Why Sex With a Malignant Narcissist is a Dangerous Power Play by Shahida Arabi
Out of all of the weapons a narcissistic abuser can use to demean you, sexual manipulation and coercion is an underrepresented subject in the realm of domestic violence. Yet it is one of the most powerful ways that malignant narcissists (those on the high end of the narcissistic spectrum) exploit and mistreat their victims.
It should come to no surprise that being intimate with a narcissist is often compared to sleeping with the enemy. This is because any sexual relationship with this type of manipulator is rarely without an agenda or consequences. Due to their lack of empathy, antisocial traits as well as severe sense of entitlement, they are capable of limitless cruel and callous interpersonal exploitation without remorse.
I've spoken about the role of sex as a 'bonding' tool for the narcissist to groom their victims in my article, Your Brain on Love, Sex and the Narcissist, as well as its powerful impact on biochemical bonding with abusive or otherwise toxic people. However, the plethora of methods through which abusive, malignant narcissists exploit the sexuality of their victims can be diverse and horrific, going beyond just biochemical bonding in the bedroom and crossing over to emotional and psychological violence.
For the malignant narcissist, sex is yet another weapon that can be used against you - not only to bond you to them, but to further degrade and diminish you as a human being. Sex with a malignant narcissist is not, as it appears on the surface (or in the passionate throes of the idealization phase), an emotionally fulfilling act of intimacy, but rather a manipulative mechanism for the abuser to coerce their various sources of narcissistic supply to do their bidding. It is used as ammunition to humiliate the narcissist’s various lovers, micromanage the sexual agency of their victims and to create love triangles among various members of their harem with their primary romantic partner or spouse.
Identifying the tactics of sexual manipulation can be indescribably healing and validating for any survivor who has gone through the often unspeakable methods used in this arena – after all, revealing is healing.
Here are seven ways narcissistic abusers exploit sex and sexuality to further diminish you, as well as some tips on how to take your sexual power back from an abuser.
(1) They love bomb their victims about their sexual prowess in the idealization phase, only to later devalue their skill set.
In the beginning of the courtship, these types of toxic partners usually fast-forward the physical aspect of the relationship. They seduce their victims not just sexually, but psychologically and emotionally, caressing them both with their physical touch as well as their love-bombing words. They do this for a reason: they want to ensure that you associate them with