Pansexual Versus Bisexual

Written on 07/06/2021
Jayme Tucker


Last week we took a look at the LGBTQ+ acronym, but some letters were missing. That's because we're going to unpack some of the definitions and misconceptions about those identities in full articles. This week let's take a look at bisexuality and pansexuality.

Pansexuality is often pitted against bisexuality as an identity, with claims of the bi label being gender exclusive, outdated, and transphobic being the main arguments for why pan is the preferred word.

Historically, bisexuality as a word and identity came from a place of inclusivity. When first used in 1892 in a translation of Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis, it was defined as attraction to men and women. At this point in time, deviance from the heteronormative standard was taboo and heavily stigmatized.

The term took off in the 60s alongside the queer activism that led to Stonewall and the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, which was organized by bi activist Brenda Howard. Howard later organized the Stonewall commemoration marches a year after and is considered the 'Mother of Pride.'

Pansexuality was first used by Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s to describe most human behaviour as compelled by sexual instincts, and it remained as a word used for psychoanalysis until the early 1970s. From there, it was used occasionally to describe fluid sexuality, and the term blossomed into the definition we know it by today: a person a attracted to other people regardless of gender, sex, or identity.

The ongoing debate of bisexual vs pansexual has occasionally focused on the prefixes to both terms. Bi means 'two' in the English language, but many bi-identified people define their sexuality as being attracted to more than one gender or sex. Merriam-Webster uses this definition, as does Oxford languages for Google.

Many queer activists maintain that it's not an 'us or them' situation but that bisexuality and pansexuality are similar but different identities under the polysexual umbrella of fluid sexuality. Both terms were used initially to describe what society thought of as deviant behaviour or mental illness and have evolved over the years to describe the love given between consenting people.

The key difference between the two is that bisexual people exist on an attraction spectrum where gender is a factor (including trans, nonbinary, and nonconforming folk), and pansexuality often does not include gender as a factor when it comes to attraction.

Next week we're going to look at what Two Spirit is, why it is more than just a sexuality or gender, and why it is an exclusive and sacred Indigenous identity.


Jayme D. Tucker is a journalist, writer, and performer settled on unceded Syilx territory. They're queer, tall, and tired of answering all the same token questions when they come out; So they're answering those questions and more for thehub.LGBT Kelowna. They've written for Daily Hive Calgary, won a scholarship for fiction writing with Eat North, and is the founder of The Queer Agenda, a non-profit social group focused on sober friendly, all-ages networking for LGBTQ2IA+ individuals (currently on COVID hiatus).


(Image Credit: The Advocate)