How is pansexuality discussed in the current academic debate in sexuality studies?

Term Paper, 2018

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3




Literature Review

Pansexuality and Bisexuality


Publication Bibliography


Given the ever-increasing rates on Google since 2004 with the highest point reaching in 2012 (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 58), it can be stated that pansexuality is a topic that drives the people. In the academic debate pansexuality is also getting more and more attention, since the number of papers and publications regarding the topic is rising since 2013. This suggests that pansexu­ality is not only gaining importance in the academic field but also raises attention among the public.

Although the topic is gaining more and more attention and importance, pansexuality is still often confused with bisexuality and other so called non-monosexualities. Certainly, doing fur­ther research in this area could lead to a bigger understanding of the differences between these two. By improving the methods to study these sexualities, more efficient research could be done, because as it will be shown in the following, researchers often have problems finding the right method to get to the kind of people they need for their study.

In the following, the question about how pansexuality is currently discussed in the academic debate in sexuality studies will be raised. To answer this question first a definition for pansex­uality will be taken from the “International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality” to get an over­view about what pansexuality means in general. After that there will be a literature review, which starts with the explanation of the term “new-homonormatives” as Gonel describes them in her article.

Following that, different articles, who talk about pansexuality, pansexuality and bisexuality and pansexuality and youth, from academic journals will be analysed. Featured in this there will be articles from Journal of Bisexuality, Sexualities, Graduate Journal of Social Science and The Journal of Sex Research. The focus will be led on how they describe pansexuality and the peo­ple, who adopt this sexual identity. Similarities through all the texts will be analysed and de­scribed by referring to the corresponding parts in the articles. In addition, there will be a critical paragraph about weaknesses of the articles, in which it will be pointed out what problems and limitations the different studies had.

After that the relation between pansexuality and bisexuality will be explored by looking at sev­eral aspects such as the attitude towards the perception of the binary of gender, whether it should be a bisexual or rather a pansexual umbrella, under which these terms could be grouped together 3 and the discrimination against polysexualities in general. By doing so, main differences and similarities should be pointed out and it should be stated if it is appropriate to group both iden­tities together.

The conclusion will sum up the content from the literature review and the relation between pansexuality and bisexuality as well as answering the question if pansexuality will become more important in the near future in sexuality studies. There will also be proposals for different areas regarding pansexuality, where it could be interesting to do further research.

Literature Review

The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality describes Pansexuality as “[referring] to a person, who is sexually, emotionally, romantically, or spiritually attracted to others, regardless of biological sex, gender expression [...], or sexual orientation” (Rice, 2015: 861). In the fol­lowing more definitions for pansexuality will be introduced and discussed. All of them from various academic sources or qualitative interviews with people, who identify as pan- or bisex­ual.

The following literature review will have a look at different articles from academic journals. It will show that especially young people often identify as pansexual and how this identification is currently described. Phrases like “bisexual umbrella”, “non-monosexualities” or “new­homonormatives” are going to be defined and explained as well as being set in relation to pan­sexuality. The literature review will be structured following the similarities, which have been found in most of the texts.

The term “new-homonormatives” was mentioned by Gonel in her text from 2013 about the identification of pansexuals in online communities. In her opinion in order to be accepted by the heterosexual society, more and more members of the LGBTQ community, especially gay and lesbian people, are trying to adapt their behaviour and assimilate. She talks about how these LGBTQ organisations become “de-queerised” (Gonel, 2013: 38), which leads to the problem that many queer identities, such as pansexuality, are reduced to a uniform or a collective iden­tity, which all members of the LGBTQ community supposedly have in common. She mentions that queer activism often criticises gay-only identity politics “for subsuming LGBTQ identities and contributing to the conceptualisation of fixed, closed, singular identities” (Gonel, 2013: 39), which could be a hint that pansexuality with its “multiple, ongoing and transgressive” (Gonel, 2013: 56) character, could break this point of view by initiating an anti-identity cam­paign to show all the different identities inside the LGBTQ community.

To begin with the first similarity, which was mentioned through some articles, it was stated that pansexuals often identify with more than one sexual identity. Galupo and others showed this at some examples from their study. They quoted different participants when describing their own sexuality. One person, who identified as pansexual stated in this study that they were “panro­mantic, polyamorous, and kinky in addition to pansexual. [They] also [felt] that being gender­queer, while not a sexuality, does play a role in [their] love-life” (Galupo et all, 2017: 113). By looking at the other examples it can be seen that people, who identify as queer or bisexual, are also using multiple labels to describe their sexuality (Galupo et all, 2017: 113). Following this path, the authors assume that this could be the reason why “for some research questions it may be appropriate to group these identity groups together” (Galupo et all, 2017: 122).

