What is Pansexuality?
Pansexuality is a sexual orientation describing a person who is attracted to all types of people, regardless of sex or gender.2 The term “pansexuality,” sometimes referred to as omnisexuality, has its roots in the Greek prefix pan-, meaning “all” or “every” coming together as one.1 When combined with the suffix, --sexual, describing one’s own sexual desires or attractions, the word pansexual is defined as “someone who is attracted to all sexes and genders of people.”1
Pansexuals are capable of carrying out sexual, emotional, and romantic relationships with people of all genders. They could be interested in someone who is male, female, transgender, intersex, or genderqueer/gender fluid.3 It should be noted that pansexuals are not sexually attracted to everyone; they are simply open towards people of all sexes and gender identities as sexual or romantic partners.
The pansexuality flag represents all gender identities: rose represents the female gender, blue represents the male gender, and gold represents the third gender – which includes those who identify as intersex, transsexual, genderqueer, and genderfluid.
Sexual Orientation vs. Gender
Pansexuality is a sexual orientation, which is not necessarily congruent with their gender identity. The term pansexual is used to define who they are romantically and sexually attracted to. Sexuality is defined on a continuous spectrum of sexual orientations. There are many examples of sexual orientations, including straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. Gender identity, in contrast, is a person’s perception of their own gender, which may be male, female, transgender, genderqueer, agender, or gender fluid. To learn more about the different types of gender identities, please refer to the, “Overview of Gender Identities.”
Pansexuality May Be Expressed Differently By Different People
Like any other sexual orientation, pansexuals might define their identity in a way that is more personalized to how they view sexual and romantic relationships. Thus, individuals might have slightly different ways of defining their pansexual identity.
While a pansexual person might be attracted to someone of any gender category or identity, they may also have preferences for who they are more or less attracted to, either in a physical or emotional sense. As Jazz Jennings, a teenage transgender spokeswoman, stated, “There’s no limits. I’ll date anyone. It’s more that I love someone for their soul. Physically, I think I’m more attracted to boys but sometimes I’m attracted to girls too, so it’s weird.”4 A person might identify as pansexual but tend to be attracted to men more than women, or women more than men. This quote also presents the idea of loving someone for who they are rather than recognizing their gender as a factor regulating whether or not they are attracted to them. Pansexuals who identify with this mentality may be described as “genderblind” in that they do not perceive gender as a relevant factor in who they are attracted to. Other pansexuals have described their identity to be a factor that does not limit their choices in sexual partners or activities.
For some pansexual people, knowledge of someone’s gender might be relevant to foster their attraction to that person. For other pansexuals, they may not need or want to know a potential partner’s gender information as they view it as irrelevant.1 However, the characteristic all pansexuals share is “the constant possibility of being attracted to any person of any gender and sex.”1
Pansexuality vs. Bisexuality and Other Sexual Orientations
Although similar, pansexuality and bisexuality are two different sexual orientations. Pansexuality refers to the sexual attraction to individuals of any gender.
A key aspect of the pansexual identity is the belief that people do not need to fall within the gender binary, going against the idea that there are only two genders: male and female.9 Bisexuality, on the other hand, may generally refer to attraction to the two traditional genders: male and female.9
However, there is much debate around whether bisexuality reinforces the rigid gender binary of male/female. This view is a common misconception. Bisexuality can be understood to mean individuals are attracted to two genders, their own and the another gender, pansexuality means individuals are attracted to people of all gender identities or attracted to people regardless of their gender.4 However, the existence of the term pansexual sets it apart from bisexuality, in implying that many genders exist, rather than just two (male and female).1 Pansexuality emphasizes the existence of multiple genders, or the lack of importance of gender altogether.1 Nonetheless, some anti-bisexual prejudice may exist within pansexual communities, as some individuals see pansexuality as the only comfortable option for individuals advocating for gender fluidity.1 Such issues are still the subject of debate within the LGBTQ communities.
There are additional sexual orientations that describe being attracted to individuals of more than one sex or gender. Polysexuality is the is attraction to multiple gender identities and sexes, though it can be distinguished from pansexuality because pansexuality is the attraction to all gender and sexual identities.4
Is Pansexuality a New Sexual Orientation?
While pansexuality is sometimes criticized as a newly emerging sexual orientation, or a fad among youth to be hip or inclusive within the LGBTQ community, the use of the term has existed since the twentieth century. The term pansexuality was first used by Sigmund Freud in the early-to-mid-1900s in his development of psychoanalytic theories.1 Freud identified what he called “pansexualism” as the sex instinct motivating all types of human behavior.10 However, this definition does not match the modern-day pansexual identity. While he described pansexuality as “how sexual energy and desire is the basis for all human interaction in life,”1 pansexuals see their sexual attraction as unrestricted, allowed to all individuals no matter their identity. The modern-day usage of the term pansexual most likely emerged in the 1990s, when activism surrounding genderqueer and non-gender binary conforming movements began growing.1
Why Identify as Pansexual?
Individuals who identify as pansexual often do so with a purpose, “to express that they are able to be attracted to various gender and sexual identities, whether they fall within the gender binary or not.”3 The increasingly acceptable fluidity around gender is also impacting sexuality, and people who identify as pansexual often wish to express this.11
Pansexuality is intertwined with the politics of activism surrounding trans rights, gender fluidity, and gender noncomformity.1 The terms is often one of strength for individuals who disagree with the rigidity of the gender dichotomy. Such individuals may believe multiple genders exist, or that gender is less relevant that society proscribes.
