Questions & Answers

What is the difference between bisexual and terms like pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, ambisexual, and fluid?

Bisexuality describes anyone whose attractions are not limited to one sex. The term comes to us from the world of science and describes a person with both homosexual (lit. same sex) and heterosexual (lit. different sex) attractions.  It is an open and inclusive word that describes a diverse group of people with a wide variety of experiences around same-sex and different-sex attractions. As a scientific term, bisexual is not just an identity label; it is also a sexual orientation that can describe a set of behaviors.

Identity labels like pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, and ambisexual also describe a person with homosexual and heterosexual attractions, and therefore people who have chosen those labels are also bisexual.   By replacing the prefix bi – (two, both) with pan- (all), poly- (many), omni- (all), ambi- (both, and implying ambiguity in this case), people who adopt these self-identities seek to clearly express the fact that gender does not factor into their own sexuality, or that they are specifically attracted to trans, genderqueer, and other people who may or may not fit into the mainstream gender categories of male and female.  This does not mean, however, that people who identify as bisexual are fixated on traditional notions of gender.

The term fluid expresses the fact that the balance of a person’s homosexual and heterosexual attractions exists in a state of flux and changes over time.  Usually, but not always, people who describe their sexuality as fluid are bi people whose attractions skew very heavily towards one gender. The terms Heteroflexible and homoflexible add a further level of specificity, by indicating whether the bisexual person’s attractions skew almost exclusively towards same-sex or different-sex individuals.


The main difference for me is that "bisexual" is the most visible term. People may not believe me, but they understand what I'm saying. Outside of niche communities, those other terms aren't common knowledge.


I too often use the term "bisexual" when referring to myself, when I am talking with those I feel may not know some of the other terms. I started out as bi. As time passed, and other experiences with additional non-binary partners happened, I moved past that definition. I now see myself as fluid in my sexuality. This is all so wonderfully challenging.


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