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Pansexuality: What It Means

Medically Reviewed by Isabel Lowell, MD on October 20, 2021

Pansexuality is the romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction to people regardless of their gender. Like everyone else, pansexual people may be attracted to some people and not others, but the gender of the person does not matter. People of any gender identity can and do identify as pansexual. Some people use the terms “bisexual” and “pansexual” interchangeably, but there are distinctions between the two.

Other Names for Pansexual

Some people prefer the term “omnisexual” to “pansexual.” Some people feel that the term pansexuality implies that their attraction to people has nothing to do with gender. People who prefer the term omnisexual can be attracted to people of any gender but find that gender is still a factor in their attraction. 

Both “pan” and “omni” mean “all,” and the distinction between omnisexuality and pansexuality is hazy. Some people use them interchangeably.

What Is the Difference Between Pansexuality, Bisexuality, and Polysexuality?

Bisexuality is at its core the attraction to some people of two or more genders, while pansexuality is the attraction to a person regardless of gender. Polysexuality is the attraction to people of many, but not all genders.

It is important to note that while a bisexual or pansexual person may be attracted to people of different genders or regardless of gender, this does not mean that they are automatically attracted to ALL people of those genders, just as a heterosexual woman is not necessarily attracted to ALL men.

Pansexual vs. Bisexual

Pansexuality and bisexuality are similar, but not quite the same. Pansexuality is broader than bisexuality, and people who identify as pansexual may be attracted to people of all genders. Bisexuality is the attraction to two or more genders, but not necessarily all. People who identify as bisexual may be pansexual, but not necessarily. Some people prefer to identify as bisexual even if they may be pansexual simply because the term “bisexual” is more commonly recognized.

Pansexual vs. Polysexual

Similarly, the distinction between pansexuality and polysexuality is that pansexuality is broader than polysexuality. Unlike bisexuality, polysexuality specifically implies that there are some genders to which the person is not attracted. Poly means many, but not all. 

For example, someone who is polysexual may be attracted to people of every gender except for women. Meanwhile, a pansexual person my be attracted to men, women, nonbinary people, and people of any other gender identity.

Myths and Misconceptions about Pansexuality

Some people assume that attraction to others regardless of gender implies that pansexual people act on their attraction more frequently than others. This can lead to the stereotype that pansexual people are promiscuous. However, just as with heterosexuality or homosexuality, pansexual people are all individuals. Any given pansexual person will have their own preference for the amount of sexual activity they want, and they may also prefer to remain celibate. 

Furthermore, these same stereotypes of promiscuity cause some people to accuse pansexual people of being less likely to remain monogamous. This is untrue -- pansexual people are just as likely to prefer monogamy as hetero- or homosexual people. Pansexuality is not the same thing as polyamory. The potential to be attracted to someone of any gender is not connected to a preference for multiple partners.  

How Pansexuality Works in Relationships

Pansexual people are attracted to people regardless of gender, so any given pansexual person can find themselves in a wide variety of relationships. These relationships may be “straight-passing,” or they may be obviously non-heterosexual. Regardless of their partner’s gender, a pansexual person remains pansexual - they often do not experience “straight-passing” privilege. Instead, they may experience microaggressions as their sexuality is ignored or dismissed.

As with every relationship, it’s important for anyone partnered with a pansexual person to discuss boundaries. Neither partner should make any assumptions about things such as monogamy, sexual acts, or general preferences. Every pansexual person is different, and has their own preferences. If you’re in a relationship with someone who is pansexual, it’s important to respect them and their boundaries.

Helping Your Loved Ones Understand Pansexuality

While you don’t need to come out to your loved ones as pansexual, some people find it to be helpful or cathartic. If you choose to come out, you can explain pansexuality as being a natural attraction to people regardless of gender. Some pansexual activists use the phrase “Hearts, not parts” to explain this orientation. While the phrase is reductive, it can be a useful tool when talking with people who aren’t familiar with LGBTQ terminology. 

If you’re talking to your loved ones about pansexuality because you have a new partner, you should talk with your partner first. If a new relationship is spurring you to come out, then you are likely dating someone else who falls under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. If you come out, you may be outing your partner as well. This disclosure can have serious effects on your partner’s life. 

If your partner would prefer to remain in the closet, then you may choose to wait before coming out yourself out of respect for their privacy.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Bisexual Resource Center: “Pan & Bi: A Handy Guide.”

Deconforming: “Bisexual vs. pansexual: what’s the difference?”

LGBTQ Nation: “What is pansexual?”

Merriam-Webster: “Pansexual.”

National LGBTQ Task Force: “Why Outing Can Be Deadly.”

SexInfo Online (UCSB): “Pansexuality.”

UC Davis: “Ways To Be An Ally to Nonmonosexual / Bi People.”

Washington University: “Thinking of coming out?”

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