Source: Tim Johnson/Flickr
What is Sexual Narcissism?
Narcissistic individuals have an unrealistically optimistic sense of their own abilities, a strong need for admiration, a lack of empathy toward others, and a propensity to take advantage of others (see Widman and McNulty, 2010). Sexual narcissists show some of these same personal tendencies in the realm of sexuality including an inflated view of their own sexual prowess, a strong sense of entitlement to sexual activity, reduced empathy for sexual partners, and a tendency toward sexual exploitation (Widman and McNulty, 2010). Sexual narcissism is associated with a variety of negative (and few positive) implications for romantic and sexual relationships.
Is Your Partner a Sexual Narcissist?
If you are wondering whether your partner is a sexual narcissist, recent research by McNulty and Widman (2013) includes the Sexual Narcissism Scale (SNS) for spouses. (The authors developed the original scale for partners in 2010.) The scale is broken into four parts, sexual exploitation, sexual entitlement, low sexual empathy, and sexual skill. Although the scale is intended to be a measure of one’s own levels of sexual narcissism, some of the topics covered on the scale may be accessible to partners as well. The sexual exploitation subscale of the SNS contains items assessing whether an individual tricks or cajoles a partner into having sex. For example, one item states “one way to get my partner/spouse in bed with me is to tell him/her what he/she wants to hear.” Similarly, the sexual entitlement subscale of the SNS measures whether respondents feel that they deserve sex, either on a regular basis or at any time they desire, regardless of their partner’s feelings. Items assessing this facet of sexual narcissism include “I feel I deserve sexual activity when I am in the mood for it” and “I would be irritated if my partner/spouse said no to sex.” Sexual exploitation and sexual entitlement are highly positively correlated. Items on the low sexual empathy subscale tap into a lack of knowledge of or concern over a partner’s feelings. A sample item on this subscale is “the feelings of my partner/spouse during sex don’t usually concern me.” Sexual narcissism may be more common in men than women (McNulty and Widman, 2013). If you regularly feel that your partner is trying to trick or pressure you into having sex, that your partner doesn’t consider your own feelings and desires regarding when to have sex, that your partner doesn’t know or care how you feel during sex, or if your partner only seems concerned with his/her own sexual needs, your partner may have sexually narcissistic tendencies.
Implications for Relationships
The three facets of sexual narcissism discussed above are likely to have negative implications for romantic and sexual relationships such as an increased likelihood of sexual aggression (Widman and McNulty, 2010), decreased sexual and romantic satisfaction (McNulty and Widman, 2013), and an increased likelihood of infidelity (McNulty and Widman, 2014). Sexual narcissists also report having more sexual partners and an earlier age of first sexual intercourse (Widman and McNulty, 2010). The researchers also speculate that sexual narcissism could be associated with more hostile attitudes toward women as well as psychopathy.
The Silver Lining?
One aspect of sexual narcissism may have positive effects on sexual relationships. The sexual skill subscale of the SNS includes items such as “I am an exceptional sexual partner” and “I have been very successful in all my sexual relationships.” An inflated sense of sexual skill seems to be associated with both increased sexual and marital satisfaction in newly married couples (McNulty and Widman, 2013). However, this augmented sense of sexual skill may also be associated with an increased likelihood of infideltiy (McNulty and Widman, 2014). The authors speculate that the strongest relationships are likely high in sexual confidence but low in sexual exploitation and sexual entitlement.