What Does It Mean to Be Pansexual?

Just about everyone is familiar with the terms straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual. But human sexuality is diverse, so it's no surprise that many people feel that their sexual orientation isn't captured accurately by any of those four labels. Some of these people identify as pansexual.

Put simply, a pansexual person is someone whose attraction isn't limited to people of a certain sex or gender identity. Some pansexual people describe it as being "blind to gender."

If you find this hard to differentiate from bisexuality, you're not alone, but there are good reasons a person may identify as pansexual and not bisexual, or vice versa. Let's explore pansexuality and what sets it apart from bisexuality and other sexual orientations.

A young homosexual couple

Vladimir Vladimirov / Getty Images

What Does Pansexual Mean?

The prefix "pan" means "all," just like in the words Pangea or pandemic. Hence, pansexual individuals can be attracted to people of any and all genders. As with other sexual orientations, this attraction can be sexual or romantic.

This doesn't mean that pansexual people are attracted to everyone — just like heterosexual women aren't attracted to every man they meet. It simply means that, while straight people are attracted only to people of the opposite sex, and gay folks are attracted only to people of the same sex, pansexual people's attraction isn't limited by sex or gender identity.

Pansexual vs. Bisexual

While the difference between pansexual people and straight people (for example) is fairly obvious, it can be a bit trickier to distinguish pansexuality from bisexuality. Bisexual people are also attracted to people belonging to more than one gender—but unlike pansexual people, they may not necessarily be attracted to people of all genders. Many bisexuals' attraction can, in fact, be limited to certain genders.

The prefix "bi" means "two," which would seem to suggest that bisexual people are attracted to two genders. Depending on the person, this may or may not be accurate. Some bisexual people are attracted to two genders, while others are attracted to more than two. On the other hand, people with a pansexual orientation may feel an attraction to someone who is agender. They might equally be attracted to a female, male, or gender-fluid person.

The most commonly cited difference between pansexuality and bisexuality is that sex and gender identity may play more of a role in bisexuals' attraction than in pansexuals'.

Bisexuality vs. Pansexuality
 Bisexuality Pansexuality
 Attraction to two or more genders  Attraction to all genders

Some people use bisexual as an umbrella term for all people who are attracted to more than one gender — but not all pansexual individuals identify as bisexual. Some people may align with the way pansexuality is defined, yet identify as bisexual. In any case, it's important to respect a person's identity.

A 2016 survey of 2,200 nonheterosexual individuals found that 18.6% of respondents identified as bisexual and 6.6% identified as pansexual. Among teenagers surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign in 2018, 34% identify as bisexual and 14% identify as pansexual.

Exploring Your Sexuality

If gender doesn't really play a role in whether you're attracted to someone, or you find yourself attracted to people of all genders, then you may wonder whether you're pansexual.

Some questions you can ask yourself if you believe you may be pansexual include:

  • Could I imagine dating, having sex with, or marrying people of any gender or sex?
  • Do I sexually fantasize about people belonging to any specific gender or sex?
  • Have I had crushes on people of different genders or sexes?
  • How do my sexual and romantic feelings towards different genders/sexes compare?

Pinpointing one's sexuality can be confusing for some, and it can take some time. Some people identify as queer or questioning if they haven't figured out a specific label that works for them — and other people eschew labels altogether. No one but you can decide which identity is the best fit for you, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, your relationship status has no bearing on whether or not you're pansexual. A pansexual woman is still pansexual even if she's in an exclusive relationship with a man, for example. This is because pansexuality refers to attraction, and not necessarily behavior. Some pansexual people even prefer to remain celibate.

Secondly, adopting an identity now doesn't necessarily mean you're stuck with it forever. If you identify as pansexual now, and later realize that perhaps gay (for example) is a more accurate label for you, it's fine to identify differently. Attraction can naturally change over time, and it's not uncommon for LGBTQ+ people to change sexual identity labels if they discover a different label is a better fit for them.


Here are some resources for people who believe they may be pansexual:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists many other resources for the LGBTQ+ community.

Don't forget to look for LGBTQ+ resources in your area. See if there are any pride centers or LGBTQ+ community centers near you, which may offer support groups and other events.

