What Does It Mean To Be Polysexual? 4 Common Signs & Other FAQs
Finding words to describe your sexuality can be incredibly freeing and reassuring. Have you wondered if you might be polysexual? Or are you trying to understand what it means for a friend or loved one when they say that they're polysexual? If so, this guide can help you dig deeper into the world of polysexuality.
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What does it mean to be polysexual?
The term polysexual comes from the Greek root poly, which means "many or much." A person who is polysexual is attracted to people of many genders, although not necessarily people of all genders. For example, a polysexual person might be interested in men, agender people, and nonbinary people, but not women.
"Like any conversation with anyone about a label they may choose to describe their experience, it is best to ask that person what that label means to them and not assume their experience," recommends therapist Christa McCrorie, LICSW-PIP.
Signs you may be polysexual:
You get crushes on people of different genders.
People of many kinds of gender turn your head when you walk down the street or when you're at a party. Your list of celebrity crushes covers a range of genders.
If you've only ever had partners of one gender, it sometimes gets you down.
Perhaps you've never had a boyfriend despite crushes on men or never had a girlfriend despite crushes on women. When you think about this fact, you feel like you haven't fully explored all the depths of your sexuality. You hope that the next person you're with might be a chance for you to explore what it feels like to acknowledge the rest of your sexual identity.
You don't see a person of a specific gender when you imagine your perfect person.
When you're telling your friends about your ideal match, the gender of the person isn't really fixed. Sometimes you imagine a man, sometimes you imagine a woman, and sometimes you just think about what qualities you'd like that person to have.
Other identity labels don't quite feel right for you.
Perhaps other people have tried to describe your sexuality as bisexual or pansexual, and it's left you feeling a little cold? When you read or hear about bisexuality or pansexuality, you can empathize with some of it, but you feel that they're both not quite right in capturing exactly how you feel—perhaps because unlike a pansexual person, there are one or more genders that you're not attracted to.
How polysexual relates to other sexualities.
Polysexuality is closely related to bisexuality and pansexuality, though all three are distinct identities. Bisexuality is typically described as attraction to one's own gender and at least one other gender, and pansexuality is described as attraction to people regardless of their gender.
It is also worth noting that the way people use bisexual, pansexual, and polysexual can have some overlap. Two people may think very similarly about their sexualities, and yet one may call themselves bi and the other pan. It is largely about which label speaks best to an individual person and which label they feel most comfortable with.
"It's important to remember that behavior and desire do not make someone a particular identity. People have to choose and identify with a label as well for it to be valid for them," says couples and sex therapist Kyle Zrenchik, Ph.D., ACD, LMFT, of the All In Therapy Clinic.
Bisexual, pansexual, and polysexual are all examples of non-monosexual identities (monosexual referring to attraction to just one gender, as opposed to attraction to more than one gender). The term "bi+" is often used as an "umbrella term" that covers all non-monosexual sexualities, such as pansexuality and polysexuality.
Polysexual vs. polyamorous.
A common misconception about polysexual people is that they are polyamorous, but these are actually two different and unrelated terms. Polyamory describes an approach to relationships, while polysexual describes which genders a person is sexually attracted to.
"Polyamory is the practice of and openness for being in intimate/romantic relationships with different partners at once, whereas polysexual is a sexual attraction to many but not all genders," says Jose Ramirez, LMHC, a therapist with The Psychology Group. "Polysexuals are not necessarily interested in polyamory, and people who practice polyamory do not all identify as polysexual."
Dating when you're polysexual.
If you're someone who identifies as polysexual, then it's a good idea to explain what that means to you to prospective partners. Everyone's relationship to their sexuality is unique, so it's smart to be clear about how it is for you. Be upfront about your sexuality on dating apps; that way, you can weed out people who aren't aligned straight away.
As a person dating someone who is polysexual, you should be open and sensitive when discussing their sexuality. Avoid making negative assumptions. For instance, the stereotype about all non-monosexual people is that they're hypersexual, promiscuous, or more likely to cheat. In reality, a polysexual person is no more likely to cheat on you than anyone else.
People who are polysexual may be extra sensitive to suggestions that they're not to be trusted, due to these societal messages that they receive about people under the bi+ umbrella. Be mindful of this context and give your partner a secure space to vent about their frustrations.
How to support a loved one who identifies as polysexual.
The biggest thing to do to support a polysexual loved one is simply to not make assumptions. Ask genuine questions about what someone needs from you if they come out to you.
"Curiosity wrapped in compassion is often a means of showing support," says Lori Lawrenz, PsyD, of the Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health.
Additionally, speak up if you hear people spreading myths about the promiscuity of polysexual and other non-monosexual people.
The bottom line.
However we name our sexualities, we all need to be met with respect and understanding. If you're a polysexual person, seek out people who will see you in your entirety and love you for it. And if you're dating or close to a polysexual person—be that loving person!
Labeling our sexualities can be incredibly helpful in identifying other people to start building community based on common life experiences, although some people also feel discomfort with publicly claiming a label. If you think that polysexuality might describe you, then you can always test out how it feels to start using the label. Nothing and no one can stop you if you end up feeling that it's not quite right, or if you feel that you need to add another label on top to further clarify your feelings.
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Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.