What Is the Difference between Bisexuality and Pansexuality?

What is the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality?

Many of us will have heard of bisexuality and pansexuality, and we may even have a basic understanding of what they mean. However, it can be tricky to decipher the differences between the two when it comes down to it. 

We’re here to clarify what each of these orientations represents, as well as debunk any myths surrounding them. Understanding the various LGBTQ+ identities that exist, including being able to separate fact from fiction, can help you to feel more confident discussing gender and sexuality in the classroom.

On a basic level, bisexuality involves attraction to two or more sexes or genders, whereas pansexuality involves attraction regardless of sex or gender. However, as demonstrated below, there are numerous similarities and differences between the two.

Both bisexuality and pansexuality involve attraction to more than one sex/gender, including people who have no gender or do not identify as a specific gender.

Bisexuality involves attraction to multiple sexes/genders, which may involve being more attracted to a specific sex/gender (e.g. a bisexual person might be more attracted to men than women). Sex/gender may also be a focus of attraction, including being attracted to different characteristics depending on someone’s sex/gender. 

Pansexuality is attraction regardless of sex/gender, which is usually at the same level for any sex/gender. Attraction does not rely on sex/gender, nor is sex/gender the focus of attraction, meaning that it is not at the forefront as it may be for other orientations.

Common Myths

Below are some examples of common myths around bisexuality and pansexuality. 

  • Myth – Pansexuality and bisexuality are the same thing.
  • Truth – Bisexuality and pansexuality are two different orientations. Although there are similarities and crossovers, there are also key differences, particularly around the focus on sex/gender.
  • Myth: Bisexuality is attraction to only two sexes/genders.
  • Truth: Although bisexuality traditionally referred to attraction to males and females (hence ‘bi’ meaning ‘two’), times have since changed. With a better awareness today of variation in sex/gender, it is now widely understood that bisexuality is not necessarily just attraction to males and females, but to any two or more sexes/genders.
  • Myth: Pansexuality is the more inclusive version of bisexuality/bisexuality is transphobic.
  • Truth: This is a common misconception that stems from a lack of proper understanding around these orientations. Not only is it an incorrect notion, but it is also harmful to bisexual people. As we have established, bisexuality involves attraction to multiple sexes/genders so, for some people, this can mean all sexes/genders (including those who identify as transgender). The way that bisexuality differs from pansexuality is related to the focus on sex/gender (as demonstrated above). Furthermore, orientation (the sex(es)/gender(s) a person is attracted to) is not something we choose, so while some bisexual people may only be attracted to males and females, this does not come from a decision to exclude all other sexes/genders. Being inclusive is a choice, whereas orientation is not.
  • Myth: bisexual and pansexual people are attracted to everyone.
  • Truth: Although bisexual/pansexual people may be attracted to multiple or all sexes/genders, this does not mean that they are attracted to all people of those sexes/genders. Attraction varies based on the person. This myth reinforces the negative stereotype of bisexual/pansexual people being ‘promiscuous’ or ‘indecisive’. We wouldn’t assume that a straight person is attracted to all people of the opposite sex, and the same goes for other orientations.
  • Myth – Bisexual/pansexual people are promiscuous or hypersexual.
  • Truth – Someone being bisexual/pansexual does not determine whether they are promiscuous or hypersexual, and this kind of stereotype is misinformed and unfair. Orientation (the sex(es)/gender(s) a person is attracted to) is separate from sexual behaviour or tendencies, and they don’t determine one another.
  • Myth – Being bisexual/pansexual involves having multiple sexual/romantic partners at a time.
  • Truth – Bisexuality and pansexuality are orientations. Non-monogamy, on the other hand, is a choice that someone might make to have sexual and/or romantic relations with multiple people at a time. Orientation is separate from someone’s relationship choices, and they don’t determine one another.

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