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Are Narcissists Smarter or Sexier than Other People?

Sexual narcissism can be a pro or a con, depending on what you're looking for.

Key points

  • Narcissistic admiration requires a lot of ego stroking to keep the "ego-librium" intact.
  • Narcissistic rivalry is fed through the belittling of others.
  • Sexual narcissists may take pride in pleasing their partners, but it's about gamesmanship, not intimacy.

It’s not surprising that narcissists know how to make themselves appealing. Their whole game is built on projecting a positive image of themselves. Unfortunately, their own self-image is often merely the façade they create in order to maintain their “ego-librium,” a term that is used to describe the delicate balance that the narcissist’s fragile ego must maintain in order for the narcissist to function in life.

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Narcissism is a deeply embedded trait and is measurable even in young children. Children focus on relative status to other children early on, and the higher the levels of narcissism in children, the greater the satisfaction they take in doing better than their peers in competitions (Grapsas et al., 2021). Narcissistic children typically have parents who rate high on this trait, so whether it is nature or nurture, the emphasis on status, standing, and success is embedded early in these families. What was interesting about this particular study is that the researchers were measuring the muscles of the face to assess narcissistic satisfaction: when narcissists are winning, they are also smiling. Research shows that we’re typically more attracted to people who smile over those who do not. So as narcissists pump up their ego through boasting or being around people with status that the narcissist may enjoy through association, they will likely be smiling and showing off their best behavior.

Narcissistic Admiration

Narcissists like to be the life of the party. They think a lot of themselves and like to surround themselves with people who they’ve convinced to believe the grandiose stories they've constructed. Most of us are attracted to people with self-confidence, too, and that is the narcissists’ claim to fame. They believe in their self-projections wholeheartedly and we get sucked into their projections early on due to our vulnerability to self-confident others. We also might be drawn in by the aura of “brilliance” that narcissists display—being a part of their circle can appeal to the bit of narcissism in all of us. Those who have high levels of narcissistic admiration traits tend to create an aura of excitement, popularity, and fun, all of which can be incredibly seductive to those on whom the narcissist sets their target.

Narcissistic Rivalry

Unfortunately, when narcissists have a preponderance of narcissistic rivalry traits, they may be less engaging or attractive as they are spinning their web of self-deceit through the taking down of others they see as threats. Their self-image is not built solely on their glory-based self-perceptions, they use other people as benchmarks to prove their superiority.

Who’s Got the Better Brain: Narcissistic Admiration or Rivalry Types?

People who display narcissistic rivalry traits actually are trying harder to win a game that they just can’t master. Not only does this type of narcissist tend to cut down all those around them to bolster their own ego, they may also be fighting an unwinnable battle when it comes to brains. A recent study (Grapsas et al., 2021) suggested that narcissistic rivalry is found more frequently among narcissists who are lower in cognitive intelligence than narcissists who feed primarily on admiration. It’s as if the rivalry-focused narcissists already recognize their shortcomings on some level but are trying hard to convince themselves and others that their shortcomings don’t exist.

Sexual Narcissists Might Be Better in Bed, But Not Always

Narcissists tend to brag about their exploits across the board: from career to social life, to sexual abilities. But it turns out that sexual narcissism may have both positive and negative aspects (Klein et al., 2020). Sexual narcissists are pretty happy with their sexual functioning as well as their genital self-image, and, in many cases, feeling positive about how you perform in bed actually may increase your own and your partner’s satisfaction. However, while sexual narcissists may take pride in their ability to satisfy their partners, this may actually reflect a practice of objectifying others. Rather than focusing on the mutual pleasure that sexual intimacy can generate, the narcissist looks at the act of pleasuring a partner as a means of measuring their sexual prowess. You’re an instrument to be played, not a partner with whom they are intimate. If you’re looking for intimacy and authentic connection, a narcissist will come up short in the bedroom. If you’re looking for a casual liaison or a hook-up, that’s about all a sexual narcissist can offer.


If you find yourself falling under the spell of a smooth-talking, self-promoting narcissist, be ready to be put into service of supporting their over-inflated ego. If their type is self-aggrandizing admiration seeking, know that you’ll be spending a lot of time keeping their sense of self bolstered and their already over-inflated ego pumped up to near bursting capacity. This can be exhausting over the long haul, but only you can determine if the rewards of the relationship are worth the cost. If you’ve come to realize that the narcissist’s default mode of maintaining “ego-librium” is through the tearing down of others, know that this drive to belittle rivals will likely extend to belittling and verbally abusing you, as well. Narcissistic rivalry is driven by an unhealthy desire to win at all costs, and if you become the rival, in any way, you will become an enemy in need of vanquishing, as well. Make sure you have an “exit plan” prepared if you are sensing that your own success, external relationships, and happiness are beginning to be seen as threats to your narcissistic partner’s ego integrity. Narcissists cannot stand to lose or lose face, so it’s best to exit the relationship before a head-to-head battle begins.


Grapsas, S., Denissen, J. J. A., Lee, H. Y., Bos, P. A., & Brummelman, E. (2021). Climbing up or falling down: Narcissism predicts physiological sensitivity to social status in children and their parents. Developmental Science, 24(4), 1–12.

Klein, V., Reininger, K. M., Briken, P., & Turner, D. (2020). Sexual narcissism and its association with sexual and well-being outcomes. Personality & Individual Differences, 152, N.PAG.

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