What It Means To Be Pansexual
on Aug 19, 2022
Heard of pansexuality before but not sure what it really means? Read on to learn the meaning of pansexuality and how it is different from other sexual identities.
Medically Reviewed by Dr Megan Fleming.
Yes, exploring your sexual identity can be super liberating. But to be honest? It’s also a time that can be stressful - especially if you’re looking for a way to concretely define your sexuality or are still considering how to come out.
And for those who are pansexual, a sexual identity that’s not as widely discussed in mainstream culture, this process can be particularly difficult and confusing. That said, Lovehoney is here to help make things just a tiny bit easier.
The following is expert-backed information on pansexuality, including its specific definition, how it differs from other sexual identities, and tips for working out if you identify with this label. Read on.
What Is The Definition Of Pansexual?
In short, the definition of pansexual is: “The capability to be sexually, romantically, or emotionally attracted toward persons of all biological sexes and gender identities.” Need some examples?
For starters, think of it this way: A pansexual cisgender man can be attracted to a breadth of other people, including (but not limited to) a transgender man, a cisgender woman, or a non-binary person. A pansexual transgender woman can be attracted to a cisgender woman, a transgender man, a non-binary individual, and so forth.
That being said, because those who identify as pansexual can be attracted to all biological sexes and gender identities, it’s often confused with other types of sexualities. To clear things up, the following is a brief summary of other sexualities often confused with pansexuality and what makes them different, as explained by Janet Brito, Ph.D., AASECT-certified sex therapist, and founder of the Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health.
“Bisexual is when you have a romantic or sexual attraction to a different gender than yourself as well as your own,” Brito says. Conversely, pansexuality specifies attraction to all gender identities and biological sexes.
Bisexuality is interpreted in various ways, however: Some consider bisexuality to mean that you’re attracted to two different groups of people. For example, if you’re a cisgender woman, you could be attracted to other cisgender women as well as cisgender men. However, others consider bisexuality to mean attraction to one’s own gender as well as other genders (plural!) too.
“Omnisexual people are attracted to all gender identities and sexual orientations,” Brito says, which is similar to the definition of pansexual. However, being omnisexual specifies a person’s sexuality, and it also pays mind to a person’s gender - whereas pansexual people don’t notice gender at all when accounting for their attractions.
“This is when you’re attracted to many people and gender identities,” Brito says. What makes being polysexual different from being pansexual is that polysexual people are attracted to many people and genders, but not all. For example, a polysexual transgender man might be attracted to non-binary people and cisgender women, but not cisgender men. All in all, each polysexual person will have different preferences.
“Demisexual is when you must have an emotional attachment or connection to someone in order to view them sexually or engage with them sexually,” Brito explains. Specifically, this means that those sexual feelings come after getting to know someone - though sexual attraction is not necessarily guaranteed just because a demisexual person has a close bond with an individual. Pansexual people, however, can experience sexual attraction without needing an emotional connection first.
“Being panromantic means you have a romantic attraction to all gender identities and biological sexes, but you may not have a sexual attraction to all gender identities and biological sexes,” Brito says. For example, maybe a panromantic cisgender woman can develop romantic feelings for cisgender men, but does not experience sexual attraction toward them. A pansexual person, however, can experience sexual feelings toward all kinds of people.
“An abrosexual person has sexual fluidity,” Brito says. This means that their sexual identity can change more one or more times throughout their lives. Pansexuality is related to being abrosexual in that an abrosexual person might identity as pansexual at some point - though they may not identity as pansexual forever.
All in all, while each of these sexual identities are different and unique in their own ways, and they are all valid, normal, and deserving of recognition and respect
How to Know If You’re Pansexual
It can be difficult in general to understand your sexuality because of societal influence and gender expectations. In addition to this, there’s no real way to “know” your sexuality, which is difficult at times - but it can be helpful to explore different labels.
“Sexuality is a spectrum and it's okay if you're trying to navigate this and you're not sure,” Brito says. Just give yourself the grace to figure things out on your own schedule and don’t rush. Among other things, the following are some ways that you can practice exploring your sexuality, according to Brito.
Think about if you are attracted to more than one gender, Brito suggests. You can do so by running through crushes or attractions from your past, or think about what kinds of people are drawing your attention in the present day.
You can also think about if there are any genders that you are not attracted to, Brito says. Sometimes figuring out what you don’t like is just as helpful as pinpointing what you do. It can help you narrow down what kinds of sexual identities might work for you.
Consider how open you are to various sexual experiences with various biological sexes and gender identities. Perhaps some bring up feelings or attraction, while others, romance. Whatever it is, think about various romantic and sexual scenarios and how they might make you feel - and you can even consider safely and consensually experimenting IRL, if you so desire.
Remember: when it comes to being pansexual, you can still identify as such even if you are more attracted to or typically date one gender over others. “This doesn’t have to be a fixed thing and how attracted you are to certain people can change over time. It’s complicated,” Brito says.
The bottom line? “Whatever it is that you're going through or experiencing, that's okay. There's nothing wrong with you,” Brito says. And most importantly, there is no pressure to identify with one particular label. It’s okay to “not know,” so just be yourself and explore your sexuality as you see fit. All that matters is if you’re comfortable and happy, K?
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