What Is Pansexual?

Pansexuality is a term that refers to people who are attracted to others no matter the other person’s gender identity. That includes men, women, and anyone who falls outside of the gender binary. Pansexuality is not just limited to sexual attraction but can also involve a romantic and/or emotional attraction.

The Difference Between Pansexuality and Bisexuality

Pansexuality and bisexuality are sometimes used interchangeably, but others define pansexuality as part of the spectrum of bisexuality.

A bisexual person is attracted to two or more genders. This could be a combination of men and women, women and nonbinary individuals, men and agender individuals, and so on. Meanwhile, a pansexual person is generally attracted to individuals from any gender or regardless of gender.

According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youths have many terms to describe the nuances of their sexual orientation. Other labels that describe multi-gender attraction include:

  • Omnisexual: Attraction to all genders. Some people use this term instead of pansexual to emphasize that gender is an important element of attraction for them.
  • Heteroflexible: Another way to say "mostly straight." People use this term when they experience mostly heterosexual attraction with occasional "exceptions."
  • Homoflexible: Another way to say "generally gay." The term describes individuals who are generally attracted to people of the same gender but sometimes experience attraction to people of other genders.
  • Abrosexual/Sexually fluid: Attraction that is fluid. People use these terms to describe when the genders they find attractive are constantly changing.

The History of the Term "Pansexual”

According to Google Trends, "pansexual" did not become a common search term until the mid-2010s, which also coincides with the increase in the usage of terms such as "nonbinary" and "agender".

“While the term itself did not become popularized until recently, the roots of pansexuality have origins in the field of psychology that far predate its popularity, " says Dr. Sera Lavelle, clinical psychologist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. "Sigmund Freud, for instance, believed that all infants are born with ‘unfocused libidinal drives.' "

In other words, Dr. Lavelle explains, Freud believed that infants’ sexual drives could be directed not only to both men and women, but also inanimate objects. He posited that it was through the different stages of psychosexual development that children learn to direct those desires towards the opposite sex.

“One of the most notable theories of sexuality comes from Dr. Albert Kinsey, most known for the ‘Kinsey Scale.’ Kinsey believed that most people reside on a continuum in terms of sexual attraction,” explains Dr. Lavelle.

This scale ranges from zero being exclusively heterosexual to six being exclusively homosexual. Kinsey's original data suggested that many people fall somewhere in the middle of that scale.

How to Know If You’re Pansexual

The primary sign that you are pansexual is that you find yourself attracted to not just men or women or nonbinary folks, but to people all across the gender spectrum. It doesn't mean you are attracted to every single person, but rather that you are capable of finding people of any gender sexually desirable.

Dr. Lavelle says, “Those who are pansexual would say that their attractions were gender-blind or gender-neutral. As such, they wouldn’t feel that gender or sex were determining factors in their sexual or emotional attractions.” 

Generally speaking, pansexuality is something that you discover within yourself, often through thoughtful introspection and exploration of your sexual, romantic, and emotional desires in relation to connecting with others.

Sexuality and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)

“While pansexuality has never been in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM)—a manual used by most mental health clinicians—homosexuality and gender identity disorder have been included until recent years. It was not until 1973 that homosexuality was removed, and not until 2013 that the diagnosis of gender identity disorder was changed to ‘gender dysphoria,’” explains Dr. Lavelle.

She says that the gender dysphoria diagnosis is still hotly contested. Proponents of the term want to keep it in order to provide clinicians a diagnosis so they can provide mental health treatment for those who feel discomfort with their sex assigned at birth.

Those on the other side of the debate believe that having it in a manual for mental health disorders perpetuates the stigmatization of transgender and nonbinary individuals.

LGBTQ+ individuals, including pansexual people, have been unfairly pathologized in the past. As our understanding of gender and sexuality evolve, so too has the scientific conversation around those subjects.

How to Discuss Your Pansexuality with Others

You do not owe anyone a disclosure of your sexual orientation or how you came to discover that part of yourself. This is especially true if you believe that disclosure would put you in harm's way. However, there are of course times when you might wish to speak with trusted loved ones about your orientation. This might be the case with close friends, romantic partners, and even the parents or parental figures in your life.

In such cases, be as honest and clear as you’re able. You might need to break down the definition of pansexuality, since some people are unfamiliar with it. If you’re speaking with a romantic partner about this, explain how your orientation might (if at all) affect your relationship. From there, explain that the way you feel is not a phase and that this is a part of who you are.

Supporting a Loved One Who Is Pansexual

If you find yourself on the receiving end of someone coming out as pansexual, recognize that person considers you a monumental figure in their life. Coming out as pansexual—or any orientation that isn't heterosexual—can evoke a broad range of feelings for the individual who is coming out.

For some, it is extremely scary, and for others it may be less of a struggle. Either way, your reaction will impact your relationship deeply moving forward.

Dr. Lavelle

My biggest advice to any parent or loved one is to keep an open mind about pansexuality, particularly if it [involves] their child.

— Dr. Lavelle

"My biggest advice to any parent or loved one is to keep an open mind about pansexuality, particularly if it [involves] their child," says Dr. Lavelle. "As pansexuality is only beginning to be accepted, the discovery can be confusing for young people, and they will need support when trying to understand their own feelings."

She adds, “If someone you love is open and comfortable, ask them if they are open to discussing it with you so you can have a deeper and more inclusive understanding of how it feels for that person and what it means to them.”

A Word From Verywell

Though the term pansexual is relatively new in our modern lexicon, it has a long history. Pansexuality indicates a sort of blindness to labels, which is quite beautiful. Whether you’re pansexual or know someone who is or might be, practice love, kindness, and acceptance toward yourself and others.

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5 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. LGBT Foundation. What it means to be pansexual or panromantic.

  2. The Trevor Project. National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2019.

  3. Cordon LA. Freud's World: An Encyclopedia of His Life and Times. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO; 2012.

  4. Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Diversity of sexual orientation.

  5. Davy Z. The DSM-5 and the politics of diagnosing transpeople. Arch Sex Behav. 2015;44:1165-1176. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0573-6