Pansexuality stars: Janelle Monae (Pic: Kim Metso) and Brendon Urie (Pic: © pitpony.photography / CC-BY-SA-3.0)
A 1974 edition of The New York Times carries a piece by Martha Weinman Lear, in which she states, “I see that a lot of people are going bisexual this year. This seems to be different from going homosexual, which was last year…”. Later in the article, Lear pronounces, “I know what comes next season. It’s pansexuality.”
Pansexuality’s definition as we know it today would not come for decades, although the term was first used to describe one of the cornerstones of Sigmund Freud’s psychological philosophy. Freud famously theorised that sex motivates all human actions – something which was later referred to as “pan-sexualism”.
Our modern understanding of pansexuality as a sexual orientation, standing alongside homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality and a range of others, is a relatively recent development, emerging from a rise in the popular imagination of gender-fluidity and expansion on our thoughts around gender in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Today, pansexuality is understood to refer to a sexual orientation which is inclusive of all genders.
People who are pansexual may be attracted to people of their own gender and of a gender that is different from their own, and also to people who identify as non-binary, trans or agender (not identifying with any gender).
Pansexuality really came into the spotlight when singer and actor Janelle Monáe came out as pansexual in 2018. Internet searches for the term skyrocketed, also leading to “pansexuality” being named one of Merriam-Webster’s Words of the Year.
Several prominent celebrities are known to identify as pansexual, including Cara Delevigne, Miley Cyrus, and Panic At The Disco’s Brendon Urie, but the term is also gaining ground among us common folk, and especially among younger generations.
Pansexuality is generally seen as being broader than bisexuality.
Pansexuality and bisexuality share a lot of common characteristics, differing primarily in terms of the scope of attraction. While bisexual people may be understood to only be attracted to cisgender men and women, the binary view of this sexual orientation is increasingly making way for one that describes bisexuality as emotional and sexual attraction to more than one gender, which may include genders that do not fall within the binary. Many people also prefer to say that they identify as bi+ for this reason.
Pansexuality is different from bisexuality in that it refers to the potential for emotional and sexual attraction to all genders – the prefix “pan-“ means all – whereas bisexuality may or may not entail an attraction to all genders, but can be an attraction to more than one. Pansexuality is generally seen as being broader than bisexuality.
It is also important to recognise that pansexuality is by no means a signal of hypersexuality – just like all straight men are not attracted to every single woman they come across, being pansexual does not mean a person is attracted to every person they meet.
If you’re wondering whether you might be pansexual, some key questions can help you figure out what sexual orientation sits best with you. First off, you might want to think about the people you usually find yourself attracted to. Is there a gender or genders that you often find yourself attracted to? Is there any gender that you don’t ever get attracted to? Is there a gender or genders that you are not sure you’re attracted to or not?
A little simple self-examination goes a long way in determining what your sexual orientation or identity is. Remember, no sexual orientation is invalid, and fluidity in this regard is most definitely a thing! If you do find yourself drawn to all genders, this is certainly not something to be ashamed about. After all, they do say that variety is the spice of life.