Somebody who’s polysexual is sexually attracted to people of multiple genders. The definition of polysexuality overlaps with omnisexuality, bisexuality, and pansexuality.
Some people consider polysexuality to be an umbrella term that encompasses other queer identities.
Polysexual vs. pansexual
While the prefix “poly-” means “many,” the prefix “pan-” means “all.”
Being attracted to many genders doesn’t necessarily mean you’re attracted to all genders. For example, you might be attracted to women and men, but not nonbinary people. You might be attracted to women and nonbinary people, but not men.
Pansexual people, however, are attracted to people of all genders. Many pansexual people say that gender doesn’t factor into whether they’re attracted to someone or not.
So, while pansexual people technically fall under the umbrella of polysexual — because they are indeed attracted to people of multiple genders — not all polysexual people are pansexual.
Polysexual vs. omnisexual
The word omnisexual is similar to pansexual. The prefix “omni-” refers to the fact that omnisexual people are attracted to people of all genders.
Some people prefer the word “pansexual” over the word “omnisexual” and vice versa, while others refer to themselves using both terms.
Someone can identify with omnisexual and polysexual at the same time.
Polysexual vs. bisexual
The definition of polysexual is similar to the definition of bisexual.
Many people believe that “bisexual” means that you’re only attracted to two genders — but, for many decades, the bisexual community has described the orientation as an attraction to two or more genders.
The Bisexual Manifesto, which was first published in the year 1990, pointed out that bisexual people can be attracted to more than two genders:
“Bisexuality is a whole, fluid identity. Do not assume that bisexuality is binary or duogamous in nature: that we have ‘two’ sides or that we must be involved simultaneously with both genders to be fulfilled human beings. In fact, don’t assume that there are only two genders.”
Functionally, “two or more” means “multiple” genders. In other words, polysexual can mean the same thing as bisexual. However, people might want to opt for one label over the other for their own personal reasons.
Bisexuality and polysexuality can also be seen as umbrella terms that include pansexuality and omnisexuality.
Someone can identify as bisexual and polysexual at the same time.
Polyamory is a kind of consensual non-monogamy. In polyamory, people have (or are open to having) intimate relationships with multiple people, with the consent of everyone involved.
In practice, being polysexual might look a lot like being bisexual or pansexual.
You don’t need to have or have had relationships with people of multiple genders to know that you’re polysexual. It’s not about your sexual history — it’s about who you’re attracted to.
Being polysexual won’t necessarily compromise your relationship — unless your partner isn’t accepting of your sexual orientation.
A polysexual person might be happy in committed, monogamous relationships. This doesn’t need to change when they “come out,” unless they want it to change.
Remember that dating someone who is the “opposite” gender doesn’t make you straight. A woman might date another woman and be polysexual; a woman might date a man and be polysexual. It’s not about who you’re dating, but who you’re attracted to.
However, certain challenges might arise. If you’re polysexual and in a partnered relationship, others might assume you’re gay or straight. They might not see your polysexuality as valid or real. These assumptions can be hurtful.
There’s no test to figure out whether you’re polysexual. If the definition seems to apply to your experience, you’re welcome to use the term to describe yourself!
You can always experiment with different labels and see which one fits. Journal about it, think about it, talk it out with friends — allow yourself to explore what it means to be polysexual and whether the term applies to you.
It’s totally okay to change how you identify.
At one point, you might find that “bisexual” fits you. Over time, you might prefer the term “polysexual” or “pansexual.” There’s nothing wrong with changing the term you identify with.
You might also find that your attraction shifts over time. Some people might take a while to realize who they’re attracted to. Others might find that their attraction to certain genders disappears over time.
While you can’t consciously change your orientation, you might find that your feelings change spontaneously.
While you shouldn’t feel pressured into coming out, you might want to share your orientation with your loved ones.
Many people aren’t familiar with the term “polysexual.” To help them understand, you might want to send an educational article (like this one!) their way. Explain what it means to you — how do you define it?
Your loved ones might be interested to hear how you arrived at the conclusion that you’re polysexual. Of course, only share this if you’d like to.
You shouldn’t feel obligated to talk about your romantic and/or sexual experiences (but you can, if you’d like to).
Set boundaries about what you would and won’t like to talk about. Let them know if you need them to support you in a specific way (for example, by being there when you come out to others, or by listening to you when you need to talk.)
Many people believe polysexual people don’t exist — they might believe people are either gay or straight. As you can imagine, this can be hurtful for people who are polysexual.
Some folks may even be met with disbelief and dismissive comments from other LGBTQIA+ people. Choosing your words carefully and avoiding stereotypes can help prevent this.
Here are some tips for supporting polysexual people:
- Avoid asking doubtful questions like “Are you sure?” and “But how do you know?” as this can imply they’re confused or incorrect.
- Don’t assume someone’s sexual orientation is based on the gender of the person they’re dating or married to. Remember that someone in a seemingly “heterosexual” relationship might actually be polysexual, queer, bisexual, pansexual, or something else.
- Avoid asking probing questions about their sexual experiences, unless they express interest in talking about it.
- Give them space to talk about their crushes/relationships/experiences without quizzing them about their sexuality.
- Don’t out them to people — that is, don’t tell other people that they are polysexual unless you have their permission to do so.
- Use inclusive language. Don’t use “gay” as a catch-all term to mean all LGBTIQA+ people.
Most importantly, ask your loved one(s) how they want to be supported. They might have something specific they need help with.
Whether you’re polysexual or trying to support someone who is, you might benefit from the following online resources:
- Finding an LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapist
- The Difference Between Pansexuality and Bisexuality.
- LGBTQIA+ Safer Sex Guide
- Terms That Describe Sexual Attraction, Behavior, and Orientation
You might also benefit from joining in-person or online LGBTQIA+ groups. These can be great places to find support while learning more about your own sexual orientation as well as others’ experiences.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.