Bisexual vs. Pansexual: What's the Difference?
When it comes to differentiating between gender and sexuality identity labels, things can get confusing pretty fast if you’re new to the terms.
Everyone exists on a spectrum of gender and sexuality, so some aspects of a label may not fit everyone, but that’s because we’re all unique. Here at Pride Palace, we want everyone to feel loved, valued, and accepted, and the best way to do that is by educating ourselves.
So, whether you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community or not, you can't go wrong by learning more about the people in your life and how to support them. Even if you stumble a little, people will always appreciate you putting in the time and effort to learn more about their lifestyle.
Now there’s a buzz word for many of us! The word bisexual was first applied to humans by Charles Gilbert Chaddock, all the way back in 1892 in his translation of the work Psychopathia Sexualis by Krafft-Ebing. In that work, the word bisexual referred to a person “who was both homosexual and heterosexual at the same time.”
Obviously, the word has evolved and changed over the years to better reflect the bisexual experience and how society has grown. Prior to that, if you saw the word bisexual in a book, it was exclusively used to discuss plant species that were hermaphroditic or that reproduced asexually.
The subject of bisexuality was explored further by Alfred C. Kinsey, who was bisexual himself. He developed what is known as the Kinsey Scale, which looked at how people reacted with their sexual attraction to both men and women. He started the conversation about gender as a spectrum in the scientific community and helped popularize the term bisexual.
Though the prefix "bi" means two, bisexuality is not limited to attraction to two genders. Bisexuality actually means that you are attracted to two or more genders. Gender is a spectrum, rather than being binary, and bisexual people can be attracted to all sorts of people who fall along that spectrum. A common misconception about bisexuality is that they are only attracted to men and women, but they can be attracted to non-binary people too.
A bisexual person may have a preference for people the same gender as them or a different gender. Still, that preference usually stems from wanting to abide by cultural norms or previous dating experience instead of a difference in levels of attraction.
There were actually some pretty famous people throughout history who have identified as bisexual, like Walt Whitman. It is interesting to note that both among famous people who have come out as bisexual and among the depiction of bisexual people in the media, the majority of bisexual people (fictional and real) seem to be cisgender women.
Many people use the term bisexual to describe themselves because they want to express that they are equally attracted to people of the same gender as people of a different gender from themselves.
The bisexual colors include magenta, lavender, and blue to signify same-gender attraction, opposite gender attraction, and everything in between, reinforcing that gender is a spectrum and people can fall anywhere along it.
Bisexuality is a beautiful journey! If you want to learn more about the bisexual pride flag, check it out on our website.
The prefix "pan" is Latin for all or every. Pansexuality means that you can be attracted to all people, although not usually at the same time.
Lots of people who identify as pansexual describe their attraction as being towards personality rather than anything else physical. As a pansexual, you do not feel a difference when you are attracted to a man, woman, or non-binary person. Nor would you feel a difference in the attraction to someone who is gay, straight, or anything else under the rainbow.
Pansexuality was originally derived for people who had considered identifying as bisexual but did not want to be constrained by society's gender binary norms. As an all-inclusive term, some people felt that the word pansexual offered a certain amount of freedom to reject the gender binary that the term bisexual did not.
Some pansexual people do prefer a certain gender or sexuality in their partners, but it isn't because the attraction feels different. That preference may come from what is socially accepted in their family or geographical region or from their past experience in dating.
The pansexual colors are pink, yellow, and blue. The pink signifies an attraction to females, the yellow is for attraction to non-binary people, and the blue is for attraction to males. If you want to know more about the wonderful world of pansexuality and the flag behind it, check it out on our website.
What's the Difference?
To be very technical, bisexuals are attracted to “both” genders, whereas pansexuals reject the gender binary and are therefore attracted to people of all genders as well as all sexualities. The way that people experience attraction will vary significantly based on the individual, so it’s easy to see why people may be confused about any concrete differences between pansexuality and bisexuality.
Some people even define bisexuality the same way as pansexuality and just leave the choice of the word up to the person. Other people see the terms as meaning the same thing when describing their own sexual attraction and choose to use the two words interchangeably about themselves, depending on the context or situation.
The term pansexuality is more recent in its popularity, and some attribute that to the changing ideas in the world about the gender spectrum.
Because some people see pansexuality and bisexuality as similar, they argue that pansexuality is a more inclusive term because it moves the concept away from the gender binary. For trans, non-binary, and intersex people, focusing on a spectrum instead of a binary is a way to include them and their life experiences.
In fact, a study in 2017 found that the term pansexual was more appealing for people who do not identify as cisgender because of the term's mainstream inclusivity.
However, the main difference is how people want to label themselves. It’s all up to you!
The point of identifying with a label is that it makes you feel seen and comfortable when interacting with other people. If you want to identify as pansexual, that’s awesome!
Each term helps people accurately communicate their experiences with an attraction to others and should always be respected and celebrated.
Individual preference is a powerful contribution to self-confidence, so if your friend says they’re bisexual or pansexual, you should celebrate that with them, to each their own!
It’s a crazy, beautiful world out there! All the mainstream terminology can be a little bit confusing if you are new to the LGBTQ+ community or have recently decided to be an ally, but the most important part of choosing an identity is to feel seen. Taking the time to learn the differences between chosen terminology shows that you care, and that you want to learn about, love, and respect those around you.
Everyone wants to be recognized and accepted for who they are, and the best way to support people is to understand where they are coming from and what their identity means to them.
Hopefully, we’ve given you some clarity when it comes to differentiating between bisexuality and pansexuality. So, now get out there, support your community, and be uniquely YOU!