There is some overlap when defining bisexual and pansexual orientation; however, there are important differences between the two identities.
Bisexual people are attracted sexually and romantically to both males and females, and are capable of engaging in sensual relationships with either sex. Despite being able to form meaningful, lasting relationships with both sexes, bisexual individuals may, to a small or large degree, have a preference for one sex over the other.
Similarly, pansexual people may be sexually attracted to individuals who identify as male or female; however, they may also be attracted to those who identify as intersex, third-gender, androgynous, transsexual, or the many other sexual and gender identities. The latter distinction is what draws the line between pansexuality and bisexuality.
The differences between the two sexual identities are undermined by the fact that some people who consider themselves pansexual identify themselves as bisexual out of convenience, as it’s a more widely known sexual identity. In addition, some people who consider themselves bisexual may be open to dating someone who falls outside the gender binary.
Self-perception, rather than objective sexuality, determines which sexual identity an individual chooses to embrace. Simply being attracted to both biological sexes does not mean one considers oneself bisexual. In fact, many people at one time or another will have some romantic or sexual experience or feelings toward each sex, though, most would not embrace the bisexual label.
There is some controversy over the two labels, as some in the bisexual community feel as though the pansexual label is a form of bisexual erasure and that the bisexual identity is already inclusive of those who have an attraction to those who fall anywhere along the gender continuum and outside of it. There is a feeling that pansexual people are simply avoiding the bisexual label due to the stigmas associated with it (that bisexual people are simply greedy and promiscuous, and spread disease among both the heterosexual and homosexual communities). Conversely, many in the pansexual community feel as though these beliefs are forms of prejudice and pansexual erasure.
Not only those who identify as biologically male or female identify as bisexual, the gender identities of people who use and feel comfortable with this label vary.
Many people strongly identify as either bisexual or pansexual, and never use the labels interchangeably. Each community is represented by its own flag, set of colors, and general ideologies. The bisexual pride flag is striped with the colors royal blue, magenta, and lavender, representing same gender attraction, opposite gender attraction, and attraction to both genders, respectively. The pan-sexual flag is striped with the rose, blue, and gold, representing the female gender, male gender, and third-gender, respectively.
Bisexual is being sexually attracted to both genders, male and female, while pansexual is being capable of having romantic feelings and attraction to males, females, and third gendered individuals.
Bisexual identity more so establishes attraction to both genders, whereas pansexual identity more so recognizes the existence of other genders (third genders) and the capacity to be sexually attracted to individuals identifying as these various genders.
Pansexual identity is more accommodating for individuals who engage in relationships with people of varying genders and sexualities.