With so many terms to describe sexual orientation today, many people aren't familiar with what they all mean. One term, pansexuality, has been getting a lot of attention as celebs like Miley Cyrus, Bella Thorne, Janelle Monáe and more openly identify as pansexual. If you're not in the know, and you're wondering what pansexuality is, people who identify as pansexual are attracted to others regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
"Being pansexual basically means to me that you are attracted to anyone, no matter their sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, everything. There’s no limits. I’ll date anyone. It’s more that I love someone for their soul," Jazz Jennings, a transgender woman who is an author, TV personality and LGBTQ rights activist, told Cosmopolitan.
While this might be the first time you're hearing about pansexuality, it's not a new concept. In fact, the word pan-sexualism first appeared in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1914 to explain the belief that sexual instinct plays a role in all human mental and physical activity. The term has evolved to refer to sexual orientation versus motivation.
Pansexuality is sometimes confused with bisexuality, which is being attracted to two or more genders (usually men and women) to varying degrees. Some people who initially come out as bisexual later identify as pansexual once they learn what it means.
This is the case with actor Bella Thorne who came out as bisexual on Twitter in 2016. "I'm actually pansexual, and I didn't know that. Somebody explained to me really thoroughly what that is," Thorne said in an interview with Good Morning America reported by USA Today. "You like beings. You like what you like. Doesn't have to be a girl or a guy or a he or she or they or this or that. It's literally you like personality. You just like a being."
However, not all bisexual people are pansexual. According to GLAAD, pansexuality — also known as omnisexuality — is under the bisexuality umbrella, but it means being open to romantic or sexual relationships with people of all genders.
"Though bisexual means being attracted to two or more genders, as a trans man, I have always been more comfortable with identifying as pansexual. For me, it means not being attracted to any specific gender. I'm attracted to hearts, not parts," college student Mason Bernardo told GLAAD. "I wish people knew that being pansexual is not meant to invalidate the bi community. They are different (though similar) sexualities, not meant to be at 'war' with one another."
Middlebury college student Valentina Ríos Romero said, "Being pansexual means that I am attracted to people regardless of their gender identity. For me, this is all about the freedom to feel whatever I may feel, without the imposed constraints of thinking ‘but I should be attracted to this person’ or ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this for this person.’ Pansexuality is about assuming an identity that gives me the freedom to be attracted to whomever I’m attracted to without questioning myself or without feeling like that somehow threatens who I am. It’s about self-acceptance, and an excitement for self-discovery."
Although pansexuality is being talked about more than ever before, it's often not included as a choice on surveys that ask people are sexuality, according to research cited by Dr. Ritch C Savin-Williams ,Ph.D., on Psychology Today. Because of this, it's difficult to capture just how many people identify as pansexual. It's also important to note that just because pansexual people have the ability to be attracted to people of all genders and sexual orientations, they are not attracted to every single person who lives and breathes.
However, they are open to being with people of all sexual orientations and gender identities if there is an attraction between them and another person. It's just like any sexual orientation. Lesbians aren't attracted to all women. heterosexuals aren't attracted to all people of the opposite sex, etc.
"I identify as an Asian pansexual woman. I think people just assume that when you’re pan, you’re attracted to everyone. But just like people who are bi, that isn’t always the case and it doesn’t have to be," college student Sunanda Tamrakar told GLAAD. "Being pansexual to me represents a sense of freedom — validating the fluidity of attraction in that there are no boundaries or limitations."
Basically, being pansexual means living a life without boundaries and not boxing yourself in. While people who identify as pansexual might not have a romantic or sexual relationship with all genders during their lifetime, they are open to doing so. They don't limit themselves to only engaging in relationships with people of specific genders.
"Being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women — I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker," singer/songwriter Janelle Monáe, who initially identified as bisexual, told Rolling Stone. “But then later I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am." After this interview, Merriam-Webster tweeted that the word "pansexual" was the most widely searched term website, increasing by 11,000%.
Like those who identify as bisexual, pansexual people experience discrimination from within the LGBTQ community and the heterosexual community. People want pansexuals to choose one thing so they can feel like they have them all figured out. What's more, people who don't feel like they identify with any one sexual orientation can feel pressured to pick something to appease others.
"One of the current problems people are having in relationships is feeling the need to define their orientation in a world where definitions are rapidly changing. This problem of wanting to define and having trouble, as a pansexual, is understandable," April Masini, New York–based relationship and etiquette expert of Relationship Advice Forum, told Bustle. "There are so many times when we’re asked to define ourselves, that when someone is pansexual, the process of discovering this orientation and getting comfortable with it, is going to create definition issues."
In addition, people attracted to more than one gender or sexual orientation are often mocked and labeled as promiscuous, a blanket stereotype that isn't true.
"No pansexuals are not sexually attracted to pots and pans, though we do get a lot of outrageous remarks and strange assumptions. People assume that we are greedy, and that hurts my feelings because I'm a serial monogamist," Shardai Swift wrote for Her Campus.
It's also important to note that no matter what your sexual orientation or gender identity, you don't have to label yourself if you don't want to. While other people might want you to declare yourself so they can figure you out, that's their hang up. It doesn't have to be yours too. If you're into living your life without labels, don't let others pressure you into defining yourself.
"Pansexual people do not desire everybody, they just don’t rule a person out because of gender. But that’s not the only possible definition! I would say that there is no exact definition of this term and that people who identify as pansexual might want to be ready to clarify their own specific ‘take’ on this identity to people who are confused about its implications," Dr. Carol Queen, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations in San Francisco who identifies as bi/pansexual, told Teen Vogue. "Just stating your sexual orientation does not tell others what you’re down to do. It basically just says what gender/s of people you would like to do sexual things with … not the specifics of those sexual things."
According to the Human Rights Campaign, pansexuality is about potential. It's about being a person "who has the potential for emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to people of any gender though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree."
Some people know exactly what they like and whom they are attracted to. Others know they have the potential to be attracted to people of varying sexual orientations and gender identities, even if they haven't yet had sexual or romantic relationships with them. If you think you might be pansexual, allow yourself to be open to exploring the possibility. If a friend or family members comes out to you as pansexual, don't mock them or invalidate their identity.
"I often find myself being asked unwarranted and extremely invasive sexual questions. I have no issue educating people on the spectrum of sexual and gender identities, but I am very often left leaving conversations feeling like my entire identity was reduced to who I chose to sleep with," college student Francisco Xavier told GLAAD. "To counter the sexual comments I have come to the conclusion that it is beneficial to both the person and I that I express my feelings. Although it may feel uncomfortable it is a necessary conversation that can make a difference in the way an individual understands your sexual and/or gender identity."
What consenting adults do with each other romantically or sexually really isn't anyone else's business. People are people and love is love, and love can be limitless.