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2-Narcissism, Sex & Fidelity

2 - Narcissism, Sex and Fidelity (article 2 of 10)

by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.


Dr. Vaknin is author of of the informative book, Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited. He also edits various mental health categories on Open Directory, Suite101, Go.Com and  While his doctorate is not in mental health, this well-informed author clearly did his homework and writes from  experience.  Dr. Vaknin's CV is no longer available. His book, and much more, is available in hard copy or download on his (Tripod website is gone). web site.

Dr. Irene

EDITED 2/09. Unfortunately, while the content itself stands on its own in helping people understand narcissism, the writer's credibility may be questionable.(all links are dead; removed)


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 will resort to sex. He will then become a satyr (or a nymphomaniac): indiscriminately engage in sex with multiple partners. His sex partners will be 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 will derive 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 as well. Because the Narcissistic supply in his case resides in the element 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 will prefer "complicated" situations. If men - they will prefer virgins, married women, avowed maidens, etc. The More "difficult" the target - the more rewarding the Narcissistic outcome. Such a Narcissist can be married, but he will not regard his extra-marital affairs as either immoral or a breach of any explicit or implicit contract between him and his spouse. He will keep explaining to anyone who is willing 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 would tend 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 engage in 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 will appear 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, we are likely to witness the Narcissist 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 colors. 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 gender and is even more afraid of emotional involvement or commitment that he fancies himself able to develop following a sexual encounter. In general, such a Narcissist will withdraw not only sexually - but also emotionally. If married - he will lose all overt interest in his spouse, sexual or otherwise. He will confine himself to his world and make sure that he is busy enough not to have time for anything else, especially not for his nearest (and supposedly dearest). He will become completely immersed in "big projects", lifelong plans, a vision, or a cause - all very rewarding Narcissistically and all very demanding. He will regard sex as an obligation, a necessity, or a maintenance operation needed in order to preserve the comfortable human cell that he has constructed for himself. He will not enjoy sex and by far prefer to engage in the auto-erotic variety - to masturbate - or in object sex, like going to prostitutes. Actually, he will regard his mate or spouse as an "alibi", a shield against the attention of other women, an insurance policy which will preserve his virile image while making it socially and morally commendable for him to avoid any intimate or sexual contact with other women. While ignoring women around him (a form of aggression) he will feel righteous in saying: "I am loyal to my wife". At the same time, he will feel hostile 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 will minimize all types of intercourse with his close social circle (spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters, very intimate friends): sexual, verbal, or emotional. He will limit himself to the rawest exchanges of information and isolate 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 will really be left alone, with no secondary sources of supply. In his search for them, he will again embark on ego-mending bouts of sex, followed by the selection of a spouse or a mate (a secondary Narcissistic supply source).

Then the cycle will 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 a-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 sacred contract. He is much more interested in making sure that the next day will not witness 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 (site no longer exists) will tend to verbal exhibitionism. They will 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 might be the culmination, the "pure case" of the other.



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