What Does Pansexual Mean? The Difference Between Pansexual and Bisexual (and Other Questions)

Updated on June 15, 2017
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After years in the LGBT community, Jorge knows a few things about being gay or bi. Or maybe he just likes to pretend he does.

What Does Pansexual Mean?

You've probably heard the term "pansexual" and didn't know what people were talking about. Does it refer to someone who is attracted to frying pans? Does it mean that someone finds Pan, the god of nature, to be irresistible?

Not exactly.

People are using "pansexual" more and more to describe their sexual orientation, but what does it really mean? Maybe you're too shy to ask someone outright, or you're worried that you'll look ignorant if you reveal that you don't know.

The truth is that not knowing what pansexual means is perfectly normal because it was a relatively unpopular term until recently. It covers a rather niche orientation that few people are aware of, but that ironically many people have.

Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that complicated:

Being pansexual simply means that you are potentially attracted to people of all sexes and all genders.

Yup, that's it.

If you and your partner are both pansexual, then your relationship is called a panacea. Just kidding, I made that up. It should be called that, though.
If you and your partner are both pansexual, then your relationship is called a panacea. Just kidding, I made that up. It should be called that, though.

The Difference Between Pansexual and Bisexual

But wait!

After hearing the definition of "pansexual," many people's first reaction is to wonder what the difference is between pansexual and bisexual.

If you're attracted to people of all genders, you must be bisexual, right? Is this just a new, fancy term designed to confuse people?

Well, no. There is a subtle difference between "bisexual" and "pansexual."

Bisexual people are attracted to JUST men and women. They like people who are either one or the other. Only people who are part of this binary are within their sphere of attraction.

Pansexual people, on the other hand, are attracted to people of ALL genders and sexes. This means that a pansexual person can find someone who is neither male nor female (or both) attractive. It is possible for them to be attracted to genderqueer, gender neutral, and other "non-binary" people. They are attracted to the person and don't care about their gender or what they have downstairs.

The Reason a Distinction Needs to Be Made

You may have also heard recently about the "gender spectrum," or the idea that there are more than two genders.

Some people are dismissive of this and say that it's all made up, and that when they were growing up there were no genderqueer or non-binary people, and so on.

This is mostly due to limited experience. Of course people with variant genders have existed at least for thousands of years across many cultures, such as the Hijra of South Asia and the Two-Spirit of North American native tribes. It is nothing new; it is only that Western cultures have avoided the subject for quite some time.

Just as someone can be born with reproductive organs that are neither male nor female, people can be born with brains that float in between these two extremes. While the vast majority of people do indeed fall into the extremes of strictly male or strictly female (even most trans people), not everyone is this way.

The term "pansexual" was therefore born out of a need for clarity. It acknowledges that there may be more than two genders. It also acknowledges a group of people who just don't care about gender at all when choosing a partner.

The genderqueer flag.
The genderqueer flag.

Am I Pansexual?

Now, you may have wandered over to this article because you're wondering if you're pansexual yourself. Maybe you recently found yourself attracted to a genderqueer person and began to question your orientation.

Though it's probably best not to worry about it because labels can sometimes be restrictive, it's also understandable that you want to be able to describe yourself.

In that case, signs that you might be pansexual include:

  • If you're attracted to men, women, and people who are neither male nor female.
  • If you don't care what kind of reproductive organs your partner has.
  • If you love "the person, not the body."

You can also take the "Am I Pansexual?" quiz below. It asks you a few telling questions that can help you discover whether or not you happen to be pansexual.

The Pansexual Quiz: Are You Pansexual and Didn't Know?

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Are you pansexual? If so, you may find this picture arousing.
Are you pansexual? If so, you may find this picture arousing.

Should I Come Out As Pansexual?

Considering that it's a relatively unused term, and also considering that people might not even notice that you're pansexual if you actively date only opposite-sex partners, you might be wondering if it's even worth it to come out.

Naturally, it's up to you. Just as with anyone else who falls into a minority, there are a few things to think about:

  • Is it safe to come out where you live? Not every community welcomes people who have an orientation that's different from the norm.
  • Will people understand what you're talking about? You might have to educate people because they simply might not know what pansexual means. If you're not prepared to do this, then maybe it's better not to mention it. After all, the only people who should really care are people you're dating.
  • Are you sure that you're pansexual yourself? While there's nothing wrong with telling people that you're pan and then later backtracking when you discover that you're actually not, it can be cumbersome to have to constantly explain yourself.

You don't have to come out, of course. Your private business is your private business, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. On the other hand, if it's safe and you're eager to discuss what you've discovered about yourself, go ahead.

The Definition of Pansexual

This isn't the end of the story. As with anything else, the exact definition of "pansexual" is hard to peg because people have different interpretations.

Some people consider pansexuality to just be an extension of bisexuality, while others see it as something totally different. Some people think that being pansexual means that you're blind to gender when it comes to love, while others think it just means that you're willing to date people of all genders to one degree or another.

Others make a distinction between sexual attraction and romantic attraction. Still others use alternate terms to "pansexual," such as "polysexual" or just "queer."

Is it confusing? Sure. But that's what life is: confusing.

The pansexual flag. Are you ready to wear your colors proudly?
The pansexual flag. Are you ready to wear your colors proudly?

The Pan Poll

After reading this article, would you say that you consider yourself pansexual?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Jorge Vamos


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        Ralph 4 months ago

        Although the dictionary definition of bisexual refers to just male and female, current definitions and usage in the LGBTQIA+ community define bisexuality more broadly. That is to say, bisexuals may also be attracted to non-binary genders. This makes the distinction between pansexual and bisexual even more subtle... and if you want to confuse things even more, throw in polysexual.