Bisexual and Pansexual and Polysexual, Oh My!

A bisexual woman?s take on defining terms relevant to our community.

As someone who?s been living as an out and proud bisexual for the past four years, I?ve had lots of time to field straight, and sometimes gay and lesbian, people?s questions about my sexuality. I have decided to write up a quick glossary of terms in order to clear up some misconceptions.


Different bisexual people define bisexuality differently. Two of the most common definitions I?ve heard from other bi folks are:

  • Attraction to two or more genders
  • Attraction to your own gender and other genders

Some bisexual folks object to the second definition, as there are some people who identify as bisexual who are not attracted to their own gender. For example, a woman who is attracted to men and nonbinary people may still identify as bisexual.

One myth I often hear about bisexuality is that it enforces the gender binary. This is not true! Not only are there many bisexual people who are attracted to nonbinary folks, many nonbinary people themselves identify as bisexual. A definition of bisexuality that reinforces the gender binary has not been accepted by the mainstream bisexual community for decades. If you?re having trouble wrapping your head around this concept, consider that the existence of bilingual people does not imply that there are only two languages.


While I don?t identify as pansexual myself, the pansexual and bisexual communities are often closely intertwined. The definition for pansexuality that I have heard in my communities is attraction regardless of gender.

The reason I identify as bisexual and not pansexual is while I am attracted to all genders, gender does play a factor in my attraction. When I have a crush on a girl it feels different than having a crush on a guy or having a crush on a nonbinary person.

One harmful myth I hear about pansexuality is that it is a subset of bisexuality. This is not true. While some people identify as both bisexual and pansexual, the majority of pansexual people I know identify only as pansexual. Many pansexual people find the implication that their identity is a subset of bisexuality to be offensive, because it erases their own unique experiences.


Pansexuality may not be a subset of bisexuality, but both bisexuality and pansexuality are subsets of polysexuality. Polysexuality is defined as attraction to more than one gender. I have never met someone who identifies as polysexual, usually it is only used as an umbrella term for the bi and pansexual community.


The opposite of polysexual, monosexuality is attraction to only one gender. Straight, gay, and lesbian people are monosexual.


According to Wikipedia, polyamory is the ?practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners.?

There are many misconceptions about polyamory and its relation to polysexuality. The first offensive misconception of polyamory is that it is unethical or that it is cheating. There is nothing inherently unethical about dating multiple people, and ethical polyamory involves dating multiple people with your partners? knowledge and consent. The second misconception about polyamory as it relates to polysexuality is that all polysexual people are polyamorous. This is inaccurate, and the majority of bi and pan people are monogamous.


Queer is an umbrella term that is used by some members of the LGBTQ+ community as an umbrella term for the community. Some members of the LGBTQ+ community, including some polysexual people, choose to identify as queer rather than picking a specific label. This may be because they feel it offers them more sexual fluidity than choosing another label. I personally identify as both bisexual and queer.

Some LGBTQ+ people however reject the word queer as either an umbrella term for the community or a personal identifier. For some people, this is because the term queer has a history of use as a slur against the LGBTQ+ community. For others, this may be because another label holds more power for them personally.

So what should you as a monosexual person do with this information? How should you refer to your polysexual friends?

I hope your takeaway from this essay is that identity is individual. Many of these terms hold different definitions for different people.

Listen to your friends and use the terminology that they use to refer to themselves when referring to them. If you?ve only ever heard a friend refer to themselves as pansexual, don?t call them bisexual and vice versa.

The only caveat to this would be a warning to straight people about using the word queer. As some LGBTQ+ people do find the word to be offensive, I would advise against using the word queer at all unless someone has explicitly told you this is how they want to be referred to.


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