Bi vs. Pan — What’s the Difference?
Or is there one?
When I first came out as bisexual over two years ago, I got a lot of questions from my straight friends. They didn’t get bisexuality. Terms like ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ were easy for them to digest, but admitting I liked more than one gender raised some eyebrows.
I was able to answer most of their inquiries, but a couple of questions still stumped me. Turns out, just because you start publicly recognizing yourself as part of the LGBTQ+ community doesn’t mean you immediately know everything about the community — or even your own sexuality.
When my friends asked me about the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality, I couldn’t give them a clear answer. I didn’t really know. The lines between being bi and pan seemed blurry, and the variety of online definitions only made me more confused. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one scratching my head — a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community seem puzzled when confronted with the question.
Much of the uncertainty seems to stem from misunderstandings about the terms — from both sides of the equation. Drawing a line in the sand between bisexuality and pansexuality might not be easy, but it can be done.
The definition of bisexuality
You’ll notice that the definition of bisexuality changes depending on who's answering the question. Sexuality is complex and inherently different for everybody.
People typically define bisexuality as, “sexual or romantic attraction to two or more genders.” This is a broad definition — and it’s meant to be.
Those who identify as bi tend to adapt their own personal meanings to the label. Some bisexuals might only be attracted to males and females, while others might be attracted to trans and nonbinary people too. Or, they might only like trans or nonbinary people.
In its simplest form, bisexuality is anyone who’s attracted to at least two genders — regardless of what they may be.
The definition of pansexuality
Like bisexuality, pansexual people all have their own interpretations of what it means to be pan.
It is most often defined as, “sexual or romantic attraction to all genders,” or, “sexual or romantic attraction despite gender.”
But, keep in mind that just because pansexuals are attracted to all genders doesn’t mean they don’t have “types”. You could be pansexual, but primarily attracted to bodybuilders, or find lots of tattoos really hot.
Pansexuals can still have certain kinds of people they find attractive — it just means gender does not factor into the equation.
The overlap — why people get confused
What often confuses people about bisexuality and pansexuality is the overlap. Bisexuals can be attracted to more than two genders — which makes it sound a lot like pansexuality.
However, there are some distinctions. While pansexuals don’t consider gender in regards to attraction, many bisexual people do.
Bisexuals are not always equally attracted to different genders. I, for instance, tend to be more attracted to females than I am to males — and the role of gender in attraction is probably the biggest distinction between these sexualities.
There is still a lot of misinformation circling around the internet about the differences between the two. I’ve encountered a lot of websites that say: “Bi people only believe there are only two genders (male and female), but pan people believe there are multiple genders.”
This is not true — as I’ve mentioned before, bisexuals can be attracted to more than two genders. When you identify as bi, you aren’t also saying you think there are only two genders. While you could encounter a bi person who only believes there are two genders, that would be the exception — not the norm.
To sum it all up, bisexuals could be attracted to all genders, but they might not be (and they might not also like all genders equally). Pansexuals, on the other hand, tend to be attracted to people regardless of their gender.
The labels don’t really matter
At the end of the day, bisexuality and pansexuality are just labels we use to describe our feelings. Because of their overlap, you could easily fall into both categories.
I, for instance, could identify as pansexual if I wanted to, but I don’t. Even though I’m attracted to all genders, I identify as bisexual for two reasons: I’m not equally attracted to all genders, and the bi community is a lot more established.
I know other people who identify as pan because they’re attracted to all genders, and the pansexuality definition explicitly states that.
My advice? Don’t get caught up in the nuances of their meanings — you’ll only frustrate yourself. Labels are labels, and they don’t really matter.
If you fit both definitions but are more comfortable with saying you’re bi instead of pan, go for it — and vice versa. What you label your sexuality does not affect how you feel.