What Is “Pansexual”?

A young black person holding a pansexual flag half concealing their face.

Pansexual is a way of describing someone who is sexually, romantically or emotionally attracted to people regardless of sexuality, gender or identity. In essence, pansexuality is a handy umbrella label for those who are open to sex or relationships with all kinds of people.

Pansexual comes from the latin word “pan” meaning “all” or “every”. “Omnisexual” is another version of it. The term “queer” could also be a synonym for pansexual, as “queer” is a very open-ended label.

The term “pansexual” has been around since the early 20th century, coined by J Victor Haberman, a critic of Sigmund Freud. Haberman suggested that Freud’s method of psychoanalysis was obsessed with sex. In the Journal of Abnormal Pscyhology he wrote that Freud’s method used “the pan-sexualism of mental life which makes every trend revert finally to the sexual.” Of course, at the time, homosexuality was considered deviant and the doctors were not using the term in the way it is used now.

In the 1950s Alfred Kinsey first suggested that sexuality existed on a spectrum (the Kinsey Scale). The scale rates a person’s sexual orientation from zero (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively heterosexual). Kinsey’s research showed that people’s sexuality could be fluid and change given circumstances and over time. The scale was the first time that science and society acknowledge that pansexuality might exist, even though it took decades for social attitudes to change.

Pansexual Vs Bisexual?

The term “pansexual” didn’t really gain traction until the 70s but even then the term “bisexual” – meaning attraction to both sexes or genders – was more commonly used. As queer culture has evolved, so has debate as to whether “bisexual” is more limiting than “pansexual”. Some suggest that bisexual entrenches the gender binary, while some who identify as bi reject this suggestion. Wikipedia has a good rundown on this debate.

An article by Dr. David Wahi in Psychology Today suggested bisexuality means a person is attracted to their own and one other gender (not specified). It then says that “pansexuality is not only all inclusive of sex and gender identities, but pansexuals also are attracted to others regardless of their sex and gender identities. In other words, they take sex and gender out of the equation altogether.” It uses the idea of “hearts not parts”.

In the interests of inclusivity (and not getting into arguments), both labels are valid. This site uses “bisexual” when someone self describes that way. There’s also a tradition in porn of using the term “bisexual” to mean threesomes with two men and a woman so this context may also be used.

Pansexuality Is Growing

Three young pansexual people sit in a stairwell

The concept of “fluidity” may also exist under the “pansexual” label. Fluidity suggests that people’s sexuality, gender and sexual tastes can change over time.

Young people are more likely to identify as fluid or pansexual. A 2021 report by the Binghamton Human Sexualities Research Lab, entitled Sexuality in Emerging Adulthood, found that women aged 18-20 were much more likely to reject a label of exclusive heterosexuality. Compiling surveys over 9 years they found that the number of women saying they were exclusively heterosexual dropped from 77% in 2011 to 65% in 2019. Which suggests a rather impressive 35% of young women see themselves as lesbian, bi, queer or possibly pansexual. Men’s responses were more static, with 85% saying they were exclusively attracted to women.

The survey also found young women reported more open attitudes to sex generally. The study authors said that feminism and a great societal acceptance for non-heterosexual identities had partly prompted the change.

A 2021 Gallup Poll of US residents found around 5.6% of people identified as LGBT. Of those, more than half identified as bisexual and 3.3% said they were “other – queer, same-gender loving”. The poll didn’t include pansexuality as an option.

A 2017 study in the Journal of Sex Research looked at who was rejected traditional labels and embracing the terms “pansexual” and “queer”. A survey of 2200 non-heterosexual people found that those adoption pansexual and queer identities tended to be younger, women or non cisgender.

There are some myths about pansexuality. Being pansexual doesn’t equate to being promiscuous, and it doesn’t mean the person is confused about their sexuality or who they are. It also doesn’t mean they can’t be happy in a monogamous relationship. Pansexuality is separate from being polyamorous (having multiple relationships). It’s also separate from Panromantic, which focuses solely on romantic relationships.

Pansexual flag: horizontal strips, pink on top, yellow in middle, cyan on bottom

Pansexuality has its own flag, designed by Jasper Varney. It features three horizontal stripes of pink, yellow and cyan. The pink represents attraction to women, the cyan attraction to men and the yellow attraction to non-binary people.

Pansexual and Panromantic Awareness Day is on 24th May. Pansexual Pride Day is on 8th December.

Pansexual porn is could be described as any porn at all, since it includes all sexualities and genders. But there’s a few ways you can define pansexual porn and you’ll find more info at the link above.

Images from Pexels by Tim Samuel and Rodnae Productions

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