What does pansexual mean, and how is it different from bisexual and polysexual?


How do you define pansexual vs. bisexual? That’s a very good question. Let’s take a moment to celebrate the pansexuals: the wonderful guys, gals and non-binary pals who love who they love regardless of gender.

Pansexuality is part of the Bisexual+ Umbrella, meaning that it’s one of many identities in which someone is attracted to more than one gender.

What is the definition of pansexual?

But how exactly do you define pansexuality, and how is it different from bisexuality or polysexuality?

Miley Cyrus pansexual. Define pansexual vs. bisexual
Miley Cyrus came out publicly as pansexual in 2015 (Theo Wargo/WireImage)

Every pansexual’s understanding of their sexuality is personal to them, but in general it means that they aren’t limited by sex or gender when it comes to those they’re attracted to.

The word comes from the Greek word “pan,” which means “all”. But that doesn’t mean pansexuals are attracted to anybody and everybody, just as heterosexual women aren’t attracted to all men. It simply means that the people they are into might identify anywhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

This includes people who are gender-fluid, and those who don’t identify with any gender at all (agender).

In fact, some pansexuals describe themselves as “gender-blind”, meaning that gender doesn’t play any part in their sexuality; they’re attracted purely to a person’s energy rather than any other attributes.

How do you define pansexual vs. bisexual?

Good question! Sometimes pansexuality is used as a synonym for bisexuality, but they are subtly different.

Let’s take a moment to break down how to define pansexual vs. bisexual. Bisexual means being attracted to multiple genders, whereas pansexual means being attracted to all genders. Both orientations are valid in their own right and it’s up to the individual to decide which one fits them best.

Some people assume that bisexual people are erasing non-binary people or enforcing a rigid gender binary, because they believe the word bisexual implies that there are only two genders. We’re happy to inform you this isn’t the case!

The vast majority of bisexual people love and support the non-binary community, and many non-binary people are bisexuals themselves.

The reality is that bi people simply have “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,” as advocate Robyn Ochs describes.

What’s the difference between pansexual and polysexual?

The word polysexual comes from the Greek prefix “poly meaning “many”, and the term has been around since the 1920s or 30s, if not earlier.

There’s some overlap between pansexual and polysexual, as both appear under the Bisexual+ Umbrella. The key difference is that someone identifying as polysexual is not necessarily attracted to all genders, but many genders.

A good analogy to describe it is how you feel about your favourite colours: a pansexual person might like every colour of the rainbow, whereas a polysexual person might say they like all the colours except blue and green.

But more often than not, those who identify as polysexual tend to ignore gender binaries altogether, especially when it comes to who they are and aren’t attracted to.

It’s worth noting that polysexuality also has nothing to do with polyamory, which is style of consensual relationship, not a sexuality.

What pansexual celebrities are there?

Pansexuality has been around for as long as humans have, but the term is becoming more mainstream as more celebrities publicly identify as pansexual themselves.

It’s always encouraging when public figures disclose their sexual orientation as it fosters better understanding, acceptance, and solidarity. A number of high-profile personalities have come forward to identify as pansexual. Among these are Miley Cyrus, The celebrated singer and actress has commented that her relationships and attractions transcend traditional norms, speaking volumes about the ability to love freely, regardless of gender identities.

Janelle Monáe, an acclaimed musician and actress, has been owning her pansexuality with pride and courage. Monáe declared her sexual identity in a Rolling Stone interview, emphasizing the importance of breaking free from traditional labels and embracing one’s true self. 

Janelle Monáe performs on the ACLU of Southern California Community Grand Marshal float at the 2023 LA Pride Parade on June 11, 2023
Janelle Monáe performs at LA Pride. (Getty/ Chelsea Guglielmino)

Actor Bella Thorne also identifies as pansexual, unveiling her orientation in an interview on Good Morning America. ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ actor Stephanie Beatriz too has shared her experiences as a pansexual woman, contributing to the visibility and understanding of pansexuality in popular culture. 

Jazz Jennings, the Reality TV star, who identifies as a pansexual as well as transgender. At a young age, Jennings has become someone widely admired for her bravery in openly expressing her identity. 

Brendon Urie, the Panic! At the Disco frontman, who identified himself as a pansexual in an interview. Urie challenges the conventional gender constructs and celebrates the beauty of all identities through his music and personal life. 

Other pansexual celebrities include: Lizzo, Angel Haze, Jazz Jennings, Brendan Urie, Yungblud, Nico Tortorella, Courtney Act, Joe Lycett, Tess Holliday and Christine and the Queens.

And as of 2020, the UK now has its first out pansexual MP: the Lib Dem Layla Moran.

“Pansexuality, to me, means it doesn’t matter about the physical attributions of the person you fall in love with, it’s about the person themselves,” she told PinkNews.

“It doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman or gender non-conforming, it doesn’t matter if they identify as gay or not. In the end, these are all things that don’t matter – the thing that matters is the person, and that you love the person.”

What does the pansexual Pride flag look like?

We’re glad you asked. It looks like this:

Define pansexual vs. bisexual
The pansexual pride flag (Wikimedia Commons)

It was designed by a creator called Jasper V. The flag has been in wide use since the early 2010s when it was posted on an anonymous Tumblr account.

Here’s a breakdown of what the colours and symbols of this flag represent:

  • Magenta: Attraction to female-identifying individuals.
  • Yellow: Attraction to those who don’t identify with the binary such as non-binary, agender, and genderfluid individuals. 
  • Cyan: Attraction to male-identifying individuals.

When is pansexual Pride day?

Pansexual & Panromantic Awareness Day falls on 24 May. It’s a day to celebrate the pan community and educate others on what it means – so you can start by telling your friends it’s got absolutely nothing to do with saucepans. So, have we helped you to define pansexual vs. bisexual? If so, we’re glad to have been of help!