Pansexuality, or omnisexuality, is the sexual, romantic or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.
Pansexuality may be considered a sexual orientation in its own right or a branch of bisexuality, to indicate an alternative sexual identity. Because pansexual people are open to relationships with people who do not identify as strictly men or women, and pansexuality therefore rejects the gender binary, it is often considered a more inclusive term than bisexual. To what extent the term bisexual is inclusive when compared with the term pansexual is debated within the LGBT community, especially the bisexual community.
The prefix pan- comes from the ancient Greek word for "all, every", πᾶν; omni- comes from the Latin word for "all", omnis. The hybrid words pansexual and pansexualism were first attested in 1917, denoting the idea "that the sex instinct plays the primary part in all human activity, mental and physical", a reproach (credited to Sigmund Freud) levelled at early psychology.
Comparison to bisexuality and other sexual identities
A literal dictionary definition of bisexuality, due to the prefix bi-, is sexual or romantic attraction to two sexes (males and females), or to two genders (men and women). Pansexuality, however, composed with the prefix pan-, is the sexual attraction to a person of any sex or gender. Using these definitions, pansexuality is defined differently by explicitly including people who are intersex or outside the gender binary.
Go Ask Alice! states that pansexuals can be attracted to cisgender, transgender, intersex and androgynous people, and that the term pansexual "is generally considered a more inclusive term than bisexual." Volume 2 of Cavendish's Sex and Society, however, states that "although the term's literal meaning can be interpreted as 'attracted to everything,' people who identify as pansexual do not usually include paraphilias, such as bestiality, pedophilia, and necrophilia, in their definition" and that they "stress that the term pansexuality describes only consensual adult sexual behaviors."
The definition of pansexuality can encourage the belief that it is the only sexual identity that covers individuals who do not cleanly fit into the categories of male or man, or female or woman. However, bisexual-identified people and scholars may object to the notion that bisexuality means sexual attraction to only two genders, arguing that since bisexual is not simply about attraction to two sexes and encompasses attraction to different genders as well, it includes attraction to more than two genders. Gender is considered more complex than the state of one's sex, as gender includes genetic, hormonal, environmental and social factors. Furthermore, the term bisexual is sometimes defined as the romantic or sexual attraction to multiple genders. The Bisexual Resource Center, for example, defines bisexuality as "an umbrella term for people who recognize and honor their potential for sexual and emotional attraction to more than one gender," while the American Institute of Bisexuality states that the term bisexual "is an open and inclusive term for many kinds of people with same-sex and different-sex attractions" and that "the scientific classification bisexual only addresses the physical, biological sex of the people involved, not the gender-presentation." According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 25% of American transgender people identify as bisexual.
Scholar Shiri Eisner states that terms such as pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual, queer, etc. are being used in place of the term bisexual because "bisexuality, it's been claimed, is a gender binary, and therefore oppressive, word" and that "the great debate is being perpetuated and developed by bisexual-identified transgender and genderqueer people on the one hand, and non-bi-identified transgender and genderqueer people on the other." Eisner argues that "the allegations of binarism have little to do with bisexuality's actual attributes or bisexual people's behavior in real life" and that the allegations are a political method to keep the bisexual and transgender movements separated, because of those who believe that bisexuality ignores or erases the visibility of transgender and genderqueer people.
The American Institute of Bisexuality argues that "terms like pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, and ambisexual also describe a person with homosexual and heterosexual attractions, and therefore people with those labels are also bisexual" and that "by replacing the prefix bi – (two, both) with pan- (all), poly- (many), omni- (all), ambi- (both, and implying ambiguity in this case), people who adopt these labels seek to clearly express the fact that gender does not factor into their own sexuality," but "this does not mean, however, that people who identify as bisexual are fixated on gender." The institute believes that the notion that if a person identifies as bisexual, then it is a reinforcement of a false gender binary is a notion that "has its roots in the anti-science, anti-Enlightenment philosophy that has ironically found a home within many Queer Studies departments at universities across the Anglophone world" and that "while it is true that our society's language and terminology do not necessarily reflect the full spectrum of human gender diversity, that is hardly the fault of people who choose to identify as bi. [...] The Latin prefix bi- does indeed indicate two or both, however the 'both' indicated in the word bisexual are merely homosexual (lit. same sex) and heterosexual (lit. different sex)." The institute argues that heterosexuality and homosexuality, by contrast," are defined by the boundary of two sexes/genders. Given those fundamental facts, any criticism of bisexuality as reinforcing a gender binary is misplaced. Over time, our society's concept of human sex and gender may well change."
The term pansexuality is sometimes used interchangeably with bisexuality, and, similarly, people who identify as bisexual may "feel that gender, biological sex, and sexual orientation should not be a focal point in potential [romantic/sexual] relationships." In one study analyzing sexual identities described as alternative terms for bisexual or bi-self labels, "half of all bisexual and bisexual-identified respondents also chose alternative self-labels such as queer, pansexual, pansensual, polyfidelitous, ambisexual, polysexual, or personalized identities such as 'byke' or 'biphilic'". Polysexuality is similar to pansexuality in definition, meaning "encompassing more than one sexuality," but not necessarily encompassing all sexualities. This is distinct from polyamory, which means more than one intimate relationship at the same time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. American Institute of Bisexuality stated, "The term fluid expresses the fact that the balance of a person's homosexual and heterosexual attractions exists in a state of flux and changes over time."
- Third gender
- Bisexual erasure
- List of pansexual people
- Gender neutrality
- Human sexuality
- Transcending Boundaries Conference
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