When Layla Moran, a British Member of Parliament, announced in January that 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 recognized 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, and therefore something no MP would practice.
My objection to pansexuality is philological. Like ‘television’, and indeed ‘homosexuality’, it is a bastard form, founded half on a Greek word and half on a Latin one. The pan– element is nothing to do with the god Pan, Peter Pan 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.
Omnisexual is, in fact, a word, 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 bathroom is regarded as a stage of sexual development, which in some adults can be replaced by a love of fire trucks or Highland cattle. Polymorphous is legitimately derived from Greek (for ‘many shapes’).
Having taken pains to love my husband, I feel pansexuality is a lazy shortcut leading nowhere.
This article is in The Spectator’s March 2020 US edition.