With more celebrities like Janelle Monae and Miley Cyrus coming out as pansexual, you might be unsure of what pansexuality actually is, or how it differs from bisexuality or sexual fluidity in general.
What does pansexuality mean?
Pansexuality is defined as “someone who is attracted to anyone, irrespective of their sex identity or gender identity, explains family relationship specialist Tarra Bates-Duford, PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, at Family Matters Counseling. The “pan” prefix in pansexuality means “all,” Bates-Duford explains.
“This attraction includes people that do not identify with any gender (agender),” she adds. While pansexuality does not mean you are attracted to everyone, it’s more accurate to think of it as someone who is open to being sexually attracted to anyone. Many pansexual people describe themselves as being attracted to people based on personality, moral character, and not gender, Bates-Duford says — meaning they could be attracted to someone nonbinary, binary, male, female, or any other gender.
Is pansexual the same as panromantic?
Pansexuality is often used alongside the term panromantic, but the two are not the same. Panromantic refers to someone who is romantically attracted to people of all gender identities, whereas pansexuality is about sexual attraction.
How is pansexuality related to bisexuality?
Pansexuality falls under the bisexuality umbrella, but goes beyond being attracted to both men and women. According to sexologist Dr. Carlen Costa, pansexuality “is the sexual, romantic, emotional, physical or spiritual attraction to people, regardless of their specific gender identity or sexual expression.” She continues, “Pansexuality is about recognizing that as a people, we have evolved, thus the language of love and relationships has also had to evolve and become increasingly inclusive.”
In other words, pansexuality means that you believe that “gender is a social construct and the way in which we move through the sexuality spectrum is a fluid experience” according to Costa. Identifying as pansexual means that you don’t focus on gender in your romantic attraction to other people and can be attracted to all possible identities.
The main distinction between pansexuality and bisexuality is that pansexuality rejects the gender binary to begin with. Though bisexual individuals may feel this way too, pansexual people often express that they may be attracted to genderqueer people, gender-nonconforming individuals, trans people, as well as cis-gender men and women.
What is it like to be pansexual?
Multiple celebrities have come out as pansexual, the most recent one being Janelle Monae. In a Rolling Stone interview, she said that she identified as bisexual at first, but after reading up on pansexuality felt “‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am.” She also explained that “being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women – [she considers herself] to be a free-ass motherfucker,” which ties into the idea that pansexuality is all about taking gender restrictions away.
Miley Cyrus also popularized the term when she opened up about her sexuality in Elle UK in 2015. Cyrus stated that she “[doesn’t] relate to what people would say defines a girl or a boy” in an interview with Out magazine.
Perhaps a more surprising public figure to identify as pan was Texas State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, who waited until after her campaign run to reveal her orientation because she feared she “would have overwhelmed everyone.” Gonzalez originally came out as bisexual when she was 21, but after dating transgender and genderqueer people, realized the term didn’t feel exactly right and that “gender identity isn’t the defining part of [her] attraction.”
Other notable pansexual figures include YouTube and TV personality Jazz Jennings, who describes her attraction as having “No limits. [She’ll] date anyone. It’s more that [she loves] someone for their soul,” and rapper Angel Haze, who stated, “If you can make me feel, if you can make me laugh — and that’s hard — then I can be with you.”
What are some common misconceptions about pansexuality?
Pansexuality broadens the term “bisexuality,” which means you are sexually or romantically attracted to more than one gender. Since bisexuality has its own set of stigmas regarding perceived promiscuity and an inability to “choose” a sexuality, pansexuality can be similarly misconstrued.
Another incorrect assumption, says Costa, is that pansexuality automatically includes “forms of attraction such as bestiality, pedophilia, [and] paraphilias such as objectophilia,” which is a pretty big (and offensive) leap to believe that a person who likes all gender identities in humans would be interested in a deer or a car engine. The other myth is that, if you date a heterosexual cis-gender person monogamously, you’re no longer pansexual, which is also not true because (1) you’d like all gender identities, remember? and (2) who you date or do not date currently does not restrict your sexual identity.
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