What’s the Difference Between Bisexuality and Pansexuality?

To understand the spectrum of sexual and gender identity, knowing the terms people use to describe themselves and their attractions is key. Two recognized terms, bisexuality and pansexuality (also called omnisexuality), describe romantic or sexual attraction to more than one gender.

However, there are more specific differences between the two terms regarding which genders a person is attracted to and what type of attraction may be involved.

This article discusses their definitions, similarities, and differences.

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What Is Pansexuality?

To be pansexual or identify as pansexual means that your sexual, emotional, or romantic attractions are not exclusive to people of one particular sex, gender, or gender identity. The prefix "pan-" is Greek for "all." However, a reference to all doesn't mean everyone. Rather, it denotes a more inclusive range of attraction.

What Is Bisexuality?

Identifying as bisexual means you might feel sexual, emotional, or romantic attraction, or act on that attraction, to people of more than one sex or gender. The prefix "bi-" denotes either/or, but in this case doesn't specifically mean opposites.

What Is the Difference Between Pansexuality and Bisexuality?

Both sexual orientations experience attraction to more than one gender, gender identity, or sex. However, people who identify as pansexual experience attraction to any gender, gender identity, or sex equally, whereas people identifying as bisexual may favor some genders over others.

People who identify as bisexual may experience attraction to people of the same gender or sex. It's also possible that they are attracted to people who have a different gender or sex from themselves. In either case, a person who identifies as bisexual may have more attraction or experience with a particular gender or sex.

For example, a person who identifies as a bisexual woman may be primarily attracted to other women sexually, and most of their sexual experiences may be with other women. However, they may sometimes be attracted romantically or sexually to gender-fluid people.

Common Misconceptions About Bisexuality and Pansexuality

There are many misconceptions about both sexual orientations. However, there are a few that overlap, such as bisexuality and pansexuality being:

  • A fad or phase: Some people believe these sexual orientations are just a stepping stone to identifying as gay at some point in the future. Sexual attraction may stay the same over a lifetime, or it may change. If it does change, it's not because of any previous identification with a particular sexual orientation.
  • The same orientation: Identifying with a particular sexual orientation is unique and specific to each person. Some people may use them interchangeably, given some of the overlap, while others will interpret and identify differently.
  • Queerphobic: Some believe that people who identify as bisexual or pansexual may be afraid of coming out as gay or as an identity that isn't more closely related to heterosexuality or being straight. However, these identities are specific and descriptive of that person's attraction.
  • Associated with promiscuity: This misconception is fueled by the idea that a person who is bisexual or pansexual is attracted to everyone they encounter. This is not the case. These orientations include a wider variety of potential people to be attracted to but don't mean they are attracted to anyone or everyone. They may choose to be with one partner or many at a time, just like anyone else.

Sexual Orientation vs. Romantic Orientation

There are many ways people can be attracted to one another (more than can be listed here). Some people may also find a pattern to their sexual or romantic attraction, lending itself to an orientation.

That said, if a person identifies as bisexual, pansexual, or another orientation, it won't necessarily predict or define their behavior.

Types of Sexuality

Sexuality types are often described in terms of experiencing sexual attraction and to whom you are typically sexually attracted. Though it's not an exhaustive list, some types of sexuality include:

  • Asexual: No experience of sexual attraction
  • Heterosexual: Attracted to people of the opposite gender
  • Homosexual (for example, gay or lesbian): Primarily attracted to people of the same gender (while clinically rooted, this term can be offensive depending on who is using it and how)
  • Bisexual: Sexually attracted to more than one gender
  • Pansexual: Sexually attracted to people of every gender (but not all people).

People who aren't sure whom they are sexually attracted to may identify as questioning.

Types of Romantic Orientations

Similar to sexuality types, different romantic orientations involve whom you are romantically attracted to and to whom you typically experience romantic attraction.

Romantic attractions include the following:

  • Biromantic: Two or more genders
  • Heteroromantic: The opposite gender
  • Homoromantic: The same gender
  • Panromantic: People of every gender
  • Polyromantic: Multiple genders but not necessarily every gender
  • Aromantic: Lack of romantic attraction to any gender

Though sexual attraction and romantic orientation often align, they may not for everyone.

How Do I Know if I’m Bi, Pan, or Something Else?

Identifying to whom you are attracted and how can happen with or without direct experience. Research has found that core attractions experienced in adulthood often emerge in late childhood and early adolescence. Attraction may also change over time.

You don't need to have previous experience to identify as having a specific sexual or romantic orientation. However, for some, experiences may help shape identity.

What can be challenging is the stigma and discrimination surrounding identifying or coming out as a sexual identity other than heterosexual (attraction to people of the opposite sex or gender). This leads many people to delay embracing the identity with which they most align.


Though similar, bisexual and pansexual are not the same identity. Both sexual orientations describe people who are attracted emotionally, sexually, or romantically to people of more than one gender. A key difference, however, is that people who identify as pansexual are attracted to every gender, while people who are bisexual are attracted to more than one gender.

There are many misconceptions about both sexual identities. Though sexual orientation and romantic attraction may align for some, they don't always. Actual experience isn't necessary to determine sexual orientation or identity. However, for some, experience helps shape identity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you identify with more than one sexual orientation?

    Over a lifetime, a person may experience different types of attraction to different genders. They may also identify with other sexual orientations than they did previously. It may occur after experiencing a different type of attraction or discovering an identity that more closely describes their experience. This is referred to as sexual fluidity.

  • Is it OK to be more attracted to one gender than another?

    Yes, it is perfectly OK to be more attracted to one gender than another. The spectrum of sexual and romantic attraction is varied and diverse. Numerous misconceptions and myths about attraction contribute to a lack of understanding about the wide range of possible attractions.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Smalley KB, Warren JC, Fernandez IM. Health Equity: A Solutions-Focused Approach. Springer Publishing Company; 2020.

  2. LGBT Foundation. What it means to be pansexual or panromantic.

  3. PFLAG. LGBTQ+ glossary.

  4. American Psychological Association. Understanding bisexuality.

  5. GLAAD. Celebrate bisexuality! GLAAD dispels common myths and stereotypes.

  6. Stonewall. 5 common misconceptions about pansexuality.

  7. LGBT Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Asexuality, attraction, and romantic orientation.

  8. Planned Parenthood. Sexual orientation.

  9. Stewart JL, Spivey LA, Widman L, et al. Developmental patterns of sexual identity, romantic attraction, and sexual behavior among adolescents over three yearsJournal of Adolescence. 2019;77(1):90-97. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.10.006

  10. American Psychological Association. Understanding bisexuality.

By Katie Wilkinson, MPH, MCHES
Katie Wilkinson is a public health professional with more than 10 years of experience supporting the health and well-being of people in the university setting. Her health literacy efforts have spanned many mediums in her professional career: from brochures and handouts to blogs, social media, and web content.