You might have heard terms like bisexual, pansexual, and omnisexual and wondered what the difference is. When it comes to talking about sexuality, there are lots of different words and ideas that someone can use! What labels you use when talking about your own sexual orientation are up to you. In this article, we’ll go over three common terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. That means they can mean similar things. But, they can also mean very different things! It depends on the person and the context.
What do bisexual, pansexual, and omnisexual mean?
Bisexual, pansexual, and omnisexual are all words used to describe being attracted to more than one gender.
When someone is straight, that means they’re only attracted to or want to date people of the “opposite” gender to them. So, a straight man is a man who only wants to date women! When someone is gay, they’re only attracted to or want to date people of the same gender as them. A gay woman, or a lesbian, is a woman who only wants to date other women. These orientations involve being attracted to one specific gender.
But some people are attracted to people of more than one different gender! That’s where terms like bisexual, pansexual, and omnisexual come in.
While lots of people use these words as though they mean the same thing, they can also have different meanings to different people. Here are some common definitions:
- Bisexuality is often defined as being attracted to both men and women. Because “bi-” means “two”, people sometimes define bisexuality as an attraction to two different genders. But it can also mean being attracted to people of the same or different genders as you!
- Pansexuality is often defined as being attracted to people regardless of their gender. Someone who is pansexual might feel like gender doesn’t play a role in who they’re attracted or not attracted to.
- Omnisexual is often defined as being attracted to people of all different genders, from men to women and everyone in between or outside of those categories!
What’s the difference between bisexual, pansexual, and omnisexual?
Bisexual, pansexual, and omnisexual all refer to being attracted to more than one gender. But, that doesn’t mean that they all mean the same thing! Because everyone is different, people can want different ways of talking about their sexual orientation. The differences between these words can seem minor to some, but to others, they can be very important.
Bisexual is a term that’s been in use for longer than pansexual or omnisexual. That means people might be more likely to know what it means, or to have known someone who identifies as bisexual. It’s part of the acronym “LGBTQ+”, which is often used to refer to the queer community as a whole. This extra visibility can be part of why some people might prefer to identify as bisexual instead of pansexual or omnisexual, even if those terms can fit just as well.
But there are also reasons why some people might feel more comfortable with terms like pansexual or omnisexual, too! Some people might feel uncomfortable with the word “bisexual” because the prefix “bi-” means “two”. This is sometimes interpreted as meaning “two genders”. While that’s not always the case, and lots of bisexual people are attracted to more than just two genders, some might prefer terms like pansexual or omnisexual because they don’t have room for that interpretation. “Pan-” and “omni-” both mean “all”, so both pansexual and omnisexual refer to being attracted to people of all genders!
How do I know which word to use?
Whether someone calls themselves bisexual, pansexual, or omnisexual is a personal choice that’s up to them. If you’re not sure what term someone prefers or why, you can ask! It can help to be respectful and listen to their explanation. You can try saying something like, “It’s okay if you’re not comfortable answering, but I just want to make sure I use the right words for you and don’t make any assumptions. Do you mind telling me what your orientation is?”
If you’re thinking about your own sexual orientation and you’re not sure what term is right for you, that’s okay! You can think about it and take your time figuring it out. It can help to try out different words and see how you feel using them. You can also listen to how the people around you talk about their own sexualities and ask yourself how that makes you feel. If you’re struggling with your sexual orientation, it can help to talk to someone you trust, like a LGBTQ+-friendly therapist or a close friend who accepts you. The important thing is that you find ways of talking about and identifying yourself that you feel good about!