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Let’s Talk About Pansexuality

We chat with Dr. Morag Yule about pansexuality, sexual identity in the 21st century and…Miley Cyrus…
The expansive rainbow of LGBT+ terms and identifications, however puzzling at times, is one of the most beautiful things about being a member (or ally!) of the community—there are essentially no limits to how people can express their individual sexual preferences. Having said this, there are one or two identifications that don’t get as much, well, press coverage as the others.
Love her or hate her, one has to give Miley Cyrus credit for introducing a public dialogue about pansexuality. The songstress came out as pansexual in 2016 after becoming involved with an LGBT+ centre in Los Angeles and deeply relating to the stories she heard from young people. Cue Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love Of All…
We chatted with Dr. Morag Yule, a psychologist at Toronto’s Sexuality Centre, about pansexuality and its place in the LGBT+ alphabet.
Firstly, what is pansexuality?
Generally, the term pansexual is used to describe a person who experiences sexual attraction to any person, regardless of gender or sex. I would differentiate this from “panromantic,” which I would define to mean someone who experiences romantic attraction to any person, regardless of gender or sex. I do think that sometimes people use the term ‘pansexual’ to refer to both pansexual and panromantic as I would define them.
What is the difference between pansexuality, bisexuality and omnisexuality?
Bisexuality refers to a person who is sexually attracted to both men and women, and excludes attraction to individuals who are outside of this dichotomy.
There is a lot of overlap between the constructs of pansexuality and omnisexuality, in that both terms describe experiencing sexual attraction towards ‘all’ genders (pan- and omni- mean “all” in Greek and Latin, respectively). As far as I understand, the difference in identifying as pansexual vs. omnisexual is about whether or not a person’s gender is relevant to the sexual attraction. Pansexuality is about attraction to someone regardless of their gender, as in gender is not relevant at all in sexual attraction. For omnisexuality, on the other hand, gender is still relevant in sexual attraction, and the person can experience sexual attraction to all genders.
Why is pansexuality an identification that is often realized later in life and not during an individual’s adolescence?
I would suspect that this is because our culture is set up in a very binary way, as in people are generally seen to be attracted to either males or females, or both. We do not have everyday language to describe the experience of being attracted to all genders, and it might often be the case that people aren’t aware that more than two genders exist. It may only be later on in life, through exposure to a wider range of experiences and people, that individuals come to realize that they are attracted to all genders.
In your opinion, why has pansexuality become such a prominent identification for those using dating apps? Have celebrities like Miley Cyrus made this sexual identification trendy?
I think that, in part, it is because of celebrities like Miley Cyrus. In addition, there has been an increase in people openly identifying as genders other than male and female, which then allows people the opportunity to notice the experience of sexual attraction to the entire range of gender identities. A combination of these two things has given more people the chance to experience sexual attraction to non-binary individuals, as well as the language to describe this attraction.
Is pansexuality a topic that you’ve explored in your research or with your patients?
I study asexuality, which is a lack of sexual attraction to anyone, and pansexuality is not something I’ve explored directly in my research. However, panromanticism is experienced frequently in the asexual community, so this is something that has come up in my research in terms of sexual attraction and romantic attraction not necessarily being in alignment (i.e., a research participant might identify as asexual and panromantic).
Dr. Morag Yule received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of British Columbia and completed her clinical internship at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. She has extensive training in and experience with gender identity issues and sexual dysfunctions, including problems with sexual desire, trouble experiencing sexual arousal and orgasm, and sexual pain. She is especially recognized for her groundbreaking studies of asexuality and its assessment.
Where can you go for support?
QMUNITY in Vancouver has supports of all sexual orientations, as does the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto. University LGBTQA+ groups are often great places to find support for all orientations, and Pride organizations are becoming more and more inclusive. Finding online communities can also be very supportive, and does not rely on geographic proximity.

Andrew Hunter is a Toronto-based writer and educator. He’s a tennis player, runner and kickass uncle. He learned stuff at Royal Roads University, Seneca College and The London School of Journalism. You can find him at your local dive bar ostensibly writing a novel.

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