pansexual

[ pan-sek-shoo-uhl ]
/ pænˈsɛk ʃu əl /

adjective

Psychiatry. pertaining to the theory that all human behavior is based on sexuality.
Also omnisexual. expressing or involving sexuality in all its forms, or sexual activity with people of any sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Origin of pansexual

First recorded in 1925–30; pan- + sexual

OTHER WORDS FROM pansexual

pan·sex·u·al·i·ty, noun
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What does pansexual mean?

Pansexual refers to someone who is romantically, emotionally, or sexually attracted to people of any gender or regardless of their gender.

Some pansexual people may say that, when it comes to attraction, they don’t see gender or they find it irrelevant. That’s what distinguishes pansexuality from omnisexuality or bisexuality.

Where did the term pansexual come from?

Pansexual was first used in psychology to refer to the idea that sex is the primary driver of all human behavior, pan- here from the Greek meaning “all.”

The word was originally leveled against the ideas of Sigmund Freud as far back as 1914. Critics were still arguing against this supposed pansexual psychology in the 1950s and 1960s.

New meanings for pansexual emerged in the 1960–70s. A 1960s study described pansexual rats who paired sexually with other rats regardless of their sex. In 1966, Life magazine described poet Allen Ginsberg as being in favor of pansexual freedom, apparently meaning complete sexual freedom. On a similar note in 1974, the Saturday Review saw a trend of pansexuality or “sexual anarchy” in New York theater.

Around the same time, an article in Ramparts magazine made reference to pansexuality as a sexual identity, contrasting it with “the older term bisexual.” A 1979 book titled The Gay Report also includes reports from people who called themselves pansexual.

A handful of celebrities have spread awareness of the term when they came out as pansexual. Superstar Miley Cyrus described herself as pansexual in an interview with Elle UK in August 2015. In a later interview with Variety, she said, “I don’t ever think about someone being a boy or someone being a girl.” In 2017, she released a song, “She’s Not Him,” which Billboard called “a pansexual milestone in mainstream music.”

In an April 2018 Rolling Stone interview, artist Janelle Monae identified as pansexual. She noted that she previously called herself bisexual, but then learned of pansexuality and thought that fit, saying “I’m open to learning more about who I am.” Google searches for pansexuality spiked in April 2018 after the interview.

How to use the term pansexual

Pansexuality can mean different things to different people, so let’s unpack the term.

It’s sometimes thought of as an identity distinct from bisexuality and sometimes as being under a broader bisexual umbrella. From that latter viewpoint, bisexuality contains all people who are attracted to people of more than one gender or to people of their same gender and different genders.

Pansexuality specifically refers to attraction to people of all genders or attraction regardless of gender. It is often considered to be more inclusive than bisexuality. Some pansexual people choose that term because they feel that bisexual reinforces the idea of a gender binary.

Bisexual people, however, can be attracted to nonbinary people and some nonbinary people identify as bisexual. Again, they take the bi- prefix to mean attraction to both their same gender and other genders. The activist Robyn Ochs has described bisexuality as “the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

Pansexuality on the other hand is often thought of as being gender-blind. A pansexual writer for Cosmopolitan noted she is “drawn in by a person’s ‘vibes’ and the ‘feel’ I get from them as a being” rather than thinking “I wonder what it’d be like to f*ck them? I wonder what their genitals look like.”

Fictional characters can be pansexual too. The Marvel superhero Deadpool has been described as pansexual, for one.

More examples of pansexual:

“Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo) is Sabrina’s English warlock cousin who is on house arrest inside the funeral home he lives in (because of course he does). Ambrose is described as, ‘witty, puckish, and pansexual…always up for mischief.’”
—Alex Velazquez, Into, September 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.