How Pansexuality Became the 'Norm' for Gen Z
The term "pansexuality" has only recently become a part of our daily vernacular, but the traits associated with the identity have always existed. Pansexual people are attracted to potential partners regardless of their sex and gender, and strong value is placed on intangible traits, such as personality and beliefs.
In a 2021 Ipsos U.S. poll, 1 percent of Millennials and 3 percent of Gen Z participants said they identify as pansexual, compared to zero percent of Gen X, Boomers and older participants surveyed. In regard to pansexuality awareness, 82 percent of Gen Z and 68 percent of Millennials said they have heard of the sexual identity, compared to 56 percent of Gen X and 45 percent of Boomers and older adults.
In the same poll, 21 percent of Gen Z and 7 percent of Millennials said they were equally attracted to multiple sexes, compared to 2 percent of Gen X and 3 percent of Boomers and older, indicating younger people are the driving force behind society's normalization of pansexuality and other sexually fluid identities. These stats do not mean more LGBTQIA+ people are being born than before, but rather they represent the growing acceptance of the community, which allows younger generations to feel safer being out than did past generations.
Pansexuality vs. omnisexuality vs. bisexuality
The primary difference between pansexuals and omnisexuals is pansexuals do not consider gender to be a factor in their attraction, while omnisexuals acknowledge gender as a factor in their attraction. And bisexuality is the sexual attraction to more than one gender, though it has the connotation with the two binary sexes, so some people prefer identifying as pan, omni, queer or fluid to express themselves more clearly. (It's important to note that while bisexuality may seem to be limited to two sexes, many bisexual people prefer to define it as attraction to one's own gender and others, not just two.) Heteroflexibility and homoflexibility refer to types of multisexuality, too. How people wish to identify is personal, and your sexual identity does not need to conform to any single rigid definition.
While Hollywood traditionally has hidden LGBTQIA+ actors, making them play straight roles on- and off-screen, celebrities now have more of a voice, amplified by social media. Millennial icons such as Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato identifying as pansexual has brought the identity to the mainstream. And Gen Z's beloved JoJo Siwa earned her rainbow stripes and shook social conservatives when she came out as "technically" pansexual. Fans have reacted positively to the authenticity from these celebs and others, and Hollywood has been forced to keep up by being more inclusive and creating more queer characters, though there's still a tremendous amount of work to be done.
Unfortunately, in a patriarchal society, heteroflexible women are more acceptable than heteroflexible men, which results in a fetishization of queer women and pressure for men to choose a label of straight or gay. Thankfully, media representation, such as David Rose on "Schitt's Creek" and "RuPaul's Drag Race" stars Courtney Act and Bob the Drag Queen, has helped normalize pansexuality for men.
Generally, society is becoming more accepting of heteroflexibility in males, with the normalization of "bromances" and "man crushes" leading to flirtations and affections between men both on- and offline. Additionally, dating apps have helped sexually fluid people of all genders explore their identity further and meet other sexually fluid people.
Problems to address
Pansexuality has surfaced to the mainstream only recently, and science and society have yet to catch up to addressing issues pansexuals encounter. According to the Human Rights Campaign, in comparison to both heterosexuals and homosexuals, bi+ (bisexual, queer, pansexual and fluid) youth and adults experience higher rates of depression, feelings of "worthlessness or hopelessness," and suicidal thoughts and attempts. These problems are amplified for bi+ people who are transgender, from ethnic minorities and/or have disabilities.
In comparison to gay and lesbian youth, bi+ youth are less likely to feel safe being out—with 68 percent of gay and lesbian youth out to their teachers, compared to about half of bi+ youth. And homosexual youth are twice as likely as bi+ youth to be out with their healthcare providers.
These differences are largely due to a stigma throughout society about bi+ people, or biphobia. There is ostracism from heterosexuals for being "too gay" and from homosexuals for being "too straight." And there are the misconceptions—that bi+ people are attracted to anyone they meet, or are promiscuous and are unfaithful partners. Though sexual identity is unrelated to traits like promiscuity or loyalty, these false notions have caused society to mistreat bi+ people, contributing to their exclusion and the resulting problems.
While there is still much to do on the road to sexual equality, great strides continue to be made. If the younger generations' tenacious spirit is any indication for the future, pansexuality and other sexually fluid identities will eventually be accepted as part of the norm all throughout society.