Where does polysexual come from?
The word polysexual comes from the Greek prefix poly-, meaning “many” and -sexual, as used as combining form. The term has been around since the 1920s or ‘30s.
One interesting attestation of polysexual appears in a 1974 article in Stereo Review by Noel Coppage. In this article, Coppage mentions “asexual, bisexual, polysexual, [and] pansexual” pop stars, and calls out David Bowie, in particular. This is notable because it sets polysexuality apart from bisexuality and pansexuality.
Before it received more widespread recognition as a sexuality, polysexuality had also existed as a term used in polyamory. In this context, polysexuality is the practice of having multiple sexual partners, as opposed to having multiple romantic partners as in polyamory. However, polyamory itself already includes multiple sexual partners as an understood option, considering the nature of being open to one or more romantic relationships.
Who uses polysexual?
Polysexuality is often compared to and confused with both bisexuality and pansexuality. To be pansexual is to be attracted to all genders. To be bisexual is, traditionally, to be attracted to two genders, specifically men and women. However, as time has gone on, it has also come to mean to be attracted to people of various genders, beyond binary gender identities.
So how is polysexuality different than bisexuality and pansexuality? A polysexual person is not attracted to all genders. They also do not even have to be attracted to both women and men at all, as traditionally described by bisexuality. For example, a polysexual person might be attracted to women, genderqueer and nonbinary people, but not to men.
A person might appreciate polysexual as a label because it eschews the gender binary traditionally associated with bisexuality, though the meaning has changed. Polysexuality has no such presuppositions. While bisexuality might have its issues because of that, it has the advantage of history and recognition. Ultimately, it is a personal decision to use one label or the other.
When polysexuality is discussed, it is often as meta-commentary. That is, the identity itself is being discussed. Or, it is used in the context of a person claiming this identity for themselves.
Another usage of polysexual is as a description of multiple sexualities. A polysexual gathering might be one where people of multiple sexual orientations are in attendance.
“WHY IS THERE NOTHING ABOUT POLYSEXUALITY ANYWHERE. I have been calling myself bi for about a year now but it never felt right and now I have finally found a label that feels right for me but I can’t help but think why didn’t I hear about it sooner?”
3slikeyouandme Tumblr (February 13, 2017)
“The east London summer festival Lovebox moves gay culture centre stage with its one-day 'polysexual' celebration”
Paul Flynn, “Lovebox goes ‘polysexual’,” The Guardian (April 23, 2010)
“Your spouse is having an affair, and you are emotionally devastated. What went wrong? It's probably because he or she was born with a polysexual predisposition. Or maybe you feel that you are happily married, but you feel yourself drawn toward having another partner, too.”
Ed Christian, Polysexuality: When One Partner Isn’t Enough: Discovering Your Polysexual Orientation (September 9, 2010)