Demisexual vs. Pansexual

Understanding Two Different Sexual Identities

 Portrait of two young adult women at a Pride event, against a rainbow flag

FilippoBacci / Getty Images

Just when you thought you had a grasp on what LGBTQIA+ stands for, there are even more sexuality and gender identities coming into the mainstream.

This can feel difficult for anyone who grew up in a time when there wasn't language to describe all the different ways that people can love and relate to one another.

Amongst all the different sexualities that exist, there are two specific sexual identities that often get confused: demisexuality and pansexuality. They aren't similar to one another, and actually don't have anything at all to do with each other, but sometimes people conflate demisexuality with pansexuality.

Because these identities are sometimes confusing, we're laying out everything you need to know about each of them. Ahead, learn about what demisexuality and pansexuality are, how they present in relationships, what the differences are between them, and if there are similarities between the two.

What Does Demisexual Mean?

Demisexuality, unlike many other sexual identities, does not have anything to do with gender. Rather, it's about time and connection.

Demisexuality

A demisexual is a person who needs to feel an emotional tie to another person in order to be attracted to them.

The term demisexual has been used since at least 2006, on Asexuality Visibility & Education Network forums. However, that doesn't mean that demisexuals didn't exist before that. That's simply when the language was created and became commonly used by those who felt it fit them.

If it seems difficult to wrap your brain around how exactly demisexuality works, think of how some people enjoy one-night stands or casual encounters. They find sexual connection and chemistry with strangers right off the bat.

Conversely, other people think that sounds terrible. They can't fathom being attracted to a person they don't know at all and prefer to get to know someone before they get physical.

Someone who identifies as demisexual essentially really likes to "take it slow," because they do not feel attraction until bonding and closeness have occurred.

Demisexuals require a connection in order to feel attraction, and building a solid connection can often take time. Because of this, demisexuality falls under the umbrella of asexuality, which is a word for people who feel little or no sexual attraction to others.

What Does Pansexual Mean?

Unlike demisexuality, pansexuality doesn't have anything to do with emotional ties. A pansexual person is one who is attracted to others of all genders. Some pansexual people have preferred genders they gravitate towards and others do not.

Pansexuality

People who identify as pansexual are attracted to people, regardless of gender, meaning that another person's gender isn't a key factor in who they partner with or are physical with.

The term pansexuality was coined in the early 1900s. Sigmund Freud referred to it as "pan-sexualism" and it appeared in the 1914 Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

The prefix "pans" comes from the Greek word meaning "all," which makes sense because pansexual people may be attracted to all genders. That said, there is plenty of individuality within the pansexual identity, just like with everything in life.

This identity is most closely related to bisexuality, in which a person is attracted to both men and women.

How Demisexuality Presents in Relationships

Demisexual relationships may look a little different than what we consider standard due to how a demisexual person first establishes emotional connection before physical or sexual attraction.

Someone who is demisexual might be interested in another person and start out as friends, getting to know them before deciding if they want to take things further.

A person who is demisexual is unlikely to rush into a romantic or sexual relationship. That's because doing so would likely involve becoming romantic or physical before they feel ready to do so or feel fully attracted to another person.

Therefore, the identity of demisexuality plays a large overall role in physical and romantic relationships.

How Pansexuality Presents in Relationships

Unlike demisexuality, which can impact everything about how a relationship gets off the ground, pansexuality may play a large role in a person's relationship or none at all.

By being attracted to all genders, a pansexual person may factor someone's gender into their relationships or may not. There's no hard and fast rule about that at all.

Demisexuality vs. Pansexuality

Because they aren't related in any way, there are a number of key differences between demisexuality and pansexuality. Let's examine them.

Pansexual
  • Describes someone who is attracted to all gender identities

  • May or may not engage in or prefer casual relationships

Demisexual
  • Describes someone who needs emotional connection before feeling a sexual connection

  • Will likely not engage in or may reject casual relationships


Connection and Time

A demisexual person doesn't have an attraction to others without an emotional connection. Because of that, they require connection first, before romantic or sexual relationships. On the other hand, a pansexual person is attracted to all genders and that doesn't have anything to do with the emotional connection or time needed to establish that connection.

A pansexual person might like to build a romantic connection first, or not. On the other hand, a demisexual must build that connection first, or they won't be attracted to another person.

Gender Preference

Pansexuality is about the experience of being attracted to all genders of people, regardless of connection.

Conversely, demisexuality has nothing at all to do with gender. A demisexual person might be heterosexual, queer, questioning, or any other identity. When they choose partners, those partners might be of the same gender as them or a different one.

Pansexuality is about being attracted to all genders, whereas demisexuality is about the emotional connection being needed to feel attraction.

Casual Connection Potential

Whether or not a pansexual person has casual or serious romantic connections is completely individual. One person might be very into that, whereas another might avoid it completely. However, that isn't the case with demisexual people.

Demisexuality involves closeness before attraction, so casual connections are generally off the table completely. While a pansexual person might engage in short-term or casual relations, a demisexual person likely would never do that.

Similarities Between Pansexuality and Demisexuality

It's completely possible for a person to be pansexual and demisexual. A demi-pansexual, or a pan-demisexual is a person who is attracted to all genders but needs to feel emotional closeness and connection in order to feel that attraction.

The two identities can exist alongside each other, and each may be equally important to someone who identifies as both. That's completely dependent on the individual who identifies in that manner.

Understanding Demisexuality and Pansexuality

It can be a little tricky to talk about identities that feel new to us. That's because many people are still learning how to define their sexual identity or gender. Also, it can take time to truly understand yourself or others. Additionally, it takes time for scientific research to be done.

As of now, there aren't any known peer-reviewed studies published about demisexuality. That can make it extra difficult for a culture to nail down exactly what the identity entails. Because it has existed in our lexicon for a full century longer, pansexuality has been studied somewhat, but really only in relation to bisexuality,not on its own or as its own identity.

Because there isn't a lot of science around these identities, it's often up to those who use them to educate others about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

As we learn more and do our own research about different sexual identities, there should be less emotional labor needed from the people who identify as pansexual or demisexual.

Was this page helpful?
3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dictionary.com. Demisexual.

  2. them. InQueery: The Past and Popular Usage of the Term "Pansexual". them. Published November 20, 2018.

  3. Greaves LM, Sibley CG, Fraser G, Barlow FK. Comparing pansexual- and bisexual-identified participants on demographics, psychological well-being, and political ideology in a new zealand national sampleJ Sex Res. 2019;56(9):1083-1090.