When you first got together, your partner might’ve seemed considerate, wildly devoted, and very interested in making sure you had a good time in bed.
Maybe they lavished you with attention, gifts, flattery, and promises of true romance, to the point where you almost felt overwhelmed by their charm.
Yet as time went on, you began to notice some persistent red flags in their behavior:
- They begin to devalue and criticize you — first subtly, then openly.
- They lash out in rage, or ignore you completely, when you do or say something they don’t like.
- They no longer seem to consider what you enjoy in bed but instead seem entirely focused on their desires.
If your partner also has a general attitude of entitlement and superiority, along with a need for regular praise and admiration, you might start to wonder whether they could have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).
“Personality disorder” is an umbrella term for a group of mental health conditions, including NPD, characterized by unhealthy patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
And the short answer is yes, it’s certainly possible.
We’ve got answers to your questions about sex with a partner who displays symptoms of narcissistic behavior below.
The traits that characterize NPD and other personality disorders tend to remain pretty constant over time.
These traits also show up in multiple areas of life. So, someone with characteristics of NPD won’t just show narcissistic behaviors at work or around family and friends. You’ll eventually begin to recognize the signs in most of their interactions.
In a romantic or sexual relationship, key traits that characterize NPD can absolutely extend to all domains of your relationship, including the bedroom.
That said, you may not always notice specific behaviors right away, especially when your partner makes a dedicated effort to present a different side of themselves.
When a sexual partner exhibits symptoms of NPD, you might notice some of the following.
They only seem to care about physical pleasure
Sure, sex can be a lot of fun. Purely physical, no-strings-attached sex can be perfectly satisfying — as long as that’s what you and your partner both want.
In a relationship, sex (plus post-coital cuddling and pillow talk) also helps you connect with your partner on an intimate level. It doesn’t just feel good, it also promotes bonding and increased closeness.
But partners with symptoms of NPD may have little or no interest in building intimacy once they’ve accomplished their goal of sexual gratification.
If you try to talk about your feelings or the relationship, they might offer some token participation but seem bored or disinterested and quickly change the subject to how they feel.
They need a lot of praise
People who display narcissistic behaviors generally have a high opinion of themselves. They may consider themselves special, uniquely gifted, and more important than anyone else.
In bed, this can sometimes translate to putting their own pleasure first. They may want you to satisfy theirneeds, and if yours don’t get met, well, that’s not really their concern.
That said, self-importance can also mean that they could want to satisfy you so you can praise their skills and tell them how considerate they are as a partner.
So, instead of sharing how much fun you had together, they might want you to describe, in great detail, just how great they are at sex and how much you enjoyed the encounter.
They might look for this validation and approval every time you have sex. When you don’t offer the admiration they’re hoping for, they might press you for further compliments or even get angry.
They react poorly when you disagree with them
Let’s say you mention something you didn’t like or you suggest something to try in the future.
- “I don’t love it when you bite my neck.”
- “Please don’t hold my head when I’m going down on you.”
- “I think it would be really fun to try sex standing up.”
It’s absolutely valid to express your own needs and preferences. Yet even when you do so respectfully, comments like these might challenge their perception of themselves as the “best” partner.
So, they might respond by dismissing your request, pointing out “flaws” in your appearance or performance, or making unkind remarks.
- “You always seemed to like it before.”
- “I only try to keep your head still because you’re not very good at that. I’d never finish otherwise.”
- “What would you know? It’s not like you’re that exciting in bed.”
They feel entitled to sex
Narcissism is often characterized by a sense of entitlement, so a partner with symptoms of NPD might assume you’ll jump at the chance to have sex whenever they’re in the mood.
After all, they might reason, shouldn’t the chance to have sex with someone so attractive and talented delight you?
When you don’t want to have sex, they might:
- try to make you feel guilty by saying you don’t care about them
- accuse you of cheating
- call you names
- compare your performance to past partners
- threaten to leave you or have sex with someone else
You may not automatically recognize these behaviors as abuse. You might even start to wonder whether not wanting to have sex makes you a bad partner and you really are the one at fault.
These manipulation tactics fall under the umbrella of sexual coercion, however. You can consider them calculated attempts to make you feel bad and give in to what they want.
No one deserves sex.
A partner might feel a little disappointed when they want to have sex and you don’t. But in a healthy relationship, they’ll respect your decision and your boundaries, and they won’t pressure you to change your mind.
They have little interest in your feelings
Narcissism typically involves a lack of empathy.
Low empathy doesn’t make someone completely incapable of understanding other people’s feelings.
But it does mean they may not spend much time thinking about the impact of their behavior. They might even seem unaware that other people even have feelings.
If your partner displays symptoms of NPD, you might get the impression that as long as they get what they want, nothing else matters.
Maybe they have a very detailed and specific outline of how your encounters should play out. They tell you what they want to do, in what position, and what you should wear to bed and say during sex. They don’t ask your opinion or consider that you might want to try something else.
