While sex with a narcissist is initially romantic and passionate, it often turns one-sided, transactional, and potentially even aggressive. Sexual narcissists prioritize their own sexual satisfaction and needs, lack empathy for their sexual partners, expect frequent praise on their sexual performance, and feel entitled to sex when and where they want it.
What Is Sexual Narcissism?
Sexual narcissism is a pattern of sexual preoccupation and interactions characterized by egocentrism and an inflated sense of sexual esteem, alongside general difficulties with intimacy.1,2 Despite presenting with an abundance of confidence in their sexual performance, many professionals consider sexual narcissism an intimacy disorder in which these individuals struggle to give or receive emotional intimacy.
It’s theorized that the underlying cause is low self-esteem, insecurity, and dysfunctional beliefs about relationships.3 Because of this, sexual narcissists often have negative attitudes toward sex and report low levels of sexual satisfaction, despite efforts to increase their own satisfaction.1 While sexual narcissism isn’t a DSM-5 diagnosis itself, its core features mirror the DSM-5 criteria for narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).4
Is Sex With a Narcissist Healthy?
Healthy sex involves several components, including a respect for each partner’s boundaries, clear communication about desires, and mutual care, respect, and empathy.5 Given that sexual narcissists struggle with intimacy and sexual reciprocity, sex with a narcissist may feel both unsatisfying and unhealthy for their partners.
That being said, sex with a narcissist can be healthy if you find the sexual narcissist’s characteristics — such as inflated self-love and confidence — to be a turn-on. To this end, whether or not sex with a narcissist is healthy depends on a number of factors, including whether you are aware of your partner’s sexual narcissism, whether you are attracted to these qualities, and whether sexual narcissism is a kink of yours.
While sexual narcissism is thought to be most common among cisgender men, anyone with chronic relationship and intimacy dysfunction may develop its symptoms.1 The symptoms of sexual narcissism appear to present similarly regardless of the narcissist’s gender identity. Even though there isn’t a difference in how sexual narcissism presents, there may be a difference in how it is perceived based on the partner’s beliefs about traditional gender roles.
While sexually narcissistic men may be seen by their partners as aggressive or controlling, sexually narcissistic women may be considered empowered or modern (given that they are prioritizing their pleasure rather than their partner’s).6 It’s for this reason that there tend to be more positive consequences of sexually narcissistic behavior for women than men. All this being said, little research on sexual narcissism has been conducted about people outside of the cisgender woman/man binary. In the studies that do exist, there is a significantly higher representation of cisgender men than women.
Types of Sexual Narcissism
Sexual narcissism represents a wide range of behaviors, attitudes, and preferences. Whereas some sexual narcissists exhibit symptoms of malignant narcissism — for example, taking pictures or videos during sex and threatening to use them as blackmail — others may be more communally narcissistic in that they try to teach their sexual partners the “right” way to perform sexually. Because the spectrum of sexual narcissism is so broad, it can be challenging to identify whether something is in fact a narcissistic sexual behavior.
9 Things to Know About Sex With a Narcissist
While sexual behaviors can present in a variety of ways, there are certain signs to be on the lookout for. Sexual narcissists tend to enter intimate relationships with charm, flattering comments, and an abundance of love.
The sexual narcissist may rush sexual intimacy and even go to great lengths in the first sexual encounters to prioritize their partner’s pleasure. While narcissistic sexual behavior may at first seem romantic and passionate, it inevitably turns one-sided, egocentric, unempathetic, transactional, and aggressive.
Sexual narcissistic behavior often involves the following signs:
1. Prioritizing One’s Own Sexual Satisfaction
Sexual narcissists are preoccupied with their own satisfaction, ignoring the needs of their sexual partner. When their partner does express a sexual need or preference, the sexual narcissist may ignore the request or accuse their partner of being controlling or selfish.
2. Reporting They Aren’t Sexually Satisfied
While sexual narcissists will go to great lengths to prioritize their own sexual satisfaction, they tend to report low sexual satisfaction and place the blame on their partners. They may judge or criticize their partner’s performance or suggest that sex has become boring and needs to change in order to meet the sexual narcissist’s sexual needs. Sexual narcissists may hint (or even overtly threaten) that they will look elsewhere for satisfaction if their partner can’t step it up.
3. Overconfidence & Grandiosity About Sexual Performance
Sexual narcissists often portray themselves and their sexual abilities as unique and superior to others. While some research shows that some sexual narcissists do in fact have high sexual esteem and perceive themselves to be good lovers, other research indicates that sexual narcissists are only acting overly confident, grandiose, and arrogant about their sexual performance in order to compensate for an underlying weak sense of self-esteem.1
4. Expectation of Praise
To fuel their self-esteem, sexual narcissists will crave, expect, and even demand praise to meet their narcissistic supply. During sex, this may look like ordering partners to express sexual satisfaction or give compliments to the sexual narcissist.
5. Hypersensitivity to Criticism
Sexual narcissists are hypersensitive to criticism about their sexual performance and bodies. When confronted with a suggestion to change positions during sex or move at a different pace, they may ignore or appear disinterested in the feedback, when in reality they experience it as a narcissistic injury. In some cases, perceived criticism will trigger narcissistic rage which involves an outburst of aggression and violence.