Flanders and others state in their article that “many people who identify as bisexual also identify with another non-monosexual identity, including pansexuality” (Flanders et all, 2017: 41). They further notice that this would may blur the line between the different non-monosexualities and would make it more difficult to distinguish them from another. Further they point out that the (social) context may affect the choose of labels so that “sometimes participants may use bisex­ual [as a label] if they feel it is more accessible in a situation in contrast to pansexual” (Flanders et all, 2017: 41). Using the term pansexual is also an opportunity for transsexual people to define themselves as stated by Hines in her book “TransForming gender”. There she quotes a person who identifies as “queer, pansexual” (Hines, 2007: 104). As seen here this person also uses multiple labels to describe themselves.

Another similarity, which was found in two articles, was that pansexuality is often used to avoid speaking of the gender-binary and simply acknowledging that gender is more of a continuum than a binary system. Belous and Bauman for example think that identifying as pansexual not only implies that you can look beyond gender, skin colour and so on, but “that the identity of being [pansexual] requires fundamental beliefs” (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 66). These include the acceptance of partners, who may change their gender through time or “[confirm] a gender non-specific identity” (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 66). According to them, especially young people are using this term to describe themselves and trying to raise awareness and acceptance for pansexuality. This can also be seen in the article from Lapoint. There she interviewed students 5 from a Canadian school about the topic. One of her participants “[described] gender beyond the fe/male binary in that trans identities and expressions are acknowledged” (Lapoint, 2017: 99), which also supports the findings from Hines that transsexual people are being more included by using this sexual identification.

Gonel also raised the question in her text “if pansexuality was a sexual orientation that saw beyond genders and sexes [...] [or] that it was a sexual orientation that was defined by attraction to all genders and sexes” (Gonel, 2013: 48). She quotes many definitions from people, who identify as pansexual. They all set different focuses when describing pansexuality but one thing, they all had in common, was the understanding that “the pansexual was a person, who could see beyond the binaries of gender and sex” (Gonel, 2013: 49). This could also implicate a fun­damental belief in the nonbinary of gender as it was stated earlier by Belous and Bauman.

The ability to look beyond gender and sex and to concentrate fully on the person leads to another similarity, which was found in three articles. There the authors and participants state that pan­sexuality is a way to describe oneself as labelless as possible. Regarding this statement, Callis quotes one of her participants and says that “pansexual was as close as she could get to not having a label at all” (Callis, 2014: 73). Young people are also greeting the possibility to define themselves and their potential partners with as few labels as possible. One of the participants in Lapoint’s study for example said that “pansexuality involved the potential to be attracted to any human regardless of their intersecting identities” (Lapoint, 2017: 100), like for example skin colour or religion.

When talking about pansexuality and other non-monosexualities one term that is nearly always mentioned is the “bisexual umbrella”. This indicates that many sexualities, like pansexuality or queer, are often grouped together and defined as bisexuality (Flanders et all, 2017: 40). The problem with that is by doing so, significant differences between these identities are being erased. For example, are “pansexual people [.] generally grouped under the bisexual umbrella but have been found to report different experiences of stigma within queer community than those reported by bisexual people” (Flanders et all, 2017: 40).

Belous and Bauman on the other hand side think that “there is still a high overlap between bisexuality and pansexuality” (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 64). This could include the fact that bi­sexuals and pansexuals often identify with more than one sexuality (Galupo et all, 2017: 113) as well as “[displaying] the same pattern of sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sexual behav­iour, and partner gender as individuals who self-identified as bisexual” (Morandini et all, 2017: 919). At the same time Belous and Bauman also claim that the two sexual identifications do not equal each other. In their opinion, more research regarding pansexuality is needed to determine where it stands in relation to other sexual identities (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 68).

Another problem regarding pansexuality is that it is not much known among heterosexuals as well as among the LGBTQ community. One of the participants in the study from Callis stated for example that “pansexual was the one [identity] people were least familiar with” (Callis, 2014: 73) although others said that unlike queer, pansexuality had at least a definition. Flanders and others also found out that “pansexual people may face exhaustion from having to explain their identity to others and thus may avoid doing so” (Flanders et all, 2017: 51). This could be problematic because stopping to talk about this identity and using other labels to describe one­self could lead to even more unacceptance because people just do not get to know about pan­sexuality.

Often ignorance is the reason for discrimination or even hate. In this case panerasure is one of the consequences of the absence of knowledge about pansexuality. Belous and Bauman define panerasure as “the stigmatization and minimization of pansexuality as a unique and distinct sexual orientation” (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 65). One of their participants stated that they “often feel ‘not gay enough’ to hang out in queer spaces” (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 65). This is further determined by the results of Gonel. She points out that pansexuals are often accused of being confused about their own sexuality, especially by members of the LGBTQ community (Gonel, 2013: 52). She also talks about the possibility of coming out on the internet at first to avoid being discriminated in the real world. Evidently the online persona plays a big role in the life of pansexuals (Gonel, 2013: 49), although even on the internet there can be discrimination. Participants from the study from Lapoint for example expressed “bi/panphobic oppression and prejudice [...] in [their] [...] social networking circles” (Lapoint, 2017: 104).

