Bisexuality and Pansexuality

I know I posted something yesterday, but I had to write this. I don’t really understand why some people are confused by the difference between the terms bisexual and pansexual, but it seems that some are having a hard time to pin down the definitions. So I’d like to try and shed some light on the subject, though I may just be making it harder for some who already know the difference or those who don’t have a vast knowledge on queer identities.

Depending on whom you ask, each person will give you a different definition to the word bisexual. This is probably because the three most known sexualities are heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, so bisexuality kind of becomes a catch-all term for anything that doesn’t fit into the other two categories. However, knowing what somebody means when they use the word can easily be solved by simply asking the person in question how they define bisexuality.

There is really no debate that pansexual means “sexual attraction towards all genders”. Bisexual, however, causes more confusion because of the prefix “bi-” which, as you probably know, literally means “two”.

This could basically be interpreted in the following ways:

– Sexual attraction towards the same gender as oneself and genders different to that of oneself

– Sexual attraction towards –only- men and women

– Sexual attraction towards two genders (these can be any two genders, not just man and woman)

Many people think the second one is absolute, and therefore is the difference between bisexual and pansexual, but that would exclude the other two options, which are also widely accepted and used by many bisexuals.

The first is easily confused with pansexual, since it is really also an attraction towards all genders, but I’d say the main difference in this case is the preference; preference for one term or the other and preference for one or more genders over others. Pansexuals, though they may enjoy having a sexual relationship with one gender more than another, usually don’t care much about their partner’s gender. Of course it is an important part of the person, but it isn’t a decisive factor when it comes to choosing a sexual partner. Bisexuals, however, tend to feel sexual attraction towards one gender more than others.

Let’s take as an example a lady, Jane, who happens to be bisexual and defines her sexuality according to the first interpretation. She may feel sexual attraction towards any gender, but usually tends to fall for other ladies 80% of the time. Craig, however, is pansexual, and may feel sexual attraction towards any gender, in equal percentages. Kyle also has no preference for a gender in particular, but still identifies as bisexual because she likes the word better.

The third interpretation also somehow causes lots of confusion due to the idea that “man and woman are the real two genders”, and therefore “all sexualities must include them to be valid”. I have no idea where this came from, but I’ve seen it mentioned, though not that bluntly, in many places where bisexuality/pansexuality are concerned.

Who cares what the difference is, you ask? Not making this difference is erasing the identity of any bisexual and pansexual who has a preference for one word or the other, as well as invalidating the genders of all those out of the binary that would not be included in the “bi” from bisexual in the second interpretation.

How do you define bisexuality and pansexuality?

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3 thoughts on “Bisexuality and Pansexuality

  1. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of bisexuality as a term because it’s so stuck in the gender binary, but I typically use it in reference to myself when dealing with people not part of the LGBT community (less explanations and headaches, etc.). I define bisexuality as an umbrella term, which could mean binary attraction, omnisexuality (multiple genders), and pansexuality (all genders). I also look at pansexuality as an attraction irrelevant of gender, as in gender isn’t a factor in attraction, if that makes sense.

  2. Hello! Interesting issue – and not an easy one.

    The second option tends to be the one straight people use, in my experience. Certainly the bi community at large use the first one (same and other).

    I can only go by my experience of course, but from what I know of myself and my pansexual friends – pans (as you say) aren’t looking at gender per se – making it almost irrelevant, while bisexuals are attracted to different things in different genders. Certain traits in one gender would not be found attractive in another. That’s not to say your definition is wrong or that mine is right, only that I’m adding to it as something I have observed.

    I haven’t experienced the “preference” thing, though I am familiar with some bi and pan friends who show a preference. Naturally it doesn’t have to fall 50/50 across the board!

    I think it comes down to accepting and respecting how people label themselves. I’ve had straight, monosexual and pansexual people tell me I’m not bisexual I’m “actually” undecided/straight and attention seeking/ gay and in denial/ pansexual and out of touch… Wow! So while someone as a third party does need to know that pan and bi aren’t the same, they don’t necessarily need to sweat the fine print – just trust what someone tells you 🙂
    Have a great day!

  3. honestly, I feel the difference between pan and bi (and omni and poly) comes down to person preference. Some like one or the other better because of the connotations they have with the word, but all indicate that you’re attracted to more than one gender (so we’re all part of the same tribe!). reasons might be something like, bi is an identity which is better known, so requires less explaining. Or pan and omni have an emphasis on all genders, which bi and poly are a lot more ambigious about. etc. etc.

    I ID as bi myself and usually define this as “attracted to two or more genders”. As in: attraction to two is the minimum requirement, but definitely not the maximum. I think that, least in English-speaking activist circles, this is how most people define bisexuality. I really dislike anyone telling me that bi means that there’s a maximum of 2 genders I can be attracted to, or that I’m only attracted to people within the binary. That might be true for some people who use the word bi, but it definitely isn’t true for every person who identifies as such. It’s like an outsider saying that all asexuals are repulsed by sex or that all asexuals have no libido: it’s true for some, but definitely not everyone who IDs as asexual.

    I also really like Robyn Ochs’ definition of bisexuality: “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself 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.”
    That one really speaks to me as well and encapsulates why I use the word for myself.

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