If you can't find any centers locally, many centers offer groups that you can join over Zoom. Some of these virtual groups can be found on Meetup.com.

How Can You Be an Ally to Pansexual Individuals?

While the LGBTQ+ community has made great strides, pansexual individuals and other LGBTQ+ people are still subject to discrimination, which can affect their work, social, and personal life. Many LGBTQ+ people have experienced violence, harassment, and bullying.

Certain spaces on the internet can offer community and belonging to LGBTQ+ folks, but a 2021 study found that 41% of LGBTQ+ teenagers have experienced online discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. Understandably, this can take a toll on mental health.

Some ways to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community include:

  • Being open-minded
  • Defending LGBTQ+ people from bullying and discrimination
  • Not assuming that people are straight
  • Offering a listening ear to LGBTQ+ people
  • Taking a stand against anti-LGBTQ+ comments and explaining why they're harmful

Within the LGBTQ+ community, each separate identity can face unique challenges. Pansexual people, for example, sometimes feel erased and misunderstood. Some people invalidate the experience of being attracted to more than one gender, insist that pansexual is just a trendy term for bisexual, or make hurtful assumptions about pansexual individuals.

A 2020 study found that some pansexual people try to hide their LGBTQ+ identity out of fear of discrimination. Even when they can be open about being LGBTQ+, some pansexual individuals feel the need to identify as bisexual just to avoid confusion. Here are some ways to be an ally to pansexual people specifically:

  • Acknowledging their existence
  • Accepting their identity without reservation
  • Educating yourself on pansexuality
  • Respecting their choice of label
  • Speaking up against erasure and discrimination against pansexual people

A Quick Review

Pansexual people can be attracted to people of any gender. Gender doesn't play as much of a role in attraction as it might for other sexual orientations — even bisexual people.

You can support pansexual people by respecting and celebrating their identity, educating yourself on pansexual people and the struggles they may face in our society, and taking a stand against pansexual erasure and discrimination.

Was this page helpful?
17 Sources
Health.com 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. Merriam-Webster. Pansexual.

  2. Ditch the Label. What Is Pansexuality?

  3. Online Etymology Dictionary. Pan-

  4. Bisexual Resource Center. What is Bisexuality?

  5. OUTLGBT. What Do Bisexual And Pansexual Mean?

  6. Stonewall. 5 common misconceptions about pansexuality.

  7. Morandini JS, Blaszczynski A, Dar-Nimrod I. Who Adopts Queer and Pansexual Sexual Identities?. J Sex Res. 2017;54(7):911-922. doi:10.1080/00224499.2016.1249332

  8. Human Rights Campaign. 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report.

  9. Advocates for Youth. I Think I Might Be Bisexual + Pansexual.

  10. Rosario M, Schrimshaw EW, Hunter J, Braun L. Sexual identity development among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youths: consistency and change over time. J Sex Res. 2006;43(1):46-58. doi:10.1080/00224490609552298

  11. Casey LS, Reisner SL, Findling MG, et al. Discrimination in the United States: Experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans. Health Serv Res. 2019;54 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):1454-1466. doi:10.1111/1475-6773.13229

  12. Berger MN, Taba M, Marino JL, Lim MSC, Skinner SR. Social Media Use and Health and Well-being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth: Systematic Review. J Med Internet Res. 2022;24(9):e38449. Published 2022 Sep 21. doi:10.2196/38449

  13. Homophobia is online: Sexual victimization and risks on the internet and mental health among bisexual, homosexual, pansexual, asexual, and queer adolescents. Computers in Human Behavior. 2021;119:106728.

  14. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. 10 Ways to Be an Ally & a Friend.

  15. Feinstein BA, Xavier Hall CD, Dyar C, Davila J. Motivations for sexual identity concealment and their associations with mental health among bisexual, pansexual, queer, and fluid (bi+) individuals. J Bisex. 2020;20(3):324-341. doi:10.1080/15299716.2020.1743402

  16. Hayfield N, Křížová K. It’s like bisexuality, but it isn’t: pansexual and panromantic people’s understandings of their identities and experiences of becoming educated about gender and sexuality. Journal of Bisexuality. 2021;21(2):167-193.

  17. Bisexual Resource Center. How to be an Ally to a Bi+ Person.

Related Articles