Narcissism and sexual addiction may go hand in hand. But help is available, and with treatment, change may be possible.

If you have a narcissistic partner, you likely know the many ways narcissism can challenge your relationship.

One of the ways narcissism can manifest is sexually. This is referred to as sexual narcissism. It involves a self-centered pattern of sexual behavior that, over time, can cause a partner to lose a sense of their own sexual self.

It may have you wondering “is there a relationship between narcissism and sexual addiction?”

Language matters

In this article, we use “sexual addiction,” a term written about, studied, and discussed in psychology and counseling groups and 12-step programs. Still, there’s no evidence to suggest that sex addiction exists or that symptoms of compulsive sexual behavior may be explained as an addiction.

This isn’t to imply your symptoms and concerns aren’t valid or real. This clarification refers to formal terminology only.

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Sexual narcissism is a form of narcissism that occurs in relation to a person’s sexual attitudes and behaviors. Narcissism refers to an excessive preoccupation with oneself and one’s own needs.

According to the The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is classified as a personality disorder that involves a pattern of:

But behind the grandiose façade are deeply rooted feelings of shame, inadequacy, and unworthiness.

Researchers aren’t clear about what causes NPD, but it may stem from inappropriate caregiving in childhood, such as being overly critical or excessively praising, admiring, or indulging the child.

Like sexual addiction, sexual narcissism isn’t a diagnosable condition or personality disorder. You can have traits of sexual narcissism even if you haven’t been diagnosed with NPD. But you may also show signs of narcissism in other areas of your life.

Sexual addiction and narcissism

While people with sexual addiction have a preoccupation with sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors, sexual narcissists are preoccupied with the satisfaction of their own sexual needs over their partner’s needs.

But research suggests the two may be connected. A 2014 study on narcissism and Internet pornography found a positive correlation between participants Internet use and their narcissism level. The study also found those who used Internet pornography had higher levels of narcissism than those who had never used it.

Sheri Heller, LCSW, RSW, a complex trauma therapist and addiction specialist in New York State and Ontario, Canada, explains that while sex addiction and sexual narcissism are different, there’s a lot of overlap.

“People with sexual addiction are deflecting from traumatic wounds, particularly traumatic loneliness,” she notes. “People with sexual narcissism are also driven to fill an internal void, but they often lack the empathy and humanity to engage in therapy so that a meaningful attachment can occur.”

People who show signs of narcissistic sexual behavior have some common characteristics, including:

  • believing your sexual desire is a personal right, known as sexual entitlement
  • using manipulation to obtain sex, known as sexual exploitation
  • grandiose or inflated sense of sexual ability or skills
  • lack of empathy for another in sexual situations

Other traits of sexual narcissism may include:

  • need for excessive attention or praise for sexual prowess and performance
  • sensitivity to real or perceived criticism about sex
  • obsession with sex
  • porn addiction
  • high risk sexual behavior
  • cheating on your partner

Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York and fellow in Harvard Medical School’s Global Leaders in Healthcare program, says if you sense you’re dealing with someone with sexual narcissism, there’s a 97% chance you are.

This is because sexual narcissists can make you feel used, he notes. Hokemeyer says to deal with the realities of the situation, you can recognize that the best person to change in the relationship is you.

“The chances of the sexual narcissist changing are slight,” he explains. “This is because narcissism is deeply rooted and highly resistant to treatment.”

If you have a partner with sexual narcissism, you have the right to emotional intimacy and your own sexual pleasure. Hokemeyer says it’s important to set boundaries with your partner that are clear, consistent and enforceable.

An example of a clear boundary is explaining that you’re not interested in one-way sexual relationships. Pleasure needs to flow both ways. A consistent boundary is one where you stick to the clear standard you set.

“Sexual narcissists are master manipulators,” Hokemeyer adds. “They will test your boundaries and try to get you to compromise them. “Set a sexual boundary that is enforceable. Don’t make statements you can’t keep such as, ‘If you do x again, I’ll NEVER have sex with you.’”

If you’ve experienced any form of sexual abuse, you’re not alone. Help is available. Consider the following resources:

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Sexual narcissists can be resistant to treatment, which typically includes a form of interpersonal psychotherapy with a therapist or in a group setting.

Because their sense of self-worth is rooted in shame and disconnection, it’s important for the therapist to establish a warm, empathetic, and genuine therapeutic relationship to help them feel safe in being vulnerable.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on underlying conflicts, can be helpful for people with narcissism.

Some approaches, such as transference-focused psychotherapy or mentalization-based treatment, focus on disturbances in the way people emotionally experience themselves and others.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. This may appeal to some people with narcissism because it gives them the opportunity to increase mastery. Therapists also use positive reinforcement to appeal to their need for praise and help shape their behavior.

According to 2019 research, certain narcissistic traits may decline with age, which suggests that change is possible. But Hokemeyer notes that completely eliminating narcissism is an unrealistic goal.

“Successful treatment outcomes,” he says, “consist of softening the edges of their self- and relationally-destructive behaviors.”

Sexual narcissism is a pattern of sexual behavior that puts one’s own sexual needs and desires above those of their partner. Research shows people with sexual addiction may have higher levels of narcissism.

You can help navigate a relationship with a sexual narcissist by establishing clear, consistent, and enforceable boundaries. Working with a mental health professional may also help.

Consider visiting Psych Central’s directory to find a therapist who can help you and your partner navigate sexual narcissism.