Narcissism FAQ: Narcissists, Sex and Fidelity

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Question:

Are Narcissists mostly hyperactive or hypoactive sexually and to what extent are they likely to be infidel in marriage?

Answer:

Broadly speaking, there are two types of narcissists loosely corresponding to the two categories mentioned in the question. sex for the narcissist is an instrument designed to increase the number of Sources of Narcissistic Supply. If it happens to be the most efficient weapon in the narcissist’s arsenal – he will make profligate use of it. In other words: if the narcissist cannot obtain adoration, admiration, approval, applause, or any other kind of attention by other means (e.g., intellectually) – he resorts to sex. He then become a satyr (or a nymphomaniac): indiscriminately engages in sex with multiple partners. His sex partners are considered by him to be objects not of desire – but of Narcissistic Supply. It is through the processes of successful seduction and sexual conquest that the narcissist derives his badly needed narcissistic “fix”. The narcissist is likely to perfect his techniques of courting and regard his sexual exploits as a form of art. He is very likely to expose this side of him – in great detail – to others, to an audience, expecting to win their approval and admiration. Because the Narcissistic Supply in his case resides in the act of conquest and (what he perceives to be) subordination – the narcissist is forced to move on and to switch and bewitch partners very often. The first sexual encounter with a partner always includes these elements – not so the second or third encounters.

Some narcissists prefer “complicated” situations. If men – they prefer virgins, married women, avowed maidens, etc. The More “difficult” the target – the more rewarding the narcissistic outcome. Such a narcissist may be married, but he does not regard his extra-marital affairs as either immoral or a breach of any explicit or implicit contract between him and his spouse. He keeps explaining to anyone who cares to listen that his other sexual partners are nothing to him, meaningless, that he is merely taking advantage of them and that they do not constitute a threat and should not be taken seriously by his spouse. In his mind a clear separation exists between the honest “woman of his life” (really, a saint) and the whores that he is having sex with. He tends to cast the whole feminine sub-species in a bad light (with the exception of the meaningful women in his life). His behaviour will, thus, have achieved a dual purpose: the securing of Narcissistic Supply, on the one hand – and bringing about a replay of old, unresolved conflicts and traumas (abandonment and the Oedipal conflict, to mention but two). When inevitably abandoned by his spouse – the narcissist is veritably shocked and hurt. This is the sort of crisis, which might drive him to psychotherapy. Still, deep inside, he feels compelled to continue to pursue precisely the same path. His abandonment is cathartic, purifying. Following a period of deep depression and suicidal ideation – the narcissist is likely to feel cleansed, invigorated, unshackled, ready for the next round of hunting.

But there is another type of narcissist. He also has bouts of sexual hyperactivity in which he trades sexual partners and tends to regard them as objects. However, with him, this is a secondary behaviour. It appears mainly after major narcissistic traumas and crises. A painful divorce, a major personal financial upheaval – and this type of narcissist adopts the view that the “old solutions” do not work anymore. He frantically gropes and searches for new ways to attract attention, to restore his False Ego (=his grandiosity) and to secure the subsistence level of Narcissistic Supply. Sex is handy and is a great source of the right kind of supply: immediate, interchangeable, comprehensive (it encompasses all the aspects of the narcissist’s being), natural, highly charged, adventurous, pleasurable. Thus, following a life crisis, the cerebral narcissist is likely to be deeply involved in sexual activities – very frequently and almost to the exclusion of other matters.

However, as the memories of the crisis fade, as the narcissistic wounds heal, as the Narcissistic Cycle re-commences and the balance is restored – the second type of narcissist reveals his true colours. He abruptly loses interest in sex and in all his sexual partners. The frequency of his sexual activities deteriorates from a few times a day – to a few times a year. He prefers intellectual pursuits, sports, politics, volunteering – anything but sex. This kind of narcissist is afraid of encounters with the opposite sex and is even more afraid of emotional involvement or commitment that he fancies himself prone to develop following a sexual encounter. In general, such a narcissist withdraws not only sexually – but also emotionally. If married – he loses all overt interest in his spouse, sexual or otherwise. He confines himself to his world and makes sure that he is sufficiently busy to preclude any interaction with his nearest (and supposedly dearest). He becomes completely immersed in “big projects”, lifelong plans, a vision, or a cause – all very rewarding narcissistically and all very demanding and time consuming. He then regards sex as an obligation, a necessity, or a maintenance operation needed to preserve the comfortable human cell that he has constructed (his family or household). He does not enjoy sex and by far prefers the auto-erotic variety – to masturbate – or object sex, like going to prostitutes. Actually, he uses his mate or spouse as an “alibi”, a shield against the attention of other women, an insurance policy which preserves his virile image while making it socially and morally commendable for him to avoid any intimate or sexual contact with other women. Even while ignoring women around him (a form of aggression) he can feel righteous in saying: “I am loyal to my wife”. At the same time, he feels hostility towards her for ostensibly preventing him from freely expressing himself sexually with others, for isolating him from carnal pleasures.

The thwarted logic goes like this: “I am married/attached to this woman. Therefore, I am not allowed to be in any kind of touch with other women, which might be interpreted as more than casual or businesslike. This is why I refrain from having anything to do with women – because I am loyal, as opposed to most other immoral men. However, I do not like this situation. I envy my free peers. They can engage in sex and romance as much as they want to – while I am confined to this marriage, chained by my wife, my freedom curbed. I am angry at her and I will punish her by abstaining from having sex with her.” He minimises all types of intercourse with his close circle (spouse, children, parents, siblings, very intimate friends): sexual, verbal, or emotional. He limits himself to the rawest exchanges of information and isolates himself socially. This way he insures against a future hurt and avoids the intimacy that he so dreads. But, again, this way he also secures abandonment and the replay of old, unresolved, conflicts. Finally, he really is left alone by everyone, with no secondary sources of supply. In his search for them, he again embarks on ego-mending bouts of sex, followed by the selection of a spouse or a mate (a secondary Narcissistic Supply Source). Then the cycle re-commence: a sharp drop in sexual activity, emotional remoteness and cruel detachment leading to abandonment.

The second type of narcissist is mostly sexually loyal to his spouse. He alternates between what appears to be hyper-sexuality and non-sexuality (really, forcefully repressed sexuality). In the latter phase, he feels no sexual urges, bar the most basic. He is, therefore, not compelled to “cheat” upon his mate, betray her, or violate the marital vows. He is much more interested in preventing a worrisome dwindling of the Narcissistic Supply that really matters. Sex, he says to himself, contentedly, is for those who can do no better.

I am often asked whether narcissists are some variant of exhibitionists. Somatic Narcissists tend to verbal exhibitionism. They tend to brag in graphic details about their conquests and exploits. In extreme cases, they might introduce “live witnesses” and revert to total, classical exhibitionism. This sits well with their tendency to “objectify” their sexual partners, to engage in emotionally-neutral sex (group sex, for instance) and to indulge in auto-erotic sex. The exhibitionist sees himself reflected in the eyes of the beholders. This constitutes the main sexual stimulus, this is what turns him on. This outside “look” is also what defines the narcissist. There is bound to be a connection. One (the exhibitionist) may be the culmination, the “pure case” of the other (the narcissist).

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love, and runs the website Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited.Sam has served as the author of the Personality Disorders topic, Narcissistic Personality Disorder topic, the Verbal and Emotional Abuse topic, and the Spousal Abuse and Domestic Violence topic, Suite101.

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