What Does Being Pansexual Mean? A Sexologist Explains

Pansexuality is a sexual orientation that we've become increasingly familiar with over the last decade. Take for example Samantha Jones from Sex and the City and Ola from the Netflix series Sex Education, two popular TV characters that educated people about the meaning of pansexuality and its increasing relevance. And no, being pansexual does not mean being attracted to pots and pans like sweet but clueless Adam from Sex Education initially thinks.
While often used interchangeably with bisexuality, there are actually some defining characteristics of pansexuality that make it very distinct from bisexuality, and these are important to understand. If you don't know much about pansexuality, let us break it down for you.
According to sexologist Georgia Grace, the popular definition of pansexuality is when you experience sexual, romantic or emotional attraction towards people of all genders or regardless of gender.
Unlike other sexualities that generally have specific gender preferences when it comes to sexual or romantic partners, including bisexuality, pansexual people either feel attraction to all genders or gender simply doesn't weigh into their attraction, which is colloquially known as "gender-blindness".
But as is the way with all sexual orientations, there can never be a strict definition of what being pansexual really means, as it's up to each individual's experience of their sexuality. "Like all things when it comes to sexuality, it can be a really individual experience," Grace says.
Grace also explains how for some people, their pansexuality is certainly sexual, in that they experience sexual arousal with the people they're attracted to. For other people that identify as pansexual, it will be emotional or romantic, referring to a deep sort of emotional connection and bond. Essentially, there is a whole variety of reasons why people would be attracted to or want to date or have sex with a range of genders.
"Pansexuality is never linear and it is never always fully equal," Grace says. "What I mean by that is that your sexuality is not always neatly divided, being 25% attracted to one gender and 25% attracted to another and so on. What pansexuality means to someone will ultimately be different to somebody else". The only overarching theme we can clearly say for anyone who identifies as pansexual is that whether gender is relevant to them or not, it doesn't limit their attraction to people.
A common misconception that bi and pan people alike have to deal with is the idea that they're hypersexual or "greedy" by being open to attraction with more than one gender, if not all of them. But just as a heterosexual woman won't be attracted to all men, a pan person won't be attracted to everyone simply because they are capable of and open to it.
"This myth about greed and hypersexuality is also spread across queerness in general," Grace explains. "Some people, pansexual or otherwise, will identify that they are really sexual and like to have sex with a lot of people, but their sexuality actually says nothing about how much sex they want or like to be having. The problem is that people think that when someone does something beyond the binary, they're open to anything, and that's just not the case."
In fact, some pansexual people may never act on all of their attractions, but their potential to feel a certain way about anyone regardless of gender is still a very valid part of their sexuality that needs to be honoured and recognised.
"It's also homophobic to think pansexuals are just in a phase, and once they get this out of their system, they'll go back to heterosexuality," Grace adds. "This completely minimises someone's experience with sexuality and is a thought we need to stop having about queerness in general."
Whilst sexuality can certainly be fluid, and we know that people continuously learn things about their own sexuality throughout their lives, reducing pansexuality to a phase is a harmful mistake.
"For those that might believe pansexuality is merely a modern trend due to increasing coverage around it, it's important to know that pansexuality has actually been around forever," Grace concludes. "It's just that now because people have safer spaces and more information and access to being able to be openly queer, pansexual people feel more comfortable to express their identity." And it's about time.
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