6. Aggression or Violence
While aggression during sex for some may be perfectly healthy (e.g., for partners engaging in BDSM), it may indicate someone is a sexual narcissist if they are performing unwanted sexual contact, sexual coercion, or rape.7 Aggression may happen periodically as the result of narcissistic rage, or it’s possible the sexual narcissist prefers all sexual encounters to be aggressive in nature.
7. A Lack of Empathy for Partner’s Needs
Research suggests that while narcissists are in fact capable of empathy, they choose to use it only when it serves them.8 Sexual narcissists typically demonstrate a lack of empathy for their partner’s needs in an effort to serve their own intimacy needs. They may do so while engaging in aggressive behavior, or more generally by ignoring their partner’s requests or preferences in order to prioritize their own.
8. A Sense of Entitlement to Sex
Sexual narcissists expect to get what they want during sex, even when what they want is unreasonable or nonconsensual. They often believe they are owed or deserving of sexual favors and demand that their partners perform certain sexual activities and comply with their expectations.8 If you don’t give in to their demands, they may retaliate with aggression, threats of having sex with someone else, or “the silent treatment.”
Sexual narcissists often view people in their lives as objects to meet their sexual needs, which may mean doing anything necessary to reach that goal. Some sexual narcissists collect and threaten blackmail (e.g., sexual photos or videos), tell their partners they would be “nothing” without sex with the narcissist, or guilt their partners into performing sexually.
Impacts of Sex With a Narcissist
If you’re intimate with a sexual narcissist, you may chronically feel “not good enough,” regardless of how you perform sexually. You may develop negative body image, have patterns of self-invalidation, and experience shame and low self-worth. Long-term, sex with a narcissist may lead to difficulty trusting future sexual partners, trauma symptoms, or even the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Impacts of sex with a narcissist include:
- Low self-esteem
- Body image issues
- Self-invalidation (e.g., telling yourself you’re selfish for having sexual needs)
- Shame and secret-keeping from loved ones
- Decrease in sexual desire (specifically with the sexual narcissist, or in general)
- Consequences of blackmail
- Difficulty trusting future sexual partners
- Trauma symptoms and/or PTSD
How to Respond to Sexual Narcissism
How you respond to sexual narcissism and their narcissistic relationship patterns depends largely on the nature of the relationship. Is this a one night stand or a long-term relationship? Are you committed to this person or wanting to exit the relationship? As a rule of thumb, partners of sexual narcissists should be careful not to reinforce unwanted behaviors while engaging in sex; avoid giving indication that the sexual narcissist’s behavior is wanted or enjoyable when possible (e.g., by moaning or smiling).
You may try setting boundaries around sex, in which case it’s important that you’re firm in asserting your needs, as wavering may invite a sexual narcissist to violate and push your limits. Name the unacceptable behavior clearly (“Do not choke me during sex”) and restate the assertion as many times is needed. If the sexual narcissist tries to make it about their needs (“But this is what turns me on”), redirect the attention back to yourself.
Boundaries are helpful with a sexual narcissist outside of the bedroom as well. Because sexual narcissists often cheat to avoid the intimacy and vulnerability that comes with a committed relationship, you may want to express to your partner your limits around infidelity. Individual therapy or couples counseling are both helpful resources for discussing sexual narcissists’ patterns and determining how and whether to proceed in the relationship. Ultimately, it may be in your best interest to walk away, in which case it’s worth educating yourself on what a narcissist does at the end of a relationship. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, it’s important as a first step to consider your safety. Some sexual narcissists may become aggressive or retaliatory when confronted about their behavior.
When & How a Therapist Can Help
If you’re concerned about your partner’s sexually narcissistic behavior, need help setting boundaries, or thinking about exiting a relationship with a sexual narcissist, you may benefit from seeing a therapist. Couples therapy can be helpful in treating couples where one or both partners are sexual narcissists, however going this route requires both partners’ willingness to participate.
Couples therapy or sex therapy for sexual narcissism involves first helping the sexual narcissist increase awareness of how their self-serving sexual behaviors negatively affect both partners. The couples therapist will then work with the sexual narcissist on becoming aware of their underlying low self-esteem, while helping the partner identify and change the ways in which they reinforce the sexual narcissist’s patterns, as many sexual narcissists seek out partners who fuel their egocentric patterns of interaction.1,3
Individual therapy is another valuable resource for partners of sexual narcissists. This route may be indicated if the sexual narcissist is not willing or ready to participate in therapy. Behavioral therapies are most effective in treating partners of sexual narcissists.
For example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help partners of sexual narcissists change thought patterns and behaviors, while acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) supports clients in determining whether certain parts of their sexual relationship (or relationship in general) are in line with the client’s values. Many therapists are trained in multiple behavioral therapies and utilize components from each. If you are interested in pursuing therapy, consider checking out an online therapist directory to find the right therapist for you.
Sex with a narcissist can be challenging and may bring up difficult and oftentimes unexpected emotions. That being said, there are healthy ways to move forward and find sexual fulfillment — whether that means staying in the relationship, ending it, or pursuing another.