A note on identity definitions

Medical News Today uses definitions of sexual, romantic, and gender identities that come from LGBTQIA+ and ally sources.

However, it is important to note that these identities are personal, and people may define them differently. Always refer to a person’s sexual, romantic, or gender identity the same way the person describes it.

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Bisexuality and pansexuality are both terms that people may use to describe sexual orientation. Generally, bisexuality refers to an attraction to more than one gender. People may define pansexuality as attraction regardless of gender.

However, people’s definitions of bisexuality and pansexuality might vary. They are related but distinct concepts.

Many different sexual orientations exist, and there are also many gender identities. Creating clear-cut definitions that apply to everyone can be challenging.

In this article, we outline some differences between bisexuality and pansexuality. We also discuss various sexual orientations and how people may choose to identify.

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Typically, people who identify as pansexual can feel an attraction to anyone, including individuals who do not identify as a specific gender.

For example, people with a pansexual orientation may feel an attraction to someone who is agender. They might equally find a female, male, or gender-fluid person attractive.

It is important to note that identifying as pansexual does not mean feeling attracted to everyone, just as a heterosexual male does not feel an attraction to every female, and vice versa.

Bisexuality can mean different things, and not everyone will agree on a single definition. Generally, if someone identifies as bisexual, they feel an attraction to more than one gender.

Some people define their gender according to their biological sex. However, other people see themselves as agender or gender-fluid.

Learn more about the differences between sex and gender.

To some people, bisexuality might mean only feeling attracted to males and females. To others, it can mean feeling attracted to multiple gender identities.

Some people may find the word controversial, as it implies that there are only two genders. However, many people who identify as bisexual acknowledge that there are multiple genders.

Learn what nonbinary means.

Most people agree that bisexuality refers to feeling attracted to multiple genders, while pansexuality is attraction to all genders. There are overlaps between the two, but they are distinct.

For example, someone who identifies as bisexual may feel attracted to those who are gender-fluid, men, or nonbinary but not those who are women.

Someone who is pansexual can have the same level of attraction to people of any gender. However, they may still experience this in different ways.

For both, the type of attraction that someone experiences might vary for different genders. For example, someone may feel a romantic attraction to one gender but a sexual attraction to another.

People can identify with many types of sexuality.

Here are just a few of them:

  • asexual
  • bicurious
  • demisexual
  • gay
  • multisexual
  • spectrasexual

People are free to choose their sexual orientation according to how they feel at any time. Anyone can identify with one or more types of sexuality, and they can change their orientation over time. If a person does not identify with any existing definition, they are free to define their own way of being.

Here, find out more about some of the different types of sexualities and how people can choose to identify.

A person’s romantic orientation relates to how they feel romantically — but not necessarily sexually — toward others.

Romance is a type of affection or love. It is different from sexuality. Perceptions of romance vary across cultures and between individuals.

People who share romantic attraction may:

  • spend time together
  • share responsibilities
  • affirm or compliment each other

For some people, holding hands and giving gifts are ways of expressing romantic attachment.

Some types of romantic orientation include:

  • aromantic, when a person feels little or no romantic attraction or need to form romantic attachments
  • biromantic, when someone feels romantic attraction to two or more genders
  • homoromantic, when attraction is only toward the same gender
  • panromantic, when a person experiences romantic attraction, regardless of gender
  • polyromantic, when a person feels romantic attraction toward several but not all genders
  • demiromantic, when a person only feels romantic attraction after first developing a close emotional bond

These are just a few ways of being romantic. Each person is free to define how they experience romantic orientation, and there is no wrong way.

A person’s romantic orientation may be different from their sexual orientation. For example, they may be polyromantic but bisexual.

What does it mean to be biromantic and asexual?

Sexuality is a challenging concept to define. Many people still disagree on what the basic concepts of gender and sexual identity mean.

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition that sexuality exists on a spectrum. This understanding is an advance on the traditional idea of sexuality as being binary.

At one end of the sexual orientation spectrum are people who feel an attraction to those of the other binary sex or gender. For example, this would include a heterosexual woman who is only attracted to men.

Those who feel attracted to people of the same gender or sex are at the other end of the spectrum, while individuals who feel an attraction to multiple genders would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

There is also a difference in the type of attraction that a person might experience. For example, sexual attraction is a desire for sexual contact, whereas romantic attraction involves the desire for a deeper connection and relationship.

There are criticisms of the spectrum approach because it might exclude certain scenarios. For example, someone who is transgender and undergoing a transition might feel as though they do not fit into the spectrum.

However, the idea of a sexual orientation spectrum is a step in the right direction. Traditional binary approaches exclude many people who do not fit into that model.

Many people will find it difficult to identify their sexual orientation or gender identity. It can be confusing for young people who may be unaware of ideas such as the spectrum.

Understanding the full range of concepts and identifying what works can sometimes take time. It might also involve a transition across different parts of the spectrum. Other people might know from an early age how they identify.

Learning about different gender identities and sexual orientations will help. The thinking in this area has changed and will continue to evolve.

A person can identify with whatever orientation they believe fits. There is no right or wrong answer. Equally, a person does not need to label their sexuality or conform to certain ideals if they choose not to.

It is also possible for a person to identify with multiple terms and use them interchangeably to describe themselves. People can also change their sexual orientation if they feel that their capacity for attraction changes, or they learn another word that may better describe their orientation. Talking to people who have had similar experiences or transitions may help.

It is important to avoid suppressing feelings or thoughts about sexuality. Although doing this might avoid uncomfortable conversations or situations in the short term, it will likely cause problems in the long term.

The LGBTQ+ community is a welcoming and accepting place. Wider society is opening up to different sexual orientations and gender identities. However, some places are more accepting than others.

What are some different types of gender identity?

Here are some answers to questions people often ask about sexual orientation.

Can you identify with more than one term?

Anyone can identify with any romantic or sexual orientation.

Can you switch later on?

A person’s way of identifying can change at any time. They are free to choose and to switch.

What if none of the terms feel right?

Many people find the terms help them identify and belong, but there is no need to fit in with any term. Everyone is free to choose their own definition or resist any type of label if they so choose.

Bisexuality and pansexuality will mean different things to different people.

Bisexuality generally refers to people who feel attracted to more than one gender. Pansexuality typically refers to those who feel an attraction to people regardless of gender. The terms differ because bisexual people may not feel attracted to certain genders.

A wide range of different sexual orientations and gender identities exists. The thinking in this area has changed and will continue to evolve.