Mind your language

Pansexuality has been around longer than you think

18 January 2020

9:00 AM

18 January 2020

9:00 AM

When an MP announced she was pansexual I didn’t know what she meant. Indeed I didn’t know what she could mean. Was everything the object of her sexual desires? So I asked my husband.

‘Oh, that’s what they used to call Freud’s ideas,’ he said patiently. I was surprised to find he was right. Pansexual has been around for a century, starting as a translation of the German Pansexualismus.

In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), Sigmund Freud recognised that ‘educated’ people were hostile towards psychoanalysis because it dealt in ‘sexual’ instincts, a nomenclature they regarded ‘as an insult, and have taken their revenge by retorting upon psychoanalysis with the reproach of pan-sexualism’.


Freud derived the love of family, country, God, the arts, and even the sciences from this pansexualism. The MP’s sexual love seems focused currently on another woman. In this she differs from a pioneer like Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972), whose pansexuality was said to have extended, from a constant base of pederasty, to incest and bestiality. By a quirk of law, bestiality is still illegal in Britain, so is something no MP would care to practise.

My objection to pansexuality is philological. Like television, and indeed homosexuality, it is a bastard form, half founded on a Greek word and half on one from Latin. The pan- element is nothing to do with the great god Pan, or Peter Pan, or pansies or pots and pans, but derives from the Greek for ‘all’. It might have been better if the Latin equivalent had been employed, in the form omnisexual, like omnivorous.

There is in fact a word omnisexual, which has been in use for 50 or 60 years. But it lacks the technical respectability with which the etymologically careless Freudians endowed pansexual. A correlative of pansexualism is, in Freudian terms, polymorphous perversity, in which an interest in sucking a sweet or going to the lavatory are regarded as stages of sexual development, which in some adults can be replaced by a love of fire engines or Highland cattle. Polymorphous is legitimately derived from Greek.

Having taken pains to love my husband, I feel pansexuality is a lazy shortcut leading nowhere.

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