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Bisexual vs. pansexual

Bisexuality and pansexuality are two identities that I repeatedly see counsellors getting confused about when I meet groups of counsellors at my LGBTQ training workshops.

So what do these words mean?

Are they same?

Why does it matter?

Bisexuality and pansexuality why is there so much confusion?

Most people I train have heard the term 'bisexual' and have picked up inaccurate definitions and myths along the way.

Many have also heard of 'pansexual' and either have no idea what it means or think it’s the same as bisexual.

This continues to create a lot of confusion, and my guess is this has happened because there are so many inaccurate definitions flying across the Web. I have also sadly witnessed some of these things being said by other LGBTQ trainers :(

Some of the MYTHS I’ve heard about bisexuality and pansexuality are:

  • MYTH >>> 'Bi' means 2 so bisexual means attraction to 2 sexes

  • MYTH >>> Bisexual and pansexual are the same thing

  • MYTH >>> All bisexual people are attracted 50/50 to men and women

  • MYTH >>> Bisexual people are only attracted to cis people

  • MYTH >>> Bisexuality is not inclusive of trans people

  • MYTH >>> Bisexuals are only attracted to men and women, not non-binary people

  • MYTH >>> Pansexual is a more trans friendly term, as it means you are also attracted to trans people

  • MYTH >>> Pansexual means you are not attracted by gender, therefore are attracted to animals, not humans

  • MYTH >>> Pansexual means you have no preference and are attracted to everyone

I wanted to write this blog to help clarify what these words mean and help fellow counsellors and their clients.

A disclaimer here: I am neither bisexual nor pansexual. However, I have worked with hundreds of bi and pan clients in the course of my career, and so have a good understanding of what these identities mean through my training and counselling experience.

I also recognise that, as with all labels, words can and do mean different things for different people.

Bisexuality and pansexuality what's the difference?

My understanding of these identities are:

Bisexual = attraction to more than one gender
Pansexual = attraction to people regardless of gender

What does bisexual mean?

So taking bisexuality first, this could be attraction to 2 or more genders. It could also mean attraction to people of the same gender and people of another gender.

All bisexual people are different and will have different attractions. Some examples of attraction could be:

  • Attraction to women and men

  • Attraction to men and non-binary people

  • Attraction to women and non-binary people

  • Attraction to women, men and non-binary people

Bisexuality is a polysexual orientation (attraction to more than 1 gender) whereas heterosexual (straight) and gay/lesbian are monosexual orientations (attraction to only 1 gender).

This doesn't mean that bisexual people always have more than one partner, however like many straight, gay and lesbian people, many bisexuals may do. But this is a completely different and unrelated.

The number of partners someone has is a relationship style, not a sexual orientation.

Also bisexual people can be attracted to both cis and trans people.

What does pansexual mean?

The prefix 'pan' means 'all', which means that pansexual people can be attracted to all genders.

However, it’s important to note that this doesn't mean that pansexual people are attracted to all people, just like heterosexual women are not attracted to all men, and vice versa.

It just means that pansexual people can find themselves attracted to people of all kinds of gender.

This can mean that pansexual people don’t see gender as important in how they're attracted to people.

I've heard many pansexual clients describe themselves as gender blind.

For many pansexuals there are other things that they are attracted to regardless of gender, such as personality.

What's the difference between multiple genders and all genders?

So to clarify bisexuality is attraction to multiple genders, which is different to all genders.

For example you might ask 2 friends what their favourite sport is. The first might answer “I like more than one sport”. The other friend might say I like all sports.

The difference here, is, because the first friend said they like more than one sport, that might mean they may like all sports, or they might like multiple sports such as netball, hockey and football, but not like rugby and skiing.

So all sports is of course more than one, however more than one isn’t always all.

So by being attracted to more than one or multiple genders isn’t the same as being attracted to all genders.

For this reason bisexuality is different from pansexuality but falls under the bisexual umbrella. Perhaps that is another reason why people often confuse the two.

Also, some people may identify as both pansexual and bisexual. However, there are also many people who identify as only pansexual or only bisexual.

Do you want to learn more?

If you are a counsellor and you'd like to learn more check out my online training options here.


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