What Is The Difference Between Pansexual And Bisexual?

By: Julia Thomas

Updated June 08, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

There was a time when few people had heard of any other sexual orientations besides straight, gay, or bisexual. Recently, though, more and more people are becoming aware of other possibilities. Today, people recognize that there are more than two genders, so it stands to reason that the earlier three labels won't fit everyone's sexual orientation. Here's a primer on what the difference is between bisexual and pansexual.

Basically, What's the Difference Between Pansexual and Bisexual?

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A hint about the difference between bisexual and pansexual can be found in the origin of the words. The "bi-" in bisexual comes from Latin and means "two." But, the "pan-" in pansexual comes from a word meaning "all."

How do these word parts explain the difference between the two terms? Simply put, bisexual is attracted to and/or engages in sexual behavior with both men and women. So, where does that leave someone who is pansexual? Pansexual means that they aren't limited just to people who identify as male only or female only. Instead, their sexual orientation is to any or all gender identities.

Pansexuality or Bisexuality and Gender Identity

Your gender identity is about your internal experience of being a man, woman, or nonbinary gender. In the past, most people thought of only two gender identities: man or woman. Now, people are also beginning to be aware that gender is more of a spectrum than a pair of alternatives. Gender identities are now typically seen as either cisgender, transgender, or nonbinary.

Cisgender

Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity matches their biological sex. So, a male who identifies as a man or a female identifies as a woman is cisgender.

However, it's important to remember that, even biologically, sex is far less clear-cut than was once thought. At one time, scientists thought that two sexes lined up in genetic code as XX for females and XY for males. They did recognize that there could be rare variations, such as XXY. However, as explained in a National Geographic article, researchers are finding out that there can be someone who has XX genetic code but has the anatomy, physiology, and psychology that is more like what has been associated with maleness in the past.

In the past, bisexuality typically referred to people who are attracted to and/or engage sexually with people who were of the opposite biological sex as them. Although cisgender people identify according to their biological sex, someone who is bisexual may be attracted to either sex who is cisgender. However, the definition of bisexuality is beginning to broaden, at least in some people's view.

Transgender

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Transgender refers to people who identify as another gender besides the one they were assigned at birth. It's usually used for a male who identifies as a woman or a female who identifies as a man. Some people who are transgender have surgery to become the sex they identify with physically. However, someone can be transgender without getting the surgery. Note that transgender is also often grouped with the nonbinary genders.

Nonbinary Gender Identities

Many people today recognize that not all gender identities are in the "one-or-the-other" category. Psychology Today explains more in an article about the term "genderqueer," which is usually used by people who feel their gender is different from the cultural expectation for their biological sex. If you identify as nonbinary in gender, you see yourself as not exclusively man or woman, or you see yourself as having no gender at all. People who are pansexual can be attracted to any or all of the following identities and more.

Genderfluid

If you're gender-fluid, you might think of yourself as a man at some times and a woman at others. Or, you might think of yourself in terms of one of the nonbinary genders at different times, too. Its fluid in the sense that it changes from one to another, often frequently.

Bigender

A bi-gender person has exactly two gender identities. They may identify as man, woman, or nonbinary, thinking of themselves as two of these alternately or simultaneously.

Demigender

Demigender means that your sexual identity is related to your biological sex, but the connection is not strong.

Pangender

Remember the meaning of the word part "pan" in pansexual? That word part also means "all" in pangender. Someone who is pangender sees themselves as a member of all genders.

Agender

Someone who is agender doesn't identify as any gender. Gender is not a consideration for them when they think of themselves.

What Is the Difference between Bisexual and Pansexual in Attraction?

Bisexual and pansexual are both sexual orientations. That means these words express what gender or genders you're attracted to, whether physically, romantically, or emotionally. In the traditional sense of bisexual, they would only be attracted to people with binary genders. The word's current use sometimes makes it more similar to pansexual than it was in the past. Someone who is pansexual would be attracted to all genders in any or all of these ways.

Physical

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Physical attraction and sexual engagement are at the heart of sexual orientation. That means you might flirt, become aroused, and pursue and engage in sexual relationships with a certain gender or gender. As a bisexual person, you might be physically attracted to and sexually active with cisgender men and women. As some people define bisexual, you might also be physically attracted and have sex with transgender people as well. But if you're pansexual, you might be attracted to cisgender, transgender, and nonbinary gender people.

Romantic

People tended to think of romantic relationships as happening between a man and a woman in the past. That later expanded to romantic relationships between two men or two women as well. With the advent of the term "pansexual," it's now being recognized that romantic attraction can happen between people of any gender, not only two cisgender people or transgender people but also between either of those or other, nonbinary, genders. However, bisexual and pansexual aren't quite the right words for labeling these differences. Most people agree that the correct ways to express these romantic attractions are panromantic and biromantic.

Emotional

Making a strong emotional connection with another person is one of the most wonderful experiences in life. Emotional attraction can greatly enhance the relationship between people who are sexually attracted to each other. Yet, anyone can form emotional attachments to anyone else. While emotional attraction may be a component of a sexual relationship, it is not usually labeled about gender.

How Your Sexual Orientation Can Affect Your Relationship

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Whether you are bisexual or pansexual can affect the relationship you form with your significant other. First of all, you may experience attractions that you don't understand. You may end up trying to have a relationship with someone you aren't really attracted to because you think that's what you're "supposed to do."

Then, other issues can affect your relationship after you become a couple. For example, if you aren't sure of your sexual orientation, you won't let your partner know what to expect. Or, if you aren't ready to come out with your sexual orientation, your partner may be confused about your preferences and behaviors. It may turn out that knowing what gender you're attracted to won't matter to your partner at all. On the other hand, they may feel like you aren't open with them if you don't trust them with this information.

Sorting out all these issues is rarely easy. There's so much uncertainty globally, and there's no guidebook to tell you how to answer your questions about your own sexual orientation. Giving yourself a label is a decision you make as an individual. Knowing what the difference is between bisexual and pansexual and between other sexual orientations is a good first step. Basing what label you choose on what you feel inside about yourself makes sense in many ways.

Also, talking about it with your partner can build more intimacy in the relationship. Expressing your thoughts about your sexual orientation or listening to your partner's partner can help you form a stronger bond and a more authentic relationship. Yet, these discussions might not be easy for the two of you to have. Talking to a therapist before, during, and/or after the conversation may result in a better outcome for both of you.

What to do about relationships can be one of the most difficult questions you have to answer in your life. And, it's an important question. That's why it's often a good idea to talk to a couple's counselor about your sexual orientation and that of your partner if you have any issues with it.

A couple's therapist can help you understand and accept yourself better. They can also help you deal with the relationship issues that come up that are related to your or your partner's being pansexual or bisexual. In the end, understanding your own and your partner's sexual orientation better may improve both your relationship and your life as an individual as well.


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