Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

8 Signs You're in a Relationship With a Sexual Narcissist

Pathological sexual narcissists tend to have common traits.

Key points

  • Sexual narcissists have a grandiose sense of their sexual prowess.
  • Sexual narcissists cannot be truly intimate and instead exploit their partners.
  • After an initial courtship where they try to impress and please a partner, a sexual narcissist will insist their partner cater to their needs.

Sexual narcissism can be defined as a grandiose sense of one’s sexual prowess which, in the mind of the sexual narcissist, entitles him or her to engage in acts of emotional and physical manipulation at the partner’s expense. Significantly, sexual narcissism is marked by a lack of true intimacy in the relationship—the partner is merely exploited to fulfill the narcissist’s selfish needs (1)(2)(3).

How do you know when your partner may be a sexual narcissist? The following are some telltale signs. While many people may occasionally be guilty of some of the following behaviors, a pathological sexual narcissist tends to dwell habitually in several of the following traits, while remaining largely unaware of (or unconcerned with) how her or his actions affects their partner.

Here are eight signs that you may be dealing with a sexual narcissist, with excerpts from my books, How to Successfully Handle Narcissists and A Practical Guide for Narcissists to Change Towards the Higher Self:

1. Charming and Romantic—but With a Catch

Many sexual narcissists can come across as alluring and attractive, especially during the initial stages of a relationship, when they’re trying to win you over. Like a master salesperson, they use charisma to get your attention, flattery to make you feel special, seduction (flirting, gifts, dinners, getaways, etc.) to lift you off your feet, and persuasion to get you to give them what they want. Some sexual narcissists are very good in bed (at least they think they are), for sex is used as a tool to impress, entrap, and manipulate.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong inherently with being charming, romantic, and a good lover, the narcissist crafts these traits in order to use others. He or she is not really interested in you, but only what he wants to extract from you (often to fulfill an inner emptiness due to the inability to create true intimacy).

2. Excessive Focus on Performance and Approval

“My boyfriend’s so fixated on performance when he makes love—oftentimes I feel like he’s more concerned with his performance than he is with me.”

— Anonymous

Pathological narcissists often have an inflated sense of themselves. They crave approval, are highly sensitive to criticism, and may try very hard to perform in bed. This is especially true during the initial phases of a relationship when they seek to impress and win you over. There’s a major difference between two people enjoying pleasuring one-another, versus a sexual narcissist trying hard to give a virtuoso performance. The first is true passion, while the second mere acting. If you’re on the receiving end of the sexual narcissist’s showmanship, you’re playing a role as well. Often times the expected role is to validate and confirm (worship) what an omnipotent god the narcissist thinks he is.

3. Excessive Focus on Physical Over Emotional

The sexual narcissist’s style of lovemaking is often focused on appearance and image, with a keen dislike for flaws and weaknesses from oneself or the partner. Lovemaking is less about two human beings connecting, and more about measuring up to idealized expectations.

Try as the sexual narcissist might at physical grandiosity, there’s inevitably something missing in their performance: genuine human emotions. The “love” part of lovemaking is characterized by an intense interest in the partner (as a person rather than object), caring passion, tenderness, and vulnerability. These qualities can only come from the heart.

4. You Exist to Serve the Narcissist’s Needs

After the initial courtship period during which he or she tries to impress and please, a sexual narcissist may begin to demand that you cater primarily to his own selfish needs. He may expect you to be “on-call” and satisfy sexual desires at his pleasure, require you to engage in sexual acts which only he enjoys, or demand that you limit your other activities to be more available. Rather than being an individual with your own thoughts, feelings, and priorities, the sexual narcissist expects you to exist merely as an extension of his or her wishes. Your own needs are dismissed or ignored.

5. Constantly Puts You Down

“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.”

— Paramhansa Yogananda

In order to put up a facade of superiority, and disguise hidden insecurity and inadequacy, some narcissists will constantly put other people down, to boost their own desirability and acceptability. In a sexual relationship, some (but not all) narcissists may also target their partners for ridicule, blame, shame, sarcasm, and overall marginalization. By subjecting the partner to an inferior psychological position, the narcissist is able to exercise a greater degree of dominance and manipulation (4)(5).

6. Reacts Negatively When You Don’t Give Them What They Want

Since many sexual narcissists can't stand disappointment or rejection, they will frequently react negatively when you don’t give them what they want, in the way they want it. Some of the common responses include:

  • Anger—Tantrum. Negative judgment. Personal attacks. Ridicule.
  • Passive-Aggression—The cold shoulder. The silent treatment. Withhold of love and affection (such as it is). Sarcasm. Calculated separation.
  • Emotional Coercion—Blame. Guilt trip. Calling the partner ungrateful. Threaten to withhold love and intimacy (such as it is). Pretend narcissistic victimhood.

None of these responses is that of a mature, reasonable adult. The sexual narcissist, by acting like a petulant child or a bully, hopes the drama and manipulation will hook you back in, so you’ll once again “belong” to him or her.

7. Treats You Poorly and/or Neglects You After Sex

Since the sexual narcissist uses you to satiate his or her own needs, he may disappear emotionally (if not physically) as soon as his gratification is met. You’re left hanging, perhaps feeling alone and empty, because little or no genuine intimacy was conveyed. There was love-making, but no real love. Then the sexual narcissist will contact you again the next time he wants his craving satisfied.

One key signal that distinguishes a sexual narcissist from someone who’s not is how he or she treats you when you’re not having sex.

8. Infidelity, Violence, and Sexual Addiction

Various studies and authors have linked sexual narcissism with the following behaviors:

  • Infidelity—In a recent study, participants rated higher for sexual narcissism are also more likely to engage in acts of infidelity (6)(7).
  • Domestic Violence—Research also indicates that there’s a link between male sexual narcissism and domestic violence (8)(9).
  • Sexual Addiction—One study suggests that sexual addiction is a reflection of sexual narcissism (10).

If you find yourself in a relationship with a difficult narcissist, there are many strategies and skills you can utilize to help restore health, balance, and respect.

© 2015 by Preston C. Ni.


(1) Johnson, S. Humanizing the Narcissistic Style. W. W. Norton & Company. (1987)

(2) Johnson, Stephen. “Character Styles”. W. W. Norton & Company. (1994)

(3) Hurlbert, D.F., Apt, C., Gasar, S., Wilson, N.E., Murphy, Y. Sexual Narcissism: A Validation Study. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. (1994)

(4) Bursten, Ben. "The Manipulative Personality". Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol 26 No 4. (1972)

(5) Buss DM, Gomes M, Higgins DS, Lauterback K. "Tactics of Manipulation". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 52 No 6 (1987)

(6) Keiller, S., Twenge, J. Narcissistic Personality Disorder, DSM-IV. Sex Roles. (2010)

(7) McNulty, J. K., & Widman, L.. Sexual Narcissism and Infidelity in Early Marriage. Archives of Sexual Behavior. (2014)

(8) Hurlbert, D.F., Apt, C. Sexual Narcissism and the Abusive Male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 17. (1991)

(9) Ryan, K.M., Weikel, K., Sprechini, G. Gender Differences in Narcissism and Courtship Violence in Dating Couples. Sex Roles (2008)

(10) Apt, C., Hurlbert, D.F. Sexual Narcissism: Addiction or Anachronism? The Family Journal 3. (1995)

More from Psychology Today

More from Preston Ni M.S.B.A.

More from Psychology Today