What Is Pansexuality? We Asked an Expert to Break It Down for Us

Updated 10/04/19
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what is pansexuality
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

This week is Transgender Awareness Week (#TransWeek), where both groups and individuals are banding together to bring awareness to those who are transgendered or gender nonconforming. In order to help foster a more inclusive community, it’s important to become acquainted with different sexualities and preferences, and one question that has popped up is “what is pansexuality?” We’ve heard a few celebrities like Jazz Jennings and Miley Cyrus define themselves as such, but we weren’t all too sure what it meant.

When you’re not sure of something, it’s best to ask, so we called on Kat Van Kirk, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and sex therapist and author of The Married Sex Solution to break it down for us. In fact, Van Kirk wasn’t all too surprised we needed some background information. “People in the media have used the term without really explaining what it means to them—I can see how it causes confusion,” she told us. Since Van Kirk has specifically worked with the LGBTQIA community, we knew she would be the right person to inform us. Below learn all about pansexuality (as well as what it’s not).

What is pansexuality?

“Pansexuality is about a spectrum sexual orientation,” says Van Kirk. “It can mean that a person isn’t only attracted to one or both genders but also people who are gender fluid or transgendered.” This differs from bisexuality in that those individuals are attracted to both males and females, but not people who are gender fluid or transgender. Gender does not limit your attraction in pansexuality, and it can vary depending on early sexual experiences, exposure to media, models from our family of origins, and peers, says Van Kirk. She also notes that there is a brain chemistry/structure component that isn’t fully understood right now.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions?

The first misconception is that pansexuality does not exist and is spurred by substance abuse or a rebellion against religion, says Van Kirk. She says the second is that those who identify as such are mentally ill, and the third is that it’s an excuse to have sex with anyone at any time. “It’s not like I have this crazy sex drive and I need more people to satisfy it,” Danielle, who identifies as pansexual, told Teen Vogue. “It’s that I’m open to everyone and their amazing energy, but whether it meets up with mine is a totally different thing.”

How can we educate ourselves further?

There is generally a better sense of understanding about pansexuality than there was a few years ago because of accepting examples on TV, in books, and on social media, says Van Kirk. She notes that millennials have really blazed the way, but identifying as pan can be isolating to people of all ages. “Feeling isolated in pansexuality is not relegated to just teens,” she explains. “Often, older adults have even less support from family and cohorts because traditional gender and orientation examples were never inclusive of anything other than binary gender roles.” The best way to continue informing yourself is by engaging with people who identify as pansexual and by following people on social media who identify as such, the expert says.

How will you educate yourself further during Transgender Awareness Week and beyond? Share with us in the comments.

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