July 26th is widely celebrated as Polyromantic and Polysexual Visibility Day! In recognition of this day, let’s take a look at what these terms mean and why they are important.
The categories of sexuality
To better understand polyromanticism and polysexuality – broadly referred to as polysexuality – it helps to first cover the two “categories” of sexuality. The first category of sexuality is monosexuality, which is defined as the state of being sexually and/or romantically attracted to only one gender. This includes homosexual and heterosexual individuals. The second category is commonly referred to as either multisexuality or plurisexuality, both of which are defined as the state of being sexually and/or romantically attracted to more than one gender.
Polyromanticism and polysexuality fall under the second category. These terms describe, respectively, individuals who are romantically and sexually attracted to people of multiple – but not necessarily all – genders. Polysexuality denotes a spectrum of attraction possibilities. In other words, polysexual folks may have one or multiple gender preferences in their attraction, or even none at all.
Differentiating polysexuality from other multisexual identities
There is sometimes confusion between polysexuality and other terms that fall under multisexuality. Below are some common examples and their respective definitions.
Polysexuality: Attraction to multiple, but not all, genders. Polysexual individuals may or may not have a gender preference.
Omnisexuality: Attraction to all genders, where gender is a factor in individuals’ preferences. That is, an individual’s attraction may feel different from gender to gender.
Pansexuality: Attraction to all genders, but gender is not a factor in individuals’ preferences. Pansexual individuals are sometimes described as “gender-blind.”
What about polyamory?
Perhaps the most common misconception about polysexuality is that it is similar – or even the same – as polyamory. Despite their shared prefix, these terms bear no inherent relation to each other. Whilst polyromanticism and polysexuality describe romantic and sexual identities, polyamory is a type of relationship dynamic characterised by ethical non-monogamy. Like individuals of any romantic or sexual identity, polysexual folks may engage in relationships ranging from monogamous to non-monogamous, depending entirely on their personal preferences.
Why it’s important to know the difference
As we navigate our growing understanding of the many flavours of human romanticism and sexuality, it is important to recognise how important labels can be for many individuals’ identities. Distinguishing polysexuality from omnisexuality, pansexuality, and other multisexual identities allows us to appreciate the nuances between them. It also allows individuals who identify with these identities to feel validated and seen. The opposite – feeling that one’s identity has been erased or repressed – has been associated with various negative psychosocial outcomes.
Multisexual folks (including those who identify as polysexual) are especially at risk of negative outcomes due to their unique experience with bi-erasure. These individuals often must grapple with their sexuality being dismissed or ignored entirely in human culture and history. This is especially significant in important scientific studies on sexuality, which commonly aggregate multisexual populations with monosexual Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Diverse (GSRD) populations, thereby erasing important psychosocial differences.
In addition to bi-erasure, multisexual folks are frequently the recipients of a multisexual-specific prejudice called binegativity. This includes negative attitudes and beliefs held about multisexual individuals (e.g., multisexual people are confused or “in a phase,” are promiscuous, are more likely to cheat or have a sexually transmitted infection, etc.).
As a result of bi-erasure and binegativity, multisexual folks have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality than monosexual GSRD individuals. They are also significantly less likely to give their own mental and physical health positive ratings. For comparison, the 2015-2016 Canadian Community Health Survey found that, when asked to rate the state of their mental health, 72% of heterosexual individuals and 68% of homosexual individuals gave a rating of “good” or “excellent,” whilst only 44% of bisexual individuals gave these ratings.
Wrapping it all up
Human sexuality is vast and complex, with nuances that are deeply valuable to many individuals’ experiences. A major step to bridging the gap between monosexual and multisexual folks’ psychosocial outcomes is lending visibility to these nuances and showing that they matter. On July 26, we recognise – and celebrate! – all those who identify with polyromanticism and polysexuality.