The development of a pansexual identity within the LGBTQ community has furthered the discussion surrounding the intersection of gender and sexuality, and how individuals can remain fluid within either or both of these categories.1 Pansexuality is often rooted in other movements geared towards equality for all genders and sexes, with many pansexuals using their sexual identity to endorse such equality.
- “Pansexuals are into sexual acts with pans, pots, and other various kitchen utensils.”1 The Truth: Pansexuality does not describe an individual’s sexual attraction to pans, pots, or any other inanimate objects.1 This territory is covered under the heading of object sexuality, or attraction to inanimate objects, which can be described as a type of fetishism.1
- “Bisexuality and Pansexuality are the same thing.” While bisexuality and pansexuality are related, they represent two different sexual orientations.1 As described earlier in this article, bisexual individuals are attracted to more than one gender while pansexual individuals are potentially attracted to individuals of all gender identities and sexes.
- “Claiming to be pansexual is just a way to excuse promiscuity. Pansexuals just want to have sex with anyone and everyone.” The Truth: Identifying as pansexual means that one is open to dating people of all identities.5 It does not mean that they date or have sex with many people at the same time.5 Pansexuals are just as capable of holding steady, long-term relationships as anybody else of any other sexual orientation.
- “Pansexuals like EVERYONE.” The Truth: Pansexuals have the potential to be attracted to people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.3 Just as a straight male is attracted to women – but not all women – someone who is pansexual is only attracted to certain people of each identity. Just because they can be attracted to anybody does not mean that they are attracted to everybody.
Notable Pansexual Individuals
Certain individuals are shining a light on pansexuality through their fame and stature, bringing issues of gender fluidity and sexual attraction into the public eye.
Mary Gonzalez serves as a representative for the Texas House of Representatives. Gonzalez recently came out as pansexual after originally identifying as lesbian.6 She is not in support of the rigid gender binary, and thus felt that the term “bisexual” did not accurately describe her sexuality. She has dated cisgender women as well as individuals who identify as transgender and genderqueer. Gonzalez is the first and only openly pansexual US official.6
Jazz Jennings is a male-to-female transgender woman who identifies as pansexual.8 She is an important advocate for transgender youth, and was named in Times’ “25 Most Influential Teens of 2014.” At age two, Jennings began confidently stating that she was a girl, and, at the age of five, was one of the youngest people to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Jazz’s family was very supportive and she began her transition during kindergarten.7 When Jazz was fourteen, she co-authored a memoir about her early life with gender dysphoria and as a transgender child.7 She says that she likes people for their personality rather than their sex, gender, or sexual orientation.8
Miley Cyrus is a 22-year-old singer and actress who became very vocal about her sexual orientation upon realizing that she is pansexual.11 Cyrus, additionally, describes herself as not conforming to the gender dichotomy, as she accepts genderqueer partners, while being genderqueer herself: “I don’t relate to being a boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”11 Miley Cyrus in particular has been extensively interviewed and scrutinized publicly in terms of her openness regarding pansexuality.
Each of these individuals relates to pansexuality in their own way, yet all individuals share a common view of approaching sexual attraction with an openness to all individuals, regardless of their gender identity.
In summary, pansexuality is one of many sexual orientations. Someone who identifies as pansexual can be attracted to people of any sex or gender, although there are some differences in how people experience pansexuality. Pansexuality is linked to the belief that more than two genders exist, and that individuals do not have to conform to the gender binary. Pansexuals are not hypersexual or attracted to every individual they meet, and can have monogamous relationships with people of any gender. They should be treated with the same respect as individuals of any other sexual orientation.
1. Jakubowski, Kaylee. “Pansexuality 101: It’s More Than ‘Just Another Letter.’” Everyday Feminism. Np, 12 November 2014. Web. 26 February 2017.
2. “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity 101.” Unitarian Universalist Association. Np, nd. Web. 4 March 2015.
3. “What is Pansexuality?” Stop Homophobia. Np, nd. Web. 4 March 2015.
4. Evans, Daniel. “What is Pansexuality? 4 Pan Celebs Explain in their Own Words.” Glaad. Np, 23 September 2015. Web. 26 February 2017.
5. Ellenthal, Lex. “Myths about Bisexuality and Pansexuality Debunked.” Bust. Np, nd. Web. 4 March 2015.
6. “Mary Gonzalez, Texas State Representative, Identifies as Pansexual in New Interview.” The Huffington Post. Np, 10 August 2012. Web. 20 April 2015.
7. Prowse-Gany, Brian. “The New Face of Transgender Youth.” Yahoo! News. Np, nd. 21 April 2015.
8. Stewart, Sara. “It’s a Transgender World.” The New York Post. Np, nd. 21 April 2015.
9. “Difference Between Bisexual and Pansexual.” Difference Between. Np, nd. Web. 4 March 2015.
10. Palermo, Elizabeth. “Pansexual: A ‘New’ Sexual Orientation?” Livescience. Np, 12 November 2013. Web. 26 February 2017.
11. Miller, Korin. “Miley Cyrus Identifies As Pansexual. What Does That Mean, Exactly?” Yahoo! Beauty. Yahoo.com, 28 August 2015. Web. 26 February 2017.
Last updated: 26 February 2017.