What Is Pansexuality?

Attraction to people of all genders

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People who identify as pansexual are sexually and romantically attracted to people of all genders. "Pan" means all in Greek. Some individuals have preferences and some do not, just like bisexual people (individuals who are attracted to more than one gender).

What's the Difference Between Sex and Gender?

Biological sex is assigned by a doctor at birth based on what genitals a person has, while gender is a person’s deeply felt, internal, and individual experience of their identity, which may or may not correspond to the gender associated with their assigned sex. Both sex and gender exist on a spectrum (rather than a binary) and includes many different identities.

Someone who is pansexual doesn't like everyone, however. For example, a man who is attracted to women don't necessarily like all women.

Portrait of a happy homosexual couple
FG Trade / GettyImages.

Meaning of Pansexuality

Pansexuality is a sexual orientation that refers to being attracted to all gender identities or being attracted to people regardless of their gender. It means gender is not a requirement or determining factor in who a pansexual person wants to date. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, meaning gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.

Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation refers to a person's identity in relation to the gender or genders they are attracted to. Besides pansexuality, other words commonly used to describe sexual orientation include bisexuality, asexuality, gay, and lesbian.

Being gender-blind is not a good thing despite a person's intentions, and it is very much akin to being color-blind when it comes to race. Gender greatly impacts the way people experience the world, including relationships. Being gender-blind is being disrespectful of your partner's lived experience, especially if that partner is a woman and/or transgender.

Pansexuality is considered to be under the bisexual umbrella, which includes terms like fluid (someone whose sexual orientation changes over time). Some questioning people fit under the bisexual umbrella as well.

Younger generations, such as Generation Z, may be more likely to identify as pansexual over bisexual. Pansexuality has been getting more attention in recent years because many celebrities have publicly identified themselves as pansexual. However, bisexuality is neither regressive nor outdated.

Bisexual vs. Pansexual

Being bisexual and pansexual means being attracted to people of all genders. Some people identify with one term or the other based on their personal interpretation and identification with the term. A common misconception about bisexual people in society and the LGBTQ community is that they seek to reinforce the gender binary. The "bi" in bisexual is often mistakenly thought to mean that bisexual people only date on the binary and that they are only attracted to two genders. In fact, bisexuality has been defined as attraction to all genders since at least 1990, when the Bisexual Manifesto was published. The purple stripe in the rainbow flag was originally meant to represent bisexual people, though this interpretation is evolving.


Some people who identify as bisexual may also describe themselves as pansexual to combat biphobia and bi-erasure, which is an effort to remove the label or ignore bisexuality. Some individuals prefer to exclusively identify as pansexual and not bisexual. The term a person uses will ultimately be up to their personal preference.

In general, there is no restriction on who can identify as pansexual. If pansexuality describes who you are attracted to, you can use the term.

History

The word “pansexual” was coined in the 1900s by the psychologist Sigmund Freud, who believed that everyone was born being attracted to many things, even inanimate objects. His definition meant that when we are born, we want to interact with everything around us—a platonic curiosity.

In the 1970s, during the sexual revolution, pansexuality was still a mystery, but it was slowly entering public discourse. By the 1980s, the term had morphed into a saying that meant someone was into “lots of different sex.”

In 1990, the Bisexual Manifesto mentioned nonbinary people (who identify outside of the gender binary) and defined bisexual as attraction to two or more genders, rather than just woman or man. Genderqueer and nonbinary people began to advocate and claim their identity in the 90s, which spurred the growth of the pansexual community.

Google Trends shows that searches for this term was rising by 2007, alongside the word “genderqueer." By 2010, the pansexual flag was released on the internet, which consists of pink, blue, and yellow stripes representing attraction to all identities.

How to Use the Term

People can use the term "pansexual" as an adjective to describe their sexual orientation. For example, someone who is pansexual could say, “I identify as pansexual” or "I am pansexual."

Since the term is so broad, people can apply it in any way that they choose, giving them the freedom to identify however they desire.

Statistics

In a 2017 LGBTQ Teen Survey through the Human Rights Campaign, 14% of youths identified themselves as pansexual. That number doubled from 2012, when only 7% of individuals identified as pansexual. The number of people who identify as pansexual continues to rise. Most of the people who identify as pansexual are youths.

Stigma

Stigmas that pansexual people face include the misconception that pansexual people lead a more hypersexualized life, that they are promiscuous and will cheat on their partners. This belief may be used as an excuse for discrimination and abuse against pansexual individuals, leading to higher rates of intimate partner violence in this population. This misconception also leads people to assume that pansexual people are always romantically and sexually available and wanting to engage in any and all sexual activity, erasing consent from the equation.

Some people may also believe that pansexual people are “unsure” or “experimenting” and will eventually “pick a side.” This belief erases a valid sexual identity, which can result in low self-esteem and self-worth in people who identify as pansexual. 

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

These stigmas are harmful and can lead to not only pan-erasure, which involves doubting the legitimacy of the pansexual orientation, but also violence against pansexual people.

A Word From Verywell

There isn’t a right or wrong way to be attracted to someone. If you think you may be pansexual, spend some time to learn more about pansexuality and then decide if it is a term you want to use to describe your sexual orientation. You are also allowed to adopt a different word if later you feel another orientation fits you better.

Everyone’s journey will be different. No matter how you identify, it's important to remember that pansexuality, bisexuality, and other orientations are all valid and that we should work toward cultivating a more accepting culture to be inclusive of different kinds of marginalized identities.

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