Pansexuality, or omnisexuality, is sexual attraction, romantic love, or emotional attraction toward people of any sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are insignificant or irrelevant in determining whether they will be sexually attracted to others.
Pansexuality may be considered a sexual orientation in its own right or a subset 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, the "notion of two genders and indeed of specific sexual orientations", it is often considered a more inclusive term than bisexual. To what extent the term bisexual is inclusive when compared to the term pansexual is debated within the LGBT community, especially the bisexual community.
The prefix pan- comes from an Ancient Greek term meaning "all" or "every". Omni- comes from a Latin term meaning "all". Pansexual is derived from the word pansexualism, dated back to 1917, which is the view "that the sex instinct plays the primary part in all human activity, mental and physical". Credited to Sigmund Freud, it is a term of reproach leveled at early psychology, and is also defined as "the pervasion of all conduct and experience with sexual emotions".
The conceptualization of pansexuality as distinct from pansexualism contrasts with predominant prefixes attached to the -sexual and -gender roots. Traditional thought employs the prefixes hetero- (opposite), homo- (same), bi- (two) and trans- ('across'). A transgender identity opens up a gender continuum rather than a gender binary rubric, but does not discard or disregard the idea of gender altogether.
Compared with 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 people, "transmen, transwomen, intersex people, androgynous people, and everything else. It 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 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 gender as well, it can include 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."
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. The term fluid may indicate that "a person's homosexual and heterosexual attractions exists in a state of flux and changes over time."
- List of pansexual people
- Gender neutrality
- Human sexuality
- Transcending Boundaries Conference
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