Maybe your connection to David Rose on “Schitt’s Creek” goes beyond a shared sense of humor. Maybe you’ve been wondering if you and Tess Holliday share a sexuality.
Or maybe you’re trying to decide if pansexual or bisexual works better for you.
Whatever the reason, if you’ve been trying to figure out whether you’re pansexual, this guide can help.
Like all gender and sexuality identifiers, the definition of pansexual varies based on who’s giving the definition, says Jesse Kahn, LCSW-R, CST, the director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City
Because the prefix “pan” means all, a common definition of pansexual reads: The potential for attraction —romantically, emotionally, or sexually — to people of all genders, or to people all across the gender spectrum, says longtime sex educator Searah Deysach, the owner of Early to Bed, a pleasure product company in Chicago that ships worldwide.
The key phrase here is “potential for attraction.” Someone who is pansexual is NOT attracted to every single human on the planet.
That pan-phobic assumption is as absurd as thinking a straight woman is attracted to every single man on the planet. Yikes!
Some pansexual people say their orientation has nothing to do with gender.
“Gender, genitals, and sex have no barring on who I’m attracted to,” says Rachel, a 29-year-old living in Hartford, CT. “It all comes down to their personality and vibe.”
Bill, 21, of New York City, offers a similar sentiment: “I identify as pansexual because gender isn’t a defining feature in who I want to date, sleep with, or romance.”
But that’s not true for all pansexual folks.
A few reasons! But before we get into them, let’s define bisexuality.
A common definition of bisexuality says it’s the potential for attraction — romantically, emotionally, or sexually — to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.
As you can see, the two orientations are similar. Both, for example, include attraction to two or more genders. (Because pansexual folks are attracted to all genders, they fall into the “or more” category).
Most importantly: Both are valid.
The big difference between the two orientations is that, generally, pansexuality implies gender neutrality, whereas bisexuality does not.
Time to bust a widespread myth: Bisexual does *not* mean attraction to men and women.
Bisexuality always has been and always will be inclusive of nonbinary and other gender nonconforming folks.
Historically, some people identified as pansexual due to the fear that identifying as bisexual was invalidating to their nonbinary and GNC lovers. But such is not the case!
“At the core, these two terms mean basically the same thing, but people have different relationships to the terms and how they have been and are currently used culturally,” Deysach says.
Sexual orientation is determined by self-identification only. So any external source that claims to be able to know your sexual orientation is full of bullsh*t. And that stands whether the external source is an online quiz, survey, friend, or fortune-teller.
Only you can determine if you’re pansexual, so figuring out whether you’re pansexual is going to take a little self-reflection.
Spend some time noodling on, journaling, or talking through the following questions:
- Have I developed attraction to someone without knowing their gender or pronouns before?
- What are the genders of people I’ve historically been attracted to?
- When I think about my ideal mate(s), does gender play a (big) role?
- How does identifying as pansexual make me feel? How does saying the word make me feel?
- How does identifying as pansexual feel, compared to bisexual, queer, polysexual, or omnisexual?
Remember: Identities are like those Limited Too tanks you might have hoarded as a pre-teen. You can layer them!
You can identify as pansexual *and* other identities. So you might identify as a queer pansexual dyke or pansexual aromantic or nonbinary pansexual. Any combo of gender and sexuality identifiers are up for grabs.
“You’re also allowed to change the language, labels, and words you use to describe yourself throughout your lifetime,” Kahn explains.
New words are always emerging with more nuance and differences, and sexuality also evolves over time, they say. So choosing to identify as pansexual today is not a life-long commitment. Phew.
Panromantic is a romantic — not sexual — orientation.
Someone who is panromantic has the potential to be romantically attracted to people of all gender identities.
The term pansexual *can* serve as an umbrella term for those who are panromantic and pansexual.
But it’s more common for people to identify as pansexual when they’re panromantic and pansexual — and as panromantic if or when their romantic orientation is different from their sexual orientation. (This is known as being cross-oriented.)
There aren’t hair, makeup, clothing, or style prerequisites for being pansexual — or for any other sexual or romantic orientation.
People have styles and looks, sexual orientations do not.
No doubt, this is an interesting prompt for a sociology or gender and sexuality studies class. But outside the classroom, this question is typically used to put down people who aren’t heterosexual.
This idea assumes that everyone is born heterosexual, and that anyone who identifies otherwise must have endured some trauma, misstep, or casualty. This is all-caps F-A-L-S-E.
Nothing causes pansexuality, just as nothing causes heterosexuality.
Your sexual orientation has no impact on your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or potential for pregnancy.
Here’s what *can* impact your risk for STIs or pregnancy:
Labeling your sexuality has the potential to connect you with a community, so you may want to tell people. But you absolutely don’t have to.
You may choose not to share this information about yourself if doing so could put your physical, emotional, or mental well-being at risk — or if it could result in homelessness or other financial strain.
Remember: Your pansexuality is valid, even if you’re the only person who knows you’re pansexual.
If you come out to people who are safe to come out to, coming out as pansexual can offer short-term and long-term positives.
- finding and connecting with the greater pansexual community
- explaining what you’re looking for in a relationship
- experiencing relief, joy, and stability
Long-term, not coming out can lead to cognitive dissonance, feelings of isolation, and stress.
In a society that assumes heterosexuality unless proven otherwise, coming out can feel like a hugeeee deal! But it doesn’t have to be.
Sharing this information with someone can be done super casually.
You might say:
- “Hey, I know the last time we talked about my sexuality, I told you I was bisexual. But, recently, I discovered that the pansexual label fits better.”
- “Before we hang up, I just wanted to let you know that I’m pansexual.”
- “I have a deal with myself that I won’t go on a date with someone before I share my sexuality. So I just wanted to tell you that I’m pansexual.”
Pro tip: Avoid using the “attracted to pots and pans” joke when you come out. Why? Because no matter how many people tell the joke, it’s just not that funny!
Your safety needs to be your number one priority. So, if you told someone(s) who’s currently threatening your safety, try to get out of there ASAP.
You might go over to the house of a family member you know is LGBTQ+ or a friend whose parents won’t ask why you need a place to stay.
If you’re in the United States and under 25, another option is to contact The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. The organization provides help and support for LGBTQ+ youth who are in crisis.
If you’re in the United States and 25 or older, you can try contacting one of the following:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender National Hotline at 888-843-4564
- Trans Lifeline at (877) 565-8860
This depends on whether you’re looking for community support or mental health support.
For an online community, try Twitter or Instagram, where there are vibrant and vocal pansexual communities. Simply searching #pansexual, #pansexualpride, and #pansexuallove on the apps can help you find pansexuality influencers, activists, and spokespersons who are loud and proud.
For an in-person community, try:
- searching pansexual on Meetup
- talking with your local LGBTQ+ organization or community center
- attending queer-focused events at your local college or university
If you’re looking for a professional to talk with about your identity and any associated worries, fears, or predicaments, find a LGBTQ+ inclusive therapist, or, better yet, a therapist in the LGBTQ+ community.
To find one, you may find it helpful to search one of the following:
How you label your sexuality is up to you. Only YOU get to decide whether you’re pansexual.
And if you decide that you’re pansexual? Well, you better go get some yellow, pink, and blue confetti to throw everywhere!
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.