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What Is Pansexual? A Look at Gender-Blind Love

What is pansexual? Get to know the queer ideology that throws the rulebook of gender norms and sexual attraction out the window.
Editorial team
July 22, 2024
min. read
Table of Contents

To explain pansexuality in the simplest terms, let’s expand on a classic David Roseism: 

While some people are out shopping for red wine, others have their eyes on white. And then some folks are fans of all the wine. Meanwhile, pansexuals are browsing each and every beverage aisle the store has to offer — and then some.

Sounds simple enough, right? Not necessarily. Compared to the rest of the LGBTQ alphabet mafia, understanding what it is to be pansexual can feel a bit ambiguous at first. 

If that sounds like you, we got you. Here’s the Grindr guide to understanding the laws of indiscriminate attraction.

What does pansexual mean? 

In short, pansexuality goes beyond the constraints of their gender and sexuality. Whereas most sexual orientations are defined by the gender of the person one is attracted to, pansexuality sees this as inconsequential to sex and love. 

Pansexual folk are attracted to others based on their whole essence rather than where they sit on the gender spectrum — personality, interests, life experiences, general hotness, bank account size (hey, pansexuals have needs, too). They feel love and attraction to the overall person, regardless of their labels. This means that a pansexual person can form a romantic attraction to men, women, nonbinary people, or any other gender identity. Likewise, people who wave the pansexual flag can feel sexual attraction to people of any sexual identity (assuming the subject of said affection swings their way). A pansexual person is open to having same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships.

The core meaning of pansexual lies in its inclusivity and openness. Pansexuals embrace the idea that love and attraction are not bound by societal rules. That leaves them open to forming deep connections with people regardless of their genitalia, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Basically, when you hear, “Embrace your authentic self,” it’s the pansexuals screaming it as loud as possible for the people in the back.

Pansexual vs. bisexual: A fuzzy distinction

Today’s mainstream definitions of pansexuality and bisexuality overlap, but the defining line marking the difference between bi and pan comes down to a matter of opinion. Some see pansexuality as its own sexual orientation, while others consider it a branch of bisexuality. Some say bisexual people are attracted to all genders (just like pansexual people), but they do consider gender as a factor, whereas pansexual people do not. Others insist the two are one and the same.

One explanation for this bit of etymological convergent evolution stems from kink history. “Pansexual” has long been a popular term among kink and fetish communities where sexual acts and dynamics are often more important than who’s participating in them. Here, pansexual expresses that your attraction isn’t for men or women, but rather “whoever will flog me with a garden hose while dressed like Tony the Tiger.”

There’s only one wrong answer when delineating pan from bi — that bi folks reinforce the gender binary or exclude trans people, whereas pan folks are more open-minded. This positions one sexuality as morally superior to another, which is so not fetch.

In reality, the “bi” in bisexual is a bit of a misnomer; bi people can be attracted to as many genders as there are twinks at a Troye Sivan concert. In fact, a 2017 study of young bi and pan people found no differences in how they discussed sex or gender.

Don’t worry, bicurious babes; you can use whatever label you like.


Misconceptions about pansexuality

Similar to bicurious and bisexual people, pansexuals’ open-minded approach to dating and sex often leads to unfair labeling. And sometimes, the discrimination is coming from inside the house. Queer-on-queer hate is what happens when we make people pick just one color on the rainbow. 

Here are a few harmful stereotypes about pansexuals:

  1. Pan = promiscuous: Pansexual people can be attracted to anyone, regardless of gender or sexual identity. That doesn’t mean they’re attracted to everyone. This misconception has given bi and pansexuals a reputation for promiscuity. Pansexual people have varied preferences for romantic and sexual relationships; they’re as likely to have full sexual calendars or practice celibacy as anyone else. 
  2. Pansexual = polysexual: Similar to the promiscuity stereotype, pansexuals are often assumed to want more than one partner at a time. But pansexual people are simply open to various relationships, not necessarily open to open relationships. Pan people are just as likely to desire committed, monogamous relationships as they are to join a polycule
  3. P stands for pervert: Some people think that pansexuals’ laissez-faire approach to gender and sexuality must also extend to age and species. They assume a pan person will fuck anything, including animals, children, and unwilling participants. This attitude demonizes people’s identities and contributes to issues of pansexual erasure.
  4. Persistent panphobia: Pansexuality rejects cultural norms related to sex and romance, and that kind of sexual fluidity and freedom is hard for some to grasp, even members of the LGBTQ community. Pansexuality isn’t a phase, and it’s not a sign of sexual deviancy, either. Those attitudes delegitimize pansexuals’ authenticity and contribute to more widespread segregation within the gay community. 

Is it pansexuality or (fill in the blank)? 

There’s no rule in the gay handbook that says you have to identify with a single sexuality. No one is making you sign a blood oath. You’re free to explore your sexuality and gender identity, even if that means hopping from one to another. Here are some other types of sexualities that might make more sense for you: 

  1. Asexual: You don’t experience little or no sexual attraction to anyone. Asexuals may, however, feel romantic attraction to people. 
  2. Graysexual: It’s not a new name for silver foxes. Graysexuals experience sexual attraction but infrequently — gray hair or not. 
  3. Demisexual: It’s all about strong emotional bonds. Demisexuals don’t experience sexual attraction without developing an emotional connection first. 
  4. Monosexual: You are attracted to a single gender identity. But this applies to more than just the straights. Homosexual people who are exclusively attracted to the same sex are also monosexual. 
  5. Omnisexual: You can be attracted to people of any gender. Omnisexual and pansexual are often used interchangeably.
  6. Polysexual: You are sexually attracted to several genders, but not necessarily all of them. Maybe you like men, non-binary people, and gender-fluid people, but not women (sorry, ladies).

Newsflash: You can’t pee on a stick to pinpoint your sexual identity (our apologies to all the watersports enthusiasts). But if you feel confused or curious, start by asking yourself a few questions:

  • Do I feel attracted to every gender on the gender spectrum? Is there any gender I never feel warm and fuzzy about?
  • Is there a gender (or genders) I’m unsure about?
  • What communities do I feel the most like myself around? 
  • Am I sexually attracted to the people I’m romantically attracted to? 
  • Do I pay attention to a person’s gender at all? 
  • Do my attractions feel fluid or rigid? Have they changed over time?

Sexual orientation and attraction are complex and vary widely, even between people using the same labels. Connecting with other pansexual people and allies within the larger LGBTQ community will help you learn more about yourself and others, and understanding their experiences can help you feel seen and validated. You can also speak with a sex therapist or counselor to explore your sexuality on your terms. 

Pansexual pride!

Sexuality isn’t a race. There’s no reason to categorize yourself before you’re ready or to neatly define your sexuality at all.

Whether you’re perfectly pansexual or just curious about exploring new kinds of relationships, Grindr’s got plenty of options. Download the Grindr app and get to it today!

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