People who are polysexual can have physical, romantic, or emotional relationships with people of many genders. Among other things: A cisgender polysexual woman might be interested in other cisgender women, transgender women, and people who don’t fit into either gender category.
As the LGBTQ+ community grows, it’s important to keep learning about the different identities you or other people in your community may have.
So, what does it mean to be both gay and straight? Here’s what you need to know about how polysexuality is different from other identities and how you can help the polysexual community.
What does it mean to be polysexual?
Someone who is polysexual may have physical, romantic, or emotional feelings for people of more than one gender.
If a cisgender woman likes both cisgender men and non-binary people, she may think of herself as polysexual. Or, someone might say they are polysexual if they like people of all genders except cisgender men.
Still, Melissa González, PhD, chair of the gender and sexuality studies department at Davidson College in North Carolina, told Health that people may use and identify with the term “polysexual” in different ways.
So, there is a basic definition of what it means to be polysexual, but Amney Harper, PhD, professor in the department of professional counseling at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, told Health that “people will define [the term within the LGBTQ+ community] in their own ways,” in the LGBTQ+ community. “And so, it’s always important to ask the person how they understand [polysexuality] for themselves.”
Polysexual vs. Pansexual
Even though a polysexual person may be attracted to more than one gender, that doesn’t mean they are attracted to all of them.
So, pansexuality comes into play. The word “pan” means “all.” So, someone who is pansexual likes people of all genders, or they like people no matter what gender they are.
Harper said that for a polysexual person, gender is often a factor in who they are attracted to.
Polysexual vs. Bisexual
People who are bisexual may be attracted to more than one gender physically, romantically, or emotionally.
Harper says that some people think it is important to be able to tell the difference between the two identities. People may mistakenly think that bisexuality is the same as the male-female gender binary, but polysexuality is not.
Nicole McNichols, PhD, an associate teaching professor in the psychology department at the University of Washington, told Health that the word “[Having the term polysexual] allows people to really have a more accurate word that feels like a more honest representation of what their sexual orientation is,” gives people a more accurate word that feels like a more honest way to describe their sexual orientation.
Harper says that bisexuality, pansexuality, and polysexuality are all types of the same thing: being attracted to more than one gender. This is sometimes called “not being monosexual” or “multisexuality.”
You might feel overwhelmed by all the identities you need to learn and worried about how to use them correctly. But McNichols said that it doesn’t have to be hard to understand sexuality and be more open-minded about it.
McNichols said, “It just requires being open-minded and understanding that we need to respect people as individuals,”
Don’t get polyamory and polysexuality mixed up.
You may have heard the word “poly” before a word, such as “polyamory.” But polyamory is not the same as being gay or lesbian more than once. On the other hand, polyamory means having more than one partner. 3
“We may say “bi-, pan-, or poly- umbrella” a lot. But we try not to just leave “poly” by itself because it can be confused with a few other names that use the word “poly.” “Harper took note.
Problems that polysexual people have to deal with
Harper says that the myths and stereotypes about polysexuality are the same as those about other non-monosexual orientations. If you’re interested in everyone, you can’t decide who you’re interested in. You’re promiscuous.
It’s important to remember that these generalizations are not true. People who are polysexual can be hurt by the way others think about them.
People assume a person’s sexuality based on how they are with someone else. For example, if a cisgender polysexual woman is dating a man at the time, some people might think she is straight.
Harper said, “Our sexual orientation isn’t defined by who we’re with,” “You can’t necessarily know something about a person just based on who they’re with.”
Outcomes for People Who Are Both Straight and Gay
When it comes to health and wellness, these ideas about polysexual people can be harmful.
When a doctor or nurse asks if you are sexually active, they may mean that you are in a straight relationship. And let’s say they want to know more about how you two are together. If you did that, they might think that your current relationship is the only one you’ve ever had.
Harper said, “So, then you’re maybe not going to share all your information with them,” “If that information is actually relevant to what they’re doing, they’re going to potentially make mistakes because they’re making assumptions.”
Because of these problems, it is important to find care that is not biased and welcomes the LGBTQ+ community.
McNichols said, “You certainly would want to make sure that you have a [healthcare provider] who’s accepting and understanding and educated about your sexuality,” “I would say that you have to feel at ease with the people you trust. This is true for both people who take care of physical and mental health.”
McNichols said that people with different sexual orientations still face discrimination. Most of the time, prejudice makes people feel more anxious and sad.
Word-of-mouth could be a great way to find a doctor who knows how to treat people of different sexual orientations. But online directories like those from the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) or OutCare can also be helpful.
How to Help People Who Are Gay and Straight
When someone tells you they are polysexual for the first time, talk about it openly.
González said, “I think a golden rule of interacting with other humans is, if someone tells you something about themselves, to begin from a place of believing them and trusting them,”
González also told people to be humble about what they know and what they don’t know.
“Do not assume that you know more about sexuality than somebody who has been doing self-reflection and self-examination and learning,” González said.
McNichols said that the next step is to learn more. That could mean doing research online, talking to polysexual people to learn about their lives, and asking them questions. It’s important to show interest and take the time to figure out what polysexuality means to them.
“If your goal is to learn and be open-minded, it’s fine if you don’t know everything right away. It’s just about wanting to be accepting and helpful. As a friend, your main job is to make them feel good “McNichols told me,
Harper also says that there are specific things you can do to help people who are polysexual. These include:
Learn about the myths and stereotypes about polysexual people and try to change them.
When you hear rude comments or see bias or harassment, try to do something about it. Face the person who started it, create a distraction to calm things down, take the victim away, and tell someone in charge who can handle the situation.