What Does It Mean To Be Pansexual? We Asked An Expert & Here's What They Said

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You don't have to have studied sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey to know that not only is human sexuality complicated, but it's definitely not black and white either. While The Kinsey Scale, first introduced in 1948, was fairly limiting (but groundbreaking, in some ways, at the time), with zero meaning someone is exclusively heterosexual and six meaning someone is exclusively homosexual, with a spectrum in between that allowed for more options, it certainly didn't encompass all possible sexual identities. For example, the sexual identity, pansexuality, isn't on the scale — nor are many others.

Although being pansexual has existed as long as the human race has, it's only been recently that the word has become more mainstream, most recently when Janelle Monae came out as pansexual. Miley Cyrus also notably said she was pansexual in a few interviews over the last fews years. But even before that, OkCupid had made the move to include pansexual as a sexual option, along with many other gender and sexual options from which to choose and identify. But what does it mean to be pansexual?

"People who are pansexual are attracted to others without regard for gender," New York–based relationship and etiquette expert of Relationship Advice Forum, April Masini, tells Bustle. "They’re open to all sexual experiences. The prefix 'pan' comes from the Greek term for “all” and when you couple that with the word sexual, you get 'pansexual' which is a more modern term that refers to people who are attracted to everything and everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation or preference."

So how's it different from bisexuality? As GLADD puts it: "While being bisexual means being attracted to more than one gender, being pansexual means being attracted to all gender identities, or attracted to people regardless of gender." But that doesn't mean the two don't overlap. While not everyone who's pansexual identifies as bisexual, some definitely do. As Twitter user @RevanAthame tweets:

"I am pansexual, but often use the umbrella term bisexual to be more inclusive and also show that bisexuality does not exclude people based on gender, since I am transgender myself and so are a lot of other bisexuals or people who identify as such."

But there's even a bit more to it than that. Here's what you should know:


Dating Can Be Complicated

Because pansexuality, also known as omnisexuality, isn't as mainstream as other sexual identities, trying to date can be difficult. Not just in presenting oneself as such, but in the inner conflict of defining oneself as such. As Masini points out, it brings up a lot of questions for the person who identifies as pansexual.

"Pansexuals can have a much tougher time navigating the dating world…. and a much easier one, depending on a few factors," says Masini. "For instance, I had a question on my relationship advice forum from someone who enjoyed sexual relations of all types with all genders and all variations within those relations, which led him to confusion about defining his orientation. He wanted me to help him figure out who he was so he could tell people in a sentence (or less). He was troubled with this question."


But Dating Can Actually Be Easier, Too

On the other hand, when you're open to all people, as long as they're consenting adults, it can make dating a lot easier for some. And it's not just because you have more options, but in being pansexual, you're more about knowing people on a human level. With gender and sexuality are subtracted from the equation, it can also create for more meaningful and deeper experiences.

"Someone else might have seen his situation as a party, not a problem," says Masini. "That’s why who you are beyond your sexual feelings is going to determine the way you function sexually, and as a pansexual."


There Can Be A Struggle To Define One's Identity As Pansexual

For some people, their sexuality is easy to define and for others, it make take some time or experimenting. "One of the current problems people are having in relationships is feeling the need to define their orientation in a world where definitions are rapidly changing," says Masini. "This problem of wanting to define and having trouble, as a pansexual, is understandable...There are so many times when we’re asked to define ourselves, that when someone is pansexual, the process of discovering this orientation and getting comfortable with it, is going to create definition issues."


It Can Be Confusing To Explain Your Pansexuality To People

You may feel the need to define yourself — or date people who have a clear a definition of their sexuality, but as Masini asks, "Why define?" Wouldn't it be easier to just go with what you feel and not label things?

"Life is easier when you can say, 'I’m this, this and this and I’m looking for someone who is this, this and this'," says Masini. "It’s a lot more difficult and time-consuming to journey through life questioning and experimenting — but that’s what we do in spite of the way we define ourselves at any given moment. And since we can’t all afford to hang out at Walden Pond hoping in the epic search for self-awareness, we have a messier, more cumbersome, socially fraught journey figuring out who we are — in many cases. And in the case of pansexuals, for sure."


Not Everyone Wants The Label — And That's OK

"Pansexuals are typically people who are sexual without regard for gender," says Masini. "If gender fluidity is a spectrum, then pansexuals would be somewhere on this spectrum. So if this sounds like you, then consider, if you have the need to label, that yours might be pansexual — at least for now." But remember you don't have to define your sexuality if you don't feel like it represents you or if you don't see the point in defining things.

Ultimately, when it comes to sexual identity, it's all about what feels right for you, without or without the labels.