Who adopts queer and pansexual identities? Study examines sexual and demographic characteristics

Research published in The Journal of Sex Research has provided some answers to the question of who identifies as pansexual and queer.

The study of 2,220 Australian adults compared those who identified as queer and those who identified as pansexual with those adopting traditional sexual identities of lesbian, gay, and bisexual. Pansexuality is a sexual identity that describes individuals who are able to be attracted to any person regardless of their gender or biological sex, while queer has become an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who do not identify with traditional categories like gay or bisexual.

The researchers found that pansexual individuals overwhelmingly reported similar patterns of sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sexual behavior, and partner gender to bisexual individuals. Queer individuals, on the other hand, were more of a mix of both monosexual (i.e., attracted to one gender) and nonmonosexual (i.e., attracted to more than one gender) individuals and this mix differed by gender. Queer identified men tended to demonstrate sexual attraction and behavior in the homosexual range whereas queer identified women were equally likely to be in the homosexual or bisexual range.

Pansexual men and women also tended to be younger than those adopting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer sexual identities. In addition, queer and pansexual labels were more frequently adopted by cisgender women than by cisgender men.

Queer and pansexual identities were more common among transgender individuals than cisgender individuals. Participants with non-binary gender identities such as genderfluid were more likely to identify as queer or pansexual. But queer and pansexual identities were slightly less common among female-to-male and male-to-female transgender men and women, who were relatively more likely to adopt traditional sexual identities.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, James S. Morandini of the University of Sydney. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Morandini: Nonheterosexual individuals appear to be increasingly identifying as something other than lesbian/gay or bisexual. Two alternative ways of labelling and conceptualising sexual identity, “queer” and “pansexual”, are gaining in popularity. Indeed, in recent years sexual minority advocacy groups have been adopting extended acronyms (such as “LGBTIQQPA”) which are inclusive of queer (“Q”) and pansexual (“P”), and high-profile figures like Miley Cyrus, and even an elected U.S. official, have come out as pansexual or queer.

Up to this point, however, little has been known about who exactly adopt queer and pansexual sexual identities.

Some have argued that the emergence of these new sexual identities signal a “post-gay” era, in which younger nonheterosexuals are increasingly rejecting rigid categories of lesbian/gay versus bisexual versus straight.

However an alternative possibility is that rather than a universal movement toward nontraditional labels, this shift is occurring predominantly in particular subgroups of sexual/gender minorities. Some existing evidence has suggested that these labels may be popular among transgender individuals, given that they don’t assume attractions to only men and women (but also those with non-binary genders) and because the labels don’t come with unwanted assumptions about one’s gender. Moreover, given that female sexuality appears to be more fluid and person based than male sexuality, it’s likely that these emerging non-categorical sexual identities are more common in women than men.

What should the average person take away from your study?

We found that a significant minority of nonheterosexuals surveyed identified as queer or pansexual, but that as predicted, this was much more common among transgender individuals (>60%), than cisgender individuals, and more common in women (~17%) than men (~4%).

With regards to sexual attraction, sexual behaviour, and partner gender (i.e., sexual orientation indices), bisexual identified men and women seem largely identical to pansexual identified men and women. Pansexuals also tended to be younger than lesbian/gay/bisexual and queer individuals – which is in line with pansexuality being a recently emerging identity label, most common among millennials.

Queer individuals appear to be a mix of monosexual and non-monosexual individuals. The majority of queer identified men reported sexual orientation indices in the homosexual range, with a smaller proportion (~20%) reporting attractions and behaviour in the bisexual range, whereas about half of queer women reported sexual orientation indices in the homosexual range, and about half reported sexual orientation indices in the bisexual range.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

It is possible that those adopting queer and pansexual identities differ from those adopting traditional LGB identities in ways that were not assessed in the present study. One such difference is sexual fluidity. Some individuals (particularly women) might adopt a queer identity because it better captures the potential for flexibility and change in their preferred gender than do the rigid categories of lesbian/gay, bisexual or straight. Future studies may also attempt to measure person-based or genderless attractions, sometimes reported by pansexual individuals, as the presence of these attractions cannot be accurately assessed using traditional continuum measures of sexual orientation (such as the Kinsey Scale).

Finally it could be important to examine the particular type of stigma and discrimination experienced by queer and pansexual individuals, and how these experiences differ (or are similar) to that faced by lesbian/gay and bisexual individuals.

In addition to Morandini, the study “Who Adopts Queer and Pansexual Sexual Identities?” was co-authored by Alexander Blaszczynski and Ilan Dar-Nimrod.