Each human experiences sexuality differently. Some people experience their sexuality as fixed whereas others experience it as fluid. Some people identify as completely heterosexual, asexual, gay, or lesbian; others identify as being attracted to more than one gender and/or sex. Bisexuality, pansexuality, and polysexuality are sexual orientations that include more than one gender and/or sex.
What Does it Mean To Be Bisexual?
Some define bisexuality as the attraction to men and women; others define it as the attraction towards a person or person(s) of the same gender and of other genders. For example, a female-identified woman who dates both women and men may classify herself as bisexual. There are some studies, such as the well-known Kinsey studies in the 1940s and 50s, that suggest that bisexuality is the most common sexual orientation.
Some people who identify as bi or bisexual say that their attraction towards men and women often shifts; sometimes they are only attracted to men and, at other times, they are only attracted to women. Sexual attraction can and does change over time! It’s true that some individuals who presently identify as gay first came out as bi before realizing that they are more exclusively attracted to the same gender and/or sex. It is also true that some individuals will first identify as gay and then later as bi as they come to better understand themselves as attracted to more than one gender and/or sex. However, it is important to note that if you do identify as bisexual, it does not necessarily mean that your identity is subject to change. Indeed, bisexuality is different for different people.
What Does it Mean To Be Pansexual?
Pansexuality (the root pan meaning “all”) is when a person feels attraction to all sorts of people, regardless of their gender and/or sexual identifications. As well, many individuals understand pansexuality as embracing a non-binary understanding of gender (i.e. that there are more options than simply “man” and “woman”). For instance, a genderqueer person who is attracted to other genderqueer and gender-diverse people may identify as pansexual. Indeed, some pansexuals refer to themselves as “gender blind.” One common misunderstanding as a result of pansexuals’ open and fluid identification is that all pansexual individuals are extremely sexual active and that they do not have preferences in relation to a partner or partners—which is just not true! It’s a personal choice to have one sexual partner, multiple partners, or no partners at all. And besides, as one individual states, “Just because I’m pansexual does not mean I’m not picky.”
What Does it Mean To Be Polysexual?
Polysexuality and pansexuality have many similarities though are also distinct sexual orientations. As a contrast to the root word pan, poly means “many, but not all.” Polysexuality is an orientation that very much depends on the person: they are attracted to different characteristics of different genders and/or sexes. A polysexual person may be attracted to some genders but not all, meaning they could be attracted to cisgender men, trans*men, genderqueer folks, but not cisgender women and trans*women. Conversely, a polysexual person may be attracted to cisgender and trans*women and other feminine-of-centre folks but not cisgender and trans*men. Polysexuality can also include the possibility of non-monogamous relationships, or polyamory, but again, it depends on the person(s) and the relationship(s).
I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You'd be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavors.
How Do I Know If I’m Bisexual, Pansexual, or Polysexual?
There is no checklist one can use to determine whether or not they are bi, pan, or poly. People often focus on sexual behavior and whom one desires or is attracted to as the definitive “answer” to one’s sexual orientation; however, as you can tell by the above definitions, being bi, pan, or poly is not just about sex! Take some time to ask yourself the following questions:
- Who do I have crushes on or romantic feelings for?
- Who do I envision spending every aspect of my life with—mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual?
- Who do I imagine being the person(s) I want to do simple everyday tasks with?
Your answers to these questions can help provide valuable insight into what your sexual orientation might be. As well, because bi, pan, and poly relationships are about more than just sex, some people are more likely to identify their romantic orientation as bi, pan, or poly instead of their sexual orientation (i.e. biromantic as opposed to bisexual). Some people choose to make this distinction because a growing number of people are identifying romantic and sexual orientations as different (asexual folks, for instance) as opposed to interchangeable elements of relationships, though both work together to describe the complexity and beauty of human experiences.
You may feel confused or uncertain about what your sexual orientation may be; however, it is yours to explore and there are lots of resources out there to help you out along the way! Check out books in the local library and contact places like the Avenue Community Centre to learn more. Again, only you can identify your sexuality and you can do it at your own pace.
Am I Normal?
Yes, you’re normal. It’s normal and healthy to be yourself whether you’re gay, heterosexual, or bi. Be yourself and do what you need to be physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. But whatever your situation or orientation is, it’s yours to identify—embrace it!
While I don't often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have 'chosen' is to be in a gay relationship.
~ Cynthia Nixon
OK, I’m Bisexual, Pansexual or Polysexual. Now What?
Once you come to the realization that you’re bi, pan, or poly and you’re okay with that, you will need to make some decisions. Who you tell, how, and when or if you tell is totally up to you. There is no set of rules for coming out, and every person and every situation is different—which can be challenging or fun, depending on how you look at it. There are places like the Avenue Community Centre that can help you figure things out.
Bi, pan, and poly people don’t always act on their desires. It is possible to never have sex with someone of the same gender or of other genders and still be bisexual, pansexual, or polysexual. Others will have sex with a variety of genders but have long-term relationships with only one. Everyone is different. Bisexuals, pansexuals, and polysexuals can be attracted to multiple genders at the same time, but it’s not required or expected; for many, the option is enough.
Male or female, what did it matter, really, when the body yearned?
~ Kate Elliott
How do I meet Other Bisexuals/Pansexuals/Polysexuals?
Right now you are likely surrounded by bisexual, pansexual, or polysexual people and you just don’t realize it! Joining a bi/pan/polysexual-friendly group is a good start to finding people with similar experiences as you. Check out the personals in queer magazines or newspapers. Contact local GSD (gender and sexually diverse) community groups. Visiting GSD night clubs and using the internet can also be good options.
Do I Need To Worry About STIs and HIV/AIDS?
Every sexually active person needs to be aware of the risks they are taking when having oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Using new, undamaged latex condoms, dental dams, and latex gloves will substantially reduce the risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted infections.
It’s important that you never take risks you are uncomfortable with. If you need more information about lowering the risk of getting HIV/AIDS or other STIs, contact the Avenue Community Centre or your local sexual health clinic or AIDS organization. The Gens Hellquist Queer Sexual Health Clinic at the Avenue Community Centre provides a full range of tests for HIV (including the rapid HIV test – results within 5 minutes), hepatitis C, syphilis, and other STIs in a queer-positive environment. You can either book an appointment or drop in.
No matter who you are or how you identify, you have a right to be happy, safe, and fulfilled. Being bi, pan, or poly is a wonderful thing and gives you a unique perspective on life and the world. And at the end of the day, it’s your life and your choice how to live it. Choose being your happiest, most fulfilled self!