What does polysexual mean?
A polysexual person is someone who is sexually and/or romantically attracted to multiple genders. It is not the same as being bisexual or pansexual, although all of these sexualities involve being attracted to more than one gender. It also is not the same as being polyamorous.
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.
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.