This can leave you feeling more like an object than a partner.
Narcissistic behaviors happen on a spectrum.
It’s possible to have several narcissistic traits without meeting full criteria for a diagnosis of NPD. These traits can show up in varying degrees of severity.
A partner with less-severe narcissistic traits may show more willingness to acknowledge problematic behaviors when you call them out. They might also make more of an effort to consider your feelings and sexual needs.
Someone who displays severe symptoms of NPD, however, may remain firmly convinced that only their needs matter. They may continue attempting to manipulate and exploit you in order to get those needs met.
It’s also important to understand that a few different subtypes of narcissism exist. While narcissistic behaviors do align with the same main characteristics, they won’t look exactly the same from person to person.
Plenty of people might recognize the exaggerated sense of superiority and self-importance seen with grandiose narcissism, but vulnerable (covert) narcissism can look pretty different.
A partner with traits of grandiose narcissism might:
- make outright sexual demands
- tell you that you’re wrong when you challenge or criticize their behavior
- ask for praise and compliments directly
- become openly enraged when you disagree
On the other hand, a partner with traits of vulnerable narcissism might:
- use passive aggression or other manipulation tactics to get what they want
- shift the blame to you when you call out problematic behavior
- put themselves down so you’ll offer compliments and praise
- be very sensitive to criticism and hold grudges when they think you’ve insulted them
Many people with traits of NPD do cheat on their partners and attempt to manipulate them into having sex.
That said, narcissism itself doesn’t automatically mean someone will cheat, use sexual coercion tactics, or show any sexually aggressive behavior.
It’s easy to confuse sexual narcissism with narcissistic sexual behaviors. After all, they sound like exactly the same thing.
Here’s the difference:
Sexual narcissism isn’t a personality disorder, or any type of mental health condition.
It specifically refers to traits of narcissism that show up only in someone’s sexual behavior and attitude toward sex. Someone can display traits of sexual narcissism without meeting any criteria for an NPD diagnosis.
A person with traits of NPD might have an entitled attitude and other narcissistic traits in the context of their romantic and sexual relationships. But narcissistic traits will also show up in other areas of life.
It’s also possible to display symptoms of NPD without behaving in sexually entitled ways. In fact, the criteria used to diagnose NPD don’t even touch on sexual behavior.
If you’ve noticed signs of narcissism in your own behavior, you might be curious about those traits and how they might affect your relationships.
Talking to a mental health professional is an important step toward getting more insight and creating lasting change.
You can certainly begin making changes on your own, perhaps by:
- reminding yourself that your partner has just as much value as a person as you do
- making a habit of checking in with your partner about their sexual needs
- practicing more productive responses to criticism
Traits and behaviors associated with personality disorders tend to be difficult to change alone, though, so professional support can make a big difference.
Therapy provides a non-judgmental environment where you can:
- explore underlying causes of narcissistic behaviors
- identify how narcissistic traits show up in your life
- practice considering things from your partner’s (or anyone else’s) perspective
- learn new methods of communication and relating to others
- learn to recognize and respect the boundaries others set
In short, support from a therapist can help you develop and maintain healthier relationships that satisfy both you and your partner.
If you’ve identified some narcissistic traits in your partner’s sexual behavior, you might wonder what to do next.
Should you confront them? Dump them? Say nothing and hope the situation improves?
The best response usually depends on the circumstances of your relationship.
If you care about your partner and want to stay involved, you might try starting with a conversation.
“I feel hurt and ignored when you say my interests don’t matter. I’m willing to try things you enjoy, and if we’re going to continue this relationship, it needs to be on equal terms. My preferences are just as valid as yours.”
It’s also important to set clear boundaries (and stick to them!).
“When I say I don’t want to have sex, I mean it. If you continue to pressure me or try to make me feel guilty, I’ll leave/you can go home.”
If they want to maintain your relationship, they might be willing to consider working with a therapist, so you could also encourage them to seek professional support.
“I want to continue dating, but I don’t see that happening unless you’re willing to consider my feelings. Would you consider talking to a therapist about how to give that a try?”
At the end of the day, remember this: Change is possible, but it can take time and hard work in therapy to see any results.
Narcissistic traits can affect all of your personal and professional relationships, making it difficult to keep a job, maintain friendships, or have healthy romantic relationships.
What’s more, if you do attempt to coerce or manipulate a partner into having sex, you might find yourself facing legal consequences — not to mention the lasting trauma and distress you might leave them with.
Since NPD is a mental health condition, it generally doesn’t improve without professional treatment. That said, support from a therapist can go a long way toward helping you address these signs and behaviors.
A partner with traits of narcissism may not always feel motivated to change any of their behaviors, so they might continue showing little interest in your sexual needs and desires.
If you’ve tried talking to them and they still fail to show consideration and respect for your feelings and boundaries, ending the relationship and moving on may be a better step toward your long-term well-being.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.