On the bright site, some authors suggest that pansexuality could lead a way out of the under­standing that gender must be binary. For example, Belous and Bauman did an analysis of the most frequent mentioned words in definitions for pansexuality. Although “gender” was men­tioned the most, phrases like “regardless of” and “all gender identities” were also very often used (Belous, Bauman, 2017: 65). Therefore, it can be seen that the binary aspect of gender is not mentioned and thus maybe not so important for this sexual identity and the people, who 7 adopt it. The pansexual anti-identity position also suggests that there are no fixed identities and that sexual orientation is more of a continuum itself “rather than a binary of ‘heterosexual and the rest’” (Gonel, 2013: 40). Gonel describes pansexuality also as “multiple, ongoing and trans­gressive” (Gonel, 2013: 56), in which transgressive could also mean transcending the idea of a binary gender. This can also be confirmed by Galupo and others, who found out that people, who identified as queer, bisexual or pansexual all “described their attraction as transcending the body” (Galupo et all, 2017: 117) as well as being “gender-blind” (Galupo et all, 2017: 117) themselves.

Altogether every text offered many aspects regarding pansexuality when describing, defining and researching this sexual identity. There were many similarities as shown above. Neverthe­less, there were several points in some of the texts that have to be seen critical. For example, did many sources group pansexuality under one term with bisexuality or queer. The text by Galupo and others did this at least with an explanation that all three were using multiple labels to describe themselves (Galupo et all, 2017: 122), while Morandini and others did not explain this action at all (Morandini et all, 2017: 912). Further Callis mentioned all three of them always together in one row, without differentiating between them (Callis, 2017: 71-72).

Another problem is that the studies were often lacking pansexual participants as seen at the study of Flanders and others. In their content analysis they are pointing out themselves “the small sample of pansexual people relative to those who identified as bisexual” (Flanders et all, 2017: 45). Morandini and others were also talking about the limitations of their study because of “the small proportion of queer and pansexual men in [their] sample” (Morandini et all, 2017: 920). One solution for this problem could be the improvement of the research methods in this area. For example, online surveys could be used, as already happened in most of the studies, because they guaranty anonymity as well as reaching young people, who often identify with pansexuality as shown for example by Morandini and others (Morandini et all, 2017: 918).

To get especially pansexual people to participate in a study, Gonel proposes the idea of using convenience samples, although it could be seen as a lack of coverage and representativeness from a sociological point of view. She argues that these problems would become less important if “the sample group [would be] understood as a pilot” (Gonel, 2013: 41). Furthermore, this method would fit “perfectly with [her] theory’s dedication to the unorthodoxy of knowledge” (Gonel, 2013: 41).

Belous and Bauman suggest a complete different method. They used content analysis of online documents, which they got from personal blogs, media outlets, the public press and others (Bel­ous, Bauman, 2017: 62). The advantages of this methods were that, since most of the pansexual community is still found online, they had the chance to analyse it possibly without any adulter­ation. This is because the people, who wrote the texts, that were analysed, were not affected by the researchers or their study while writing them. Ultimately their method could be a good option to gather information from people, who identify as pansexual, when doing a study about this sexual identity.

Pansexuality and Bisexuality

As seen in the literature review above, pansexuality is still often confused with bisexuality, although both identities are unique and have some differences. In the following there should be analysed and described how they are still put together, especially under the aspect and concept of the “bisexual umbrella” and what differences but also similarities they have. To do so the texts from Flanders and others, Galupo and others, Callis, Belous and Bauman will be used. Starting with Flanders and others and Galupo and others both articles talk among other things also about how bisexuals and pansexuals have a different opinion about the binary of gender. Flanders and others for example are quoting Albo, who said that bisexuals were “people liking both men and woman,’ and [they are] not including ‘a wider variety of gender-neutral or gen­der-fluid terminology’” (Flanders et all, 2017: 41). So Albo suggested that bisexual people have a binary understanding of gender and are willingly excluding people, who do not fit into this spectrum of identity.

On the other hand side, they quote Jakubowski, who describes pansexuality “as intentionally prioritizing ‘romantic and/or sexual attraction to genderqueer, agender, and other nonbinary people and politics’” (Flanders et all, 2017: 41). This definition shows that pansexual people are supposedly only attracted to people, who fall out of the gender-binary understanding. Jaku­bowski does not include people, who identify as man or woman, which contradicts the idea of the genderblindness of pansexuals and that they are able to look beyond gender, as it was sug­gested earlier.


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How is pansexuality discussed in the current academic debate in sexuality studies?
University of Göttingen
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Pansexuality, Sexuality Studies, Gender Studies, Bisexuality
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Areti-Kristin Bouras (Author), 2018, How is pansexuality discussed in the current academic debate in sexuality studies?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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