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5 Myths About Pansexuality You Shouldn’t Believe

If you keep up with the news, politics or pop culture, you’ve likely noticed that things like sexuality and gender identity are becoming more and more common topics of conversation. Individuals like Laverne Cox, Kristen Stewart and Amandla Stenberg are exposing the exclusionary nature of the vocabulary for identity that most of us take for granted.

Because this is the case, there has been a proliferation of new identity-related terms that can be difficult to keep track of, particularly if you don’t understand what they mean or what they have to do with. Her Campus is here to help, by breaking down pansexuality and some recurrent misunderstandings surrounding the word! We reached out to experts in LGBTQ+ issues as well as collegiettes to get the lowdown on all things pansexual.

Pansexual, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means to be “not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity.” Put more simply, this means that pansexual individuals can be attracted to individuals of any gender identity. This includes trans folks, non-binary identifying people, as well as gender fluid individuals.

If you’re unfamiliar with this term, don’t worry! It only first appeared in 1926, according to Merriam Webster, and Google Books reports that usage of the word “pansexual” has only become popular in recent years. Unless you are extremely well-versed in LGBTQ+ issues (or Miley Cyrus’s sexual preferences), pansexuality is probably not part of your daily vocabulary.

Because of pansexuality’s relative uncommonness in the popular vernacular, it is often misconstrued in a number of ways. We’re here to help clear up some of this confusion by exposing five of the most frequent misunderstandings about pansexuality!

1. Pansexual individuals are automatically promiscuous

People who are pansexual are often characterized as promiscuous or “easy.” Some pansexual individuals, of course, might indeed be more sexually active than others, but to say that this is in any way bad, irresponsible or immoral is a form of slut-shaming

Pansexual individuals, because of their personal preferences and feelings, simply have more options. It makes sense that they might have more sexual partners; they have a wider pool to choose from! Dr. Frankie Bashan, lesbian matchmaker, dating and relationship coach and psychologist, says, “somebody who’s pansexual…may even have more of a likelihood to connect with more people because they’re more open!”

For people who don’t identify as pansexual, other forms of attraction might elicit a negative reaction because worries and misunderstandings about what these differences might mean. Dr. Bashan adds that pansexuality “brings up a lot of fears…[others think] that they can’t trust this person, that this person can’t be loyal, this person can’t be monogomous…all these assumptions are made because it’s based out of fear…of being abandoned.”

To suggest that pansexual individuals are any different from anyone else in terms of their sexual proclivities doesn’t make any sense! As stated by Everyday Feminism magazine, “just because a pansexual person can be attracted to anybody does not mean that they are attracted to everybody.”

Like people of all sexual orientations, pansexual people don’t adhere to any kind of rulebook with regard to their romantic or sexual (and all other) pursuits. One’s sexual orientation does not dictate how much or how little they actually have sex, are in relationships or anything else other than to whom they could possibly be attracted sexually!

RELATED: 9 College Women Get Real About Coming Out

2. Pansexuality is the same as bisexuality

Our society’s extreme reliance on the male-female gender binary results in a misunderstanding that pansexuality is the same as bisexuality. The gender binary only permits identification as a woman or as a man, which means that the most sexually open one could be is to these two genders (therefore, bi, meaning “two”).

Pansexuality rests on the understanding that gender fluidity exists, and that folks might identify as female or male or any other gender identity they feel fits them best. Referring back to our definition, pansexual people are not attracted to only cisgender people or only transgender people. Their preferences span the entire gender spectrum!

Bisexuality refers to individuals who are attracted to males and females (or, to just two gender identities). Bisexual people are attracted to particular people based on their gender identity. Go Ask Alice!, an online health resource, says that pansexuality is “generally considered a more inclusive term than bisexual.” Bisexuality and pansexuality are not completely unrelated, but there is an important distinction to be made between the two.

It might be the case that a person does not have a preference with regard to gender identity, but feels comfortable using the more widely-accepted and recognized identifier or bisexual. Alaina Leary, a second-year graduate student at Emerson College, says “many bisexual people are truly ‘pansexual’ but just don’t know about or use the label.” When she came out, pansexual did not really exist as a term or identifier and she wanted to maintain her bisexual affiliation, as that was what she was used to and content with.

On the other hand, sometimes the difference here can be really important to a person’s identity. Dr. Frankie says that one of the most common obstacles pansexual people face is “not feeling like they’re included…they don’t feel like there’s a place for them…because there’s not a lot of visibility; they’re not out there.”

3. Pansexuality means you’re attracted to non-human things

In an effort to put down other people who are different, people who don’t believe in or disagree with pansexuality frequently attempt to insult pansexual people by saying that they are attracted to animals or objects (most often, pans, because of the word’s prefix). These forms of attraction do exist, and are known as zoophilia and object sexuality, respectively. Likening pansexuality to either of these orientations in order to suggest that pansexuality is abnormal is not only insulting to pansexual people, but to individuals of other orientations as well.

