What Is Pansexuality?

Attraction to people of all genders

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Pansexuality is a sexual orientation in which a person can be romantically and sexually attracted to all people, regardless of their gender or sex. The prefix "pan" translates to "all" in Greek.

Even though the gender and sex of individuals play no role in who a pansexual person may be attracted to, they may still have preferences. This is no different than a bisexual person who may be more attracted to one gender than another.

This article takes a closer look at the intricacies and history of pansexuality as well as some of the challenges faced by people who identify as pansexual.

Portrait of a happy homosexual couple
FG Trade / GettyImages.

Definitions

A lot of terms are used when discussing sexuality. You may have already heard some of them. Still, reviewing their meanings can set you up to better understand the nuances of pansexuality.

Sexual orientation is a person's identity in relation to the gender or genders they are attracted to. There are many defined sexual orientations. Some include gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and demisexual.

It is important to note that a person's gender is not the same thing as a person's sex. While biological sex is assigned at birth based on what genitals a person has, gender is a deeply felt internal and individual experience of identity that may or may not correspond to their assigned sex.

Rather than being binary (one thing or another), gender exists on a spectrum and includes many different identities.

Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, meaning that gender and sex are neither requirements nor determining factors in their romantic or sexual interests. In general, there is no restriction as to who can identify as pansexual.

Pansexual vs. Bisexual

Being bisexual and pansexual means being attracted to people of all genders. Some people identify with one term rather than the other based on their interpretation of the terms or what they believe the terms connote.

Sometimes "pansexual" is preferred over "bisexual" because a person believes that "bi" reinforces the gender binary (the prefix "bi" meaning "two").

Others contend that the term "pansexual" combats biphobia (the fear of bisexual people) and bi-erasure (the rejection of bisexuality as a sexual orientation).

Others still may use the terms bisexual and pansexual interchangeably based on who they are with.

The term a person uses is ultimately a personal choice.

Stigma and Other Challenges

Pansexual people are commonly faced with stigma, fueled in part by some people's belief that they lead hypersexualized lives. This infers that pansexual people are more likely to cheat and be promiscuous because they are "available to everyone."

This misconception has led some people to assume that pansexual people are wanting to engage in any and all sexual activities, negating the need for sexual consent.

As a result of these and other misconceptions, pansexual people experience higher rates of intimate partner violence than those who identify as gay, lesbian, or straight.

As with people who identify as bisexual, pansexual people are often regarded as “unsure” or “experimenting” with their sexuality and will eventually “pick a side.” Beliefs like these invalidate a person's sexual identity. This, in turn, can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, alienation, and rejection.

The 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report found that more than 75% of bisexual, pansexual, and gender-fluid youth said they "usually" felt feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness over the past week.

How to Use the Term

"Pansexual" is used as an adjective to describe a person's sexual orientation. For example, someone who is pansexual could say, “I identify as pansexual” or "I am pansexual."

The term is not meant to be used as a noun. For example, "he's a pansexual."

Moreover, as with anyone else, it is appropriate to know what pronouns a pansexual person uses to refer to themselves. For example, if a person is gender-blind, saying "he is pansexual" may be inappropriate since "he" implies binary male/masculine gender. Instead, the person might identify by pronouns like "they," "ze," or "xe," among others.

It's important to remember that someone's pansexuality is whatever they personally define it to be. People can apply the term in any way that they choose if it matches how they identify internally.

A person's definition of their own sexuality should guide how others use and view the term "pansexuality" in their case.

History of Pansexuality

The word “pansexual” was coined in the early-1900s by psychologist Sigmund Freud, who believed that everyone was born being attracted to many things, even inanimate objects. His definition referred more to a platonic curiosity than to sexual or romantic attraction.

In the 1970s, during the height of the sexual revolution, the concept of pansexuality was slowly entering the public consciousness. By the 1980s, the term became largely generalized and suggested that a person was simply having “lots of different sex.”

"The Bisexual Manifesto," published in a local activism magazine out of the San Francisco Bay area in 1990, used the term "nonbinary" and helped shape the concept of sexual attraction based on two or more genders, rather than just a woman or a man.

In that decade, more nonbinary and genderqueer people (people who do not follow binary gender norms) began to advocate and claim their identity, which spurred the growth of the pansexual community.

By 2010, the pansexual flag was released on the internet. It consists of pink, blue, and yellow stripes representing attraction to all identities.

Pansexual flag

oleksii arseniuk / Getty Images

This is different from the the rainbow flag created in 1978, in which blue was originally meant to represent bisexual people.

According to a 2017 survey from the Human Rights Campaign, 14% of LGBT youths identified as pansexual. That number doubled from 2012 when only 7% of LGBT youth identified as such.

The number of people who identify as pansexual continues to rise, the majority of whom are youth between the ages of 13 and 17.

Summary

Pansexual people are those who are sexually and romantically attracted to people irrespective of their gender identity or assigned sex. Pansexual people may have certain preferences as to the identities they prefer, but they are not constrained by sexual or gender labels and are generally regarded as gender-blind.

While pansexuality and bisexuality can be used interchangeably, some people prefer one term over the other based on their (or others') interpretation of the terms.

Despite the rising of the nonbinary and genderqueer movement, pansexual people are still frequent targets of stigma and abuse. This includes an increased risk of intimate partner violence and widespread feelings of hopelessness and rejection among many pansexual youths.

A Word From Verywell

There isn’t a "right" or "wrong" way to be attracted to someone. If you think you may be pansexual, take the time to learn what pansexuality is and decide for yourself if it best describes your sexual orientation and individual identity.

If you decide that you aren't pansexual, know that there are other ways to express your identity and sexuality. Or, you may choose to not identify at all.

Everyone’s journey will be different. No matter how you identify, it's important to remember that pansexuality, bisexuality, and other sexual orientations are all valid.

By embracing this concept, everyone can help cultivate a more accepting society inclusive of identities that remain largely marginalized.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between pansexual and bisexual?

    The term "pansexual" is used to define people who are attracted to people of all genders, including cisgender and transgender people. The term "bisexual" is more reflective of the gender binary in which a person is either male or female and refers to people who are attracted to both.

  • What is the difference between omnisexual and pansexual?

    Omnisexuality is an attraction to all genders and is sometimes used interchangeably with pansexuality. With that said, the term "pansexual" implies that someone is gender-blind, while "omnisexual" implies that gender plays a role in a person's attraction. Omnisexual people may also have a preference for certain genders.

  • How many genders are there?

    Traditionally, people believed that there were two genders: male and female. The United States government and others around the world officially recognize three genders: male (M), female (F), and non-binary (X). Facebook offers more than 70 gender options to choose from, including agender, nonbinary, transgender, and two-spirit.

  • What does "cis" mean?

    Cis is short for cisgender, which means a person identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth. For example, a woman who was assigned female at birth is cisgender if she identifies as female and with the pronouns she/her.

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9 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.
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