Narcissists are dangerous romantic partners, and this shows up just as much in the bedroom as outside it. Manipulation, detachment, and even violent sexual behavior is common among a specific subgroup known as sexual narcissists. Here's what you need to know about sexual narcissists and how to spot them.
What is a sexual narcissist?
"A sexual narcissist has an overly positive, egotistical admiration of their own sexual prowess and can become consumed by their obsession with sexual performance and the need for the sexual admiration of others," couples' therapist Brandon Santan, Ph.D., tells mbg. Most narcissists idealize their own self-image and have a grandiose sense of self-importance, Santan explains, but for sexual narcissists, these traits particularly show up in relation to sexual performance.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual doesn't classify narcissism into different types, but the concept of sexual narcissism has been demonstrated by several research studies. The Sexual Narcissism Scale used to measure this characteristic includes four traits:
- Sexual exploitation
- Sexual entitlement
- Low sexual empathy
- Inflated sense of sexual skill
Unsurprisingly, a 2013 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found marriages involving sexual narcissists tend to have lower sexual satisfaction and lower marital satisfaction. Other research has identified sexual narcissism as a characteristic of borderline and histrionic personality disorders.
Signs of a sexual narcissist:
1. They ignore you after sex.
"A sexual narcissist is only concerned about their own pleasure and typically withdraws from their partner after sex and can even ignore your existence after they get what they wanted," psychotherapist Haley Neidich, LCSW, tells mbg. "This is something that can happen within the confines of a committed relationship or with a casual sexual relationship."
Ghosting after sex is a common behavior of sexual narcissists, says Santan, since they've already gotten the validation they sought from the encounter. In an ongoing relationship, physically leaving the house or room after sex is more common. "Sexual narcissists will often be very charming and flattering until they get what they want. Then they will go back to ignoring and neglecting their partners," he says.
2. They behave violently during sex.
Sexual narcissism has been linked with sexual abuse and aggression. A study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that men with traits of sexual narcissism were more likely to commit unwanted sexual contact, sexual coercion, and rape.
3. They exhibit compulsive sexual behavior.
Sexual narcissists often exhibit compulsive behavior around sex, which can include unsafe sex and compulsive porn usage that interferes with their lives, says Neidich. "Sexual narcissists are often obsessed with their bedroom 'conquests' and are more interested in quantity over quality," says Santan.
4. They're serial cheaters.
Sexual narcissists' compulsions can also include serial infidelity. A 2014 study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found sexual narcissists are more likely to cheat in marriage. And they'll often cheat without remorse, Neidich adds: "Within a relationship, this will also typically involve blaming the partner, as narcissists are incapable of taking responsibility for their behavior."
5. They lack empathy for partners.
Sexual narcissists tend to experience a sense of ownership over partners' sexuality and lack the ability to engage in emotional intimacy, says Neidich. A sexual narcissist may be highly focused on their own pleasure, their performance, or a fetish they have but will not ask their partner about their own desires, says Santan.
"Sex isn't about connection for the sexual narcissist—it's about domination, self-gratification, and power," Santan explains. "The partner of someone who admires their own sexual prowess and/or is obsessed with their sexual performance will notice that the sexual narcissist isn't emotionally present during sexual intimacy. They will feel as if the experience was devoid of emotional connection."
6. They gaslight partners who advocate for their needs.
Gaslighting—making someone doubt their perception of reality—is a common emotional abuse tactic among all kinds of narcissists, says Neidich. For sexual narcissists, this may mean telling you you're needy if you ask for what you want in bed or express a need for emotional intimacy during sex. Some sexual narcissists will even gaslight you into believing you wanted sex that you were manipulated into, says Santan. They might also accuse partners of flirting with others, cheating, or being narcissists in order to deflect blame from themselves.
7. They use sex to manipulate people.
Sexual narcissists use sex to gain approval, so they may behave charmingly, romantically, and even seemingly generously in order to gain praise and admiration, says Santan.
8. They get upset if they don't get what they want sexually.
Since so much of sexual narcissists' self-esteem hinges on getting approval in the bedroom, they can become highly emotional if they don't get what they want. They may get angry and even try to manipulate or coerce someone into sex, says Santan: "The narcissist might demand and manipulate for a certain sexual activity that falls outside the partner's comfort zone and then threaten to tell others that it was the partner's idea or that the partner is the perverted one."
Narcissists and sex.
While narcissism is a clinical term referencing individuals diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, sexual narcissism is simply a trait. But narcissists of all varieties, not just sexual narcissists, are prone to abusive sexual behavior. A 2015 study in Violence Against Women found that college men with narcissistic traits were more likely to have committed sexual assault. Another study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior linked narcissism with sexual coercion committed by women as well.
If someone you're involved with romantically or sexually is exhibiting signs of sexual narcissism, it's best to break up with the narcissist as soon as possible. It may be helpful to see a therapist to work through any lingering emotional wounds after your narcissist breakup and set the stage for future healthy relationships.
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Suzannah Weiss is a certified sexologist, sex educator, sex and love coach, and trained birth doula. She has degrees in cognitive neuroscience, modern culture and media, and gender and sexuality studies from Brown University and certifications from Everyone Deserves Sex Ed and the American College of Sexologists. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York magazine, and elsewhere, as well as on television shows like The Today Show and The View and in anthologies including Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World and The Big Book of Orgasms.