By Brooke Tucker, Virtual Youth Ambassador for Berks Teens Matter

The term pansexual surfaced in pop culture in the last few years, leaving many confused. So why is this sexual orientation only now getting the attention it deserves? Why are people still confused by a word that has been around for over a century. What it is it exactly and how is it any different from bisexuality?

In order to fully grasp the difference between these two sexual orientations, we need to take a deep dive into their origins. The word pansexual was first used by neurologist and psychologist, Sigmund Freud, in 1917. The word is derived from the Greek language, with pan meaning all.

Now, backing up a bit, we know there are more than two genders. Many individuals describe being pansexual as being attracted to someone regardless of sex or gender. They can feel attraction for people on all sides of the gender spectrum. This can be any type of attraction (emotional, romantic, or sexual). A great way to describe this is being “gender blind.”  To make it less wordy, a pansexual person’s attraction to someone has nothing to do with their gender. 

The term bisexuality has been around a bit longer than the term pansexuality has. In 1892, Charles Gilbert Chaddock introduced the term bisexual in the context it is applied to today. Interestingly enough, the word previously appeared in 1793, but the definition was “having traits of both sexes.” That is obviously not how it is used today. Looking at the Greek root word, bi, it simply means “multiple.”

Many people use the term bisexual to describe an attraction to cisgender men and cisgender women. This is not what it means at all. This is one of the most common misconceptions of bisexuality and has led to a great deal of confusion. Here is where the main difference between bi and pan comes in. Bisexual people are attracted to certain genders, but not all. To give an example, a person identifying as bisexual may only be attracted to transgender women and cisgender women, while another bisexual individual may fancy cisgender men and gender non-binary folks. Their attraction is more so based on gender, rather than regardless of gender.

As a person who has struggled with my own sexual orientation, I sometimes find these labels to be confusing and suffocating. I have a great deal of respect for people who have figured out their sexuality completely. Many people find comfort in labels, as it gives a sense of community, but you should never feel pressured to have one.

For now, I say screw it, I’m simply queer.


Brooke is a virtual Youth Ambassador for Berks Teens Matter, a teen peer education program focusing on educating youth through comprehensive sex education. She is a high school student in Berks County, PA.

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