The 22-year-old singer-actress spoke about her sexuality in the October issue of Elle UK, telling the magazine, “I’m very open about it — I’m pansexual. But I’m not in a relationship. I’m 22, I’m going on dates, but I change my style every two weeks, let alone who I’m with.”
Cyrus spoke about identifying as gender fluid and her open view of sexuality last month in Paper magazine. “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age,” she said. “Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me. I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”
But pansexuality is not as commonly known of a sexual orientation than, say, bisexuality. What differentiates the two?
Pansexuality “generally means that somebody is open to either falling in love and or being sexually attracted to people of all genders,” sex researcher Debby Herbenick, PhD, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, tells Yahoo Health.
Related: 5 Ways to Better Understand Asexuality
It’s different from bisexuality, she explains, because bisexuality suggests that there are just two genders. Pansexuals, on the other hand, are open to the idea of being drawn to people who are gender-quiant or transgender, as well as those who identify as male or female.
“It just widens the scope,” explains Herbenick.
Increased awareness of pansexuality can likely be attributed to the millennials, Jean Twenge, PhD, a millennial researcher, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and author of Generation Me, tells Yahoo Health. It seems to be linked to the generation’s desire for individualism.
Related: 4 Ways Millennials Are Different From Other Generations (in Bed)
“Labels around gender are becoming more fluid,” she says. “This fluidity around gender has an impact on sexuality as well. If we’re not going to have strict gender categories, then we’re not going to have strict sexual categories either.”
Experts say the term “pansexual” is relatively new and fairly unknown outside of sexuality research circles. But Herbenick points out that people have always been pansexual — they just didn’t know how to label it.
She estimates that less than 1 or 2 percent of the general population identifies as pansexual, but she expects that number will increase over time.
“We’ve seen that to be the case with female bisexuality,” Herbenick says. “Decades ago, far more women identified as ‘lesbian’ and less of ‘bisexual.’ Now we see very few women — 1 to 2 percent — identify as lesbian, but up to 7 percent of women identify as bisexual.”