If you’re attracted to multiple or all genders, it’s possible you identify as bisexual or pansexual. But aren’t they kind of the same? The short answer is: not always.
Bisexuality means attraction to multiple genders, while pansexuality is attraction to all genders.
Here’s how to sort through why folks choose to identify as bisexual vs. pansexual.
A bisexual person is attracted to their own gender and genders other than their own.
The prefix “bi-” means “two” and traditionally the word bisexual meant being attracted to two genders. But you can also be bisexual and be attracted to two genders or more than one.
And it doesn’t have to fit into the binary “male” and “female” genders. You can still identify as bisexual and take a nonbinary approach. Nonbinary people identify as something other than “man” or “woman.”
Being bisexual can also include sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and preferring one gender over another.
Hint, hint: the prefix “pan-” means “all.” Identifying as pansexual means you’re attracted to people of all genders.
Pansexuality basically comes down to compatibility with a person. Their gender identity or what’s in their pants doesn’t play into attraction.
Whether a person is agender, nonbinary, cisgender, or transgender wouldn’t necessarily matter to a person who identifies as pansexual.
Someone who is pansexual may feel sexual attraction to people of any gender. While bisexual folks may feel a sexual attraction to more than one gender, but not all genders.
This may seem like semantics, but it really comes down to how gender accounts for attraction.
Say you ask two people what kind of food they like. One person may say, “I like all food” and the other may say, “I like more than one kind of food.” Will both friends eat cheese fries? Maybe. But the “more than one” person might not want to add chili.
So are you just attracted to everyone all the time?
Neither pansexuality nor bisexuality means a person is attracted to every single person they see.
Both are sexual orientations that explain the capacity to be attracted, either to all or more than one gender. That usually depends on the person themselves.
A bi or pan person can also choose to be in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship.
Choosing a term that defines your sexual orientation is deeply personal. How you choose to identify is totally up to you.
Your preference for bisexual or pansexual can also change over time. Meeting a certain person may cause you to rethink the way you experience sexual or romantic attraction. You, and you alone, get to decide which label (if any) feels best to you.
Being bisexual or pansexual doesn’t mean you’re just attracted to everyone you meet. If you’re bisexual a person’s gender may play a role in attraction, but you can still have a preference for one gender over another. Pansexual folks can also have preferences for certain genders.
Studies have actually shown that preferences are common across LGBTQ+ identities, including bisexuality and pansexuality.
If you’re bi or pan, you can also be attracted to genders in different ways. For some, their sexual attractions may differ from their romantic inclinations.
You could be sexually attracted to multiple genders, but only desire sex with one gender.
Romantic attractions carry similar but distinct identity labels, including:
- Aromantic. Folks who experiences little to no romantic attraction to any person, with little to no impact from gender identity.
- Biromantic. Folks who are romantically attracted to people of their own gender and genders other than their own.
- Demiromantic. Folks who need an emotional connection to experience romantic attraction.
- Heteroromantic. Folks who are only romantically attracted to genders different than their own.
- Homoromantic. Folks who are only romantically attracted to their own gender.
- Greyromantic. Folks who experiences romantic attraction infrequently.
- Panromantic. Folks who are romantically attracted to people of all genders.
- Polyromantic. Folks who are romantically attracted to people of many genders, but not all.
Unlike selecting your Hogwarts House, there’s no sorting hat for sexuality. It’s up to you to decide which identity or identities best fits your attractions.
And you can switch it up. Pansexual feels good now? Awesome. Will that label feel best in 5 years? That’s totally up to you to decide!
Still not sure about bi vs. pan? Here’s a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do I feel comfortable within any certain community?
- Are the people that I am romantically attracted to the same people I want to have sex with?
- Are there any genders I don’t find myself romantically or sexually attracted to?
- Are there any genders that I’m not sure if I’m attracted to?
- When I envision myself with someone, what do I envision?
- Do I need an emotional connection to experience attraction?
- How important is personality in my attraction?
- What role, if any, does gender play in my attraction to someone?
This isn’t a pop quiz, so no wrong answers. This is just a tool to help you get in touch with yourself and how you feel.
You don’t have to identify as bisexual or pansexual even if you’re attracted to multiple or all genders.
For some, identifying as queer feels like a better fit and represents more gender fluidity. Queer basically encompasses anyone who doesn’t identify as straight.
Other sexualities you can explore might include:
- Polysexual. Being sexually attracted to many but not all genders.
- Asexual. Having no sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of gender.
- Greysexual. Rarely experiencing sexual attraction.
- Demisexual. Rarely experiencing sexual attraction, but when you do it’s from a strong emotional connection.
- Heterosexual (aka straight). Being sexually attracted to a different gender.
- Homosexual (aka gay). Being sexually attracted to the same gender.
There’s no one way to be bisexual or pansexual. It may look different from person to person, and it’s up to you to decide if these terms fit your sexual orientation.
This can be complicated stuff to figure out, so go easy on yourself. You can choose whatever fits you best or make no decision at all. You do you.