It isn’t useful to make these kinds of comparisons between sexual orientations, and though the distinctions are nuanced, it is important to understand the various, innumerable forms of attraction that exist, as well as the fact that they are not static. On her own sexuality, Alaina adds that “I don’t stop being bisexual/pansexual based on who I’m dating.”

Dr. Frankie makes the point that pansexuality and object sexuality or zoophila are “totally separate” ideas. Pansexuality involves an attraction that is exclusively to other humans, so there isn’t even a comparison to be made! Anyone who makes this kind of judgement does so out of a desire to elevate their own preferences or way of life at the expense of a pansexual person. 

RELATED: Genderqueer: Questioning Your Gender Identity In College

4. Pansexuality is just the latest trend

It’s easy to dismiss pansexuality as something illegitimate, born on the Internet or only existing among young people. None of these characterizations are true, however. Pansexuality has existed for as long as people themselves have, there simply was not a word to describe it until the 20th century.

Dr. Beth Shapiro, therapist and social worker who works with LGBT issues, adds that “People may be no more or less pansexual than they were” before the actual term “pansexual” emerged. “The identification of this offered a simpler way to discuss this experience, and an easier target to identify for judgement.” Pansexuality might seemingly only exist among younger people, but this can be explained by the more open attitudes towards sexuality, gender and identity that younger people hold.

CNN writes that the increased inclusion of identities like pansexuality “especially among millennials and ‘generation Z’” makes sense because of the freedom of choice and expression this inclusion allows for. Because of stricter, more traditional social standards among older people, identifying as pansexual is not as common. Once again, this does not mean no older people are pansexual, they just might not choose to identify this way.

Dr. Shapiro says, “The identification of pansexuality is a challenge to [people’s] comfort zone.” For this reason, it is easy to brush off pansexuality as a fad. This way, no one really has to confront their ignorance. 

5. Pansexuality is itself a myth

Disregarding pansexuality by discounting it entirely serves to pathologize pansexual people. As Alaina says, “It is very possible to be attracted to people of all genders.” Attraction, as we all very well know, is complex and almost futile to attempt to control. Pansexual people aren’t going through a phase and they’re not confused—if anything, their ability to more specifically identify their sexual preferences indicates that they’re less confused than those of us who take up more general labels!

Additionally, one’s sexuality doesn’t have to be verified by who they have or have not had sex or been in a relationship with. Alaina offers, for example, “When straight women get boyfriends, do they stop thinking guys are hot? According to the amount of my friends who talk about Channing Tatum on the regular, no!” The laws of attraction aren’t really laws at all. They are socially constructed norms that oversimplify the realities we all face when it comes to our own emotions.

Identity is very complicated, personal and often political in nature, as evidenced by recent events in North Carolina, Mississippi and other places around the world. What’s important to remember is, at the end of the day, we all need to respect one another and how we choose to carry out our lives and label ourselves. For some, labels are extraordinarily important and validating, and for others, this is simply not the case.

All we can do to combat panphobia is keep talking about it. Deep down, anyone who rejects the notion of pansexuality is just scared or not understanding the concept. As stated by Dr. Frankie, “human beings…[are] complicated and…if we identify as pansexual [we need to] be out there and find a way to educate people and find a way to help them understand.” Dr. Shapiro concurs, further stating that “keeping ourselves ignorant creates and fosters a feeding ground for fear and misperception.”

In the same vein, it’s not a good strategy to combatively try to alter another person’s understanding of the world that surrounds them. Dr. Shaprio states that “We cannot force people to accept things that are beyond their capacity…by living lives as openly as possible/feasible,” we might be able to change perceptions and form a more compassionate world. 

We are all different, and though none of us can presume to understand someone else’s exact circumstances, we can all fight for the acknowledgement and equality of these different circumstances. This way, we can make room for everyone to be happy and represented, no matter how they identify!

Margeaux Biché

Columbia Barnard

Margeaux Biché is a current senior at Barnard College living in New York City. During her freshman year, she studied at the George Washington University in D.C., where she wrote for The GW Hatchet. She is a Women's, Gender & Sexuality Studies major and is passionate about social justice. While she does not know exactly where she'll take her degree, she hopes she can contribute to the advancement of marginalized peoples through legal and/or activist work. Chocolate covered pretzels are her favorite food, Rihanna is her favorite musician and her go-to talent is her ability to wiggle her ears. Margeaux loves dogs, hiking and her hometown basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, all of which are oft-featured on her Instagram account. Twitter | LinkedIn
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