Recognizing Sexual Narcissism
Sexual narcissism, sometimes called sexual entitlement, involves a largely self-centered view of sexual activity.
People with traits of sexual narcissism typically have an inflated idea of their sexual skills and bedroom performance and focus primarily on what they want.
They also tend to lack interest in cultivating emotional intimacy and show little interest in what their partners might want. It isn’t uncommon for these people to manipulate or coerce partners to get their needs met.
In fact, experts have linked individuals who display coercive behaviors to infidelity, sexual aggression, and other harmful behaviors.
Whether you’re involved with someone who shows signs of sexual narcissism or re-evaluating your own ideas around sex, we’ve got answers to your questions below.What does sexual narcissism mean exactly?
There’s nothing wrong with having confidence in your sexual abilities. In fact, sexual self-esteem can even have a positive impact on overall well-being.
It’s also perfectly normal to occasionally get caught up in the moment during sex and fixate on your own pleasure. These things don’t automatically suggest sexual narcissism, especially when you care about your partner’s desires and want to connect on an emotional level, too.
A key difference lies in the fact that people with sexual narcissism generally believe they have a right to sex, especially within the context of a romantic relationship.
They pursue sex for physical enjoyment, not emotional connection, and they might exploit or manipulate partners in order to have sex.
Older research suggests this behavior pattern has its roots in insecurity and low self-esteem.
Traits of sexual narcissism show up across someone’s sexual relationships, not just with one partner or for a brief period.
People with sexual narcissism pursue sex because it benefits them. Along with physical enjoyment, sex offers validation of their physical prowess. Still, they may not necessarily have a preoccupation with sexual thoughts or behaviors.Is there a difference between sexual narcissism and regular narcissism?
In short, yes. Sexual narcissism and what experts call global narcissism are two related but distinct concepts.
Sexual narcissism refers to narcissistic traits, such as entitlement, low empathy, or superiority, that show up specifically in sexual behavior.
Narcissism is a personality disorder (NPD). Experts have reached a general consensus on its typical traits, and you’ll find specific diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The traits and behaviors associated with this condition typically show up across multiple areas of life.
It’s certainly possible for someone with an attitude of sexual entitlement to also meet the criteria for NPD, but this may not always be the case.
Researchers have noted that people with narcissism often display some type of sexual entitlement, yet the criteria mental health professionals use to assess narcissistic traits don’t specifically mention sexual behavior.
Another key difference between the two lies in the link between sexual narcissism and sexual aggression. Unlike sexual narcissism, NPD alone doesn’t necessarily suggest a higher likelihood of behaving in sexually aggressive waysWhat does sexual narcissism look like?
Generally speaking, sexual narcissism involves many of the same traits associated with NPD.
These behaviors persist, showing up consistently rather than occasionally, but they appear in the context of sexual interactions and relationships instead of all areas of life.
A partner with sexual narcissism may:
- believe they deserve sex and have a right to demand it whenever they want, even if you’re working, sleeping, or occupied with something else
- expect sex in return for gifts or favors
- feel perfectly willing to trick, deceive, or manipulate you into having sex
- care little about what you want in bed
- need a lot of validation and admiration for their sexual performance
- believe they have superior sexual skills and that everyone else considers them fantastic sexual partners
- react poorly when you refuse sex or fail to offer enough praise and approval
- put you down, often to manipulate you more easily
- feel bothered or dissatisfied by the idea that others are having more sex or better sex than they are
The belief they deserve sex when they want it may lead them to have sex outside your relationship. They might justify this behavior and you may feel as if it’s your fault for not making yourself available for sex.
While we want to emphasize not everyone with sexual narcissism will cheat or attempt sexual assault, experts have found evidence to suggest links between sexual narcissism and infidelity, as well as sexual aggression, including sexual coercion and rape.
People with traits of sexual narcissism often lack empathy, so they may not feel particularly distressed by their behavior or care that they’ve hurt others.Are there different types of sexual narcissism?
Existing evidence hasn’t outlined specific subtypes of sexual narcissism, but it’s important to understand that this behavior pattern can show up in different ways.
Like narcissism, it occurs on something of a spectrum. Higher levels of sexual narcissism will typically translate to a more severe, persistent pattern of behavior.
Not everyone with sexual narcissism will show all potential signs, or attempt to exploit or coerce partners. Some people may simply seem more inconsiderate than aggressive when it comes to sex.
Maybe they require a lot of admiration and approval in order to boost their sense of self-worth, or they insist on having sex the way they like instead of asking about your interests.
When you don’t praise them, they might respond by withholding affection and intimacy.
Still, these certainly aren’t healthy or positive sexual behaviors, and this lack of empathy can lead to plenty of distressWhat should you do if you recognize this in yourself?
Perhaps a few of your past partners have mentioned some of the above signs, or you’ve noticed them yourself, and you’re wondering how you can begin building healthier sexual relationships.
Recognizing these characteristics is a great first step toward making change. Without the willingness to change, you’re less likely to see improvement, so you’re on the right track.
Remember, partnered sex takes at least two people. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy a specific type of sex, but in order to enjoy healthy, respectful sexual interactions, you’ll also need to consider the needs of the other people involved.
Another way of looking at this might involve asking yourself (and them) what you can do to help them enjoy the encounter, too.
It never hurts to have a conversation about boundaries and what you’re both looking for, sexually speaking, before having sex with anyone new.
Discussing these things regularly with long-term partners can also have a positive impact on your relationship.
It’s also worth exploring how feelings of sexual confidence or superiority might affect your underlying motives for pursuing sex. Sex is more than a way to earn admiration and approval.
Sure, it’s fun and feels good, but beyond that, it offers the chance to connect with partners on a deeper emotional level and develop more fulfilling relationships.
When you’re willing to put in the effort, boosting empathy is absolutely possible. Greater empathy and consideration for your partner can offer several benefits, including better sex and a stronger relationship.
A healthier relationship can, in turn, lead to improved well-being and overall satisfaction with life.What if you recognize this in a partner?
Having a self-centered partner is one thing. Coping with the effects of sexual narcissism is quite another.
The best way to handle the situation can depend on your partner, as well as their typical behavior toward you.
If they generally seem to care about you and show an interest in maintaining your relationship, an open conversation can offer a place to start.
You might, for example, say something like:
- “I enjoy having sex with you, and I consider physical intimacy an important part of our relationship. But it’s frustrating when I say I’m not feeling it and you instantly shut me out. I’m not rejecting you, but I don’t exist solely to serve your sexual needs, either.”
You can also set some boundaries:
- “If this relationship is going to work, I need respect and understanding from you when I’m not in the mood for sex. I don’t want to have a relationship with someone who gives me the silent treatment or threatens to sleep with someone else.”
It may also help to gently remind them your sexual interests matter, too:
- “We have a lot of fun during sex, but I’ve noticed you almost always choose where and what we do. I’m wondering if we can try a few of my ideas next time.”
Just know, though, you won’t be able to change them yourself. Their behavior likely won’t change unless they’re willing to address it.
If they continue to ignore or brush aside your suggestions, reaching out to a relationship counselor for support may have benefits.
Therapy offers a safe space to work on long-standing behavior patterns that affect your relationship, but mental health professionals generally won’t recommend relationship counseling if you’re experiencing relationship abuse.
Sexual narcissism can absolutely involve abuse, including sexual coercion and other manipulative tactics. Pursuing individual therapy and working to develop a safety plan may be a better option when they show abusive, angry, or violent behavior toward you.How can this affect you long term?
A lack of empathy and consideration for other people’s sexual needs doesn’t bode well for fulfilling or satisfying relationships.
Sexual narcissism that leads to infidelity can end relationships. Abusive or coercive behavior can cause pain and trauma for your partner and legal consequences for you.
Even in the absence of cheating and aggressive behavior, you might move from one relationship to the next, feeling dissatisfied without really knowing why. If you begin to doubt yourself and your skills, you might end up with feelings of anxiety, depression, emptiness, or anger.
Keep in mind, though, that help is always available. A mental health professional can offer guidance and support, without judgment, if you continue to grapple with:
- low self-worth or self-esteem
- insecurity, in general or specifically related to sex
- relationship difficulties
- empathizing with or relating to partners
Sexual confidence is a great thing (and perfectly healthy) — until that confidence becomes a sense of entitlement that leads to negative outcomes for others.
Therapy with a professional who specializes in sex and relationship counseling can help you begin to explore and work through problematic, entitled, or potentially harmful ideas about sexual behavior and develop skills for healthy and fulfilling relationships.
A therapist can also offer support and guidance when your partner believes they deserve sex, attempts to manipulate you, or shows other signs of sexual narcissismReferences:
Written by Crystal Raypole on March 1, 2021
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
Apt C, et al. (1995). Sexual narcissism: Addiction or anachronism?
Day LC, et al. (2017). Is comparison the thief of joy? Sexual narcissism and social comparisons in the domain of sexuality.
Klein V, et al. (2020). Sexual narcissism and its association with sexual and well-being outcomes.
Klement KR, et al. (2019). Winning the game: How sexual narcissism relates to adversarial sexual beliefs and pick-up techniques.
McNulty JK, et al. (2013). The implications of sexual narcissism for sexual and marital satisfaction.
McNulty JK, et al. (2014). Sexual narcissism and infidelity in early marriage.
Widman L, et al. (2010). Sexual narcissism and the perpetration of sexual aggression.