What Is Pansexuality—and How Is It Different From Being Bisexual?

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Miley Cyrus was one of the first major celebrities to openly identify as pansexual, and since then, others, including Janelle Monáe, have followed suit.

A growing number of young people are claiming the identity, too. According to Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 LGBTQ Teen Survey, the number of youth who identified as pansexual had doubled since 2012, with 14% of youth respondents embracing the descriptor, and 34% identifying as bisexual. (Only 7% identified as pansexual back in 2012).

So what exactly is pansexuality, and how does it differ from its close cousin, bisexuality?

Pansexuality simply means you’re attracted to all genders.

Pan, after all, comes from the Greek prefix meaning “all.” In other words, pansexual people are attracted to people of all genders, regardless if they identify as cisgender male, cisgender female, gender non-binary, agender, transgender, and so on.

Often pansexual folks talk about how they’re not attracted to body parts, just the individual’s personality. While that’s true for many pan folks, there are also pan people like me, who do in fact like body parts; they just appreciate the body parts of all genders.

Pansexuality is being attracted to people of all genders. Got it. So what about bisexuality?

Bisexuality is being attracted to two or more genders—but not necessarily all.

Here’s an example of a person who’s bisexual, but not pansexual: A cisgender woman who dates trans men, cis and trans women, and gender nonconforming folks—but never cisgender men. This woman is attracted to more than two genders, but she isn’t attracted to all genders.

Bisexual people may only be attracted to one gender sexually, and have no desire to be in a relationship with them; they may also find themselves significantly more attracted to one gender over the others.

A bisexual person can be attracted to all genders—just like a pansexual person—since “two or more” can mean all. But even though the two labels can mean the same thing, many folks choose “pansexual” because they feel “bisexual” is exclusionary. They think that since bi means “two,” it must mean that bisexual folks are only attracted to cisgender men and cisgender women.

But most bisexual people don’t see that as being the case. As the renowned bisexual activist and educator Robyn Ochs has said of her identity, “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted–romantically and/or sexually–to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.”

Nevertheless, pansexuality was birthed from the confusion of what it means to be bisexual and to make it unequivocally clear that someone who identifies as pansexual is attracted to all genders.

At the end of the day, both labels are valid, and if you’re attracted to all genders, you can choose to identify as bisexual, pansexual, or both!

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