying to become infected with HIV in their search for identity. But Europe's biggest HIV/AIDS charity dismissed the claim, saying there is no evidence to support it and that it only serves to further demonize gay men. Melissa Parker of Brunel University said the gay sex pub, club, and sauna scene in London has been growing since the mid 1990s, with unprotected sex with multiple partners the rule. For some, catching HIV is not just a risk but a goal, she told reporters at the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. "Being diagnosed with HIV is a badge of recognition of being truly gay," she said. "There is a sizeable number of young gay men new to the gay scene, exploring their sexuality but wanting to belong. HIV is seen as a bonus." Parker said she had no hard epidemiological data to back up her claim but cited several years of interviews with a large number of sexually active gay men as the source of her conclusions.
Will Nutland, head of gay men's health promotion at the Terrence Higgins Trust, the largest HIV/AIDS organization in Europe, said the research is unreliable. "Her assumptions will only serve to further demonize gay men," he said. "Her comment that unprotected sex with multiple partners is the rule rather than the exception is not backed up by evidence. Ongoing surveys of gay men's sexual behavior since 1997 show that most men use condoms most of the time with most of their partners."
Parker's claim that some gay men hope to become infected with HIV is not the first time the topic has gained widespread media attention this year. A similar story that appeared the February 6 issue of Rolling Stone magazine prompted a similar outcry by AIDS activists in the United States. The article claimed that about 25% of gay men infected with HIV were "bug chasers," men who deliberately sought HIV infection. Several of the sources in that story, including physicians and AIDS experts, disputed quotes and information attributed to them. A controversial film about gay men who deliberately contract HIV, titled The Gift, also debuted in February at the Berlin International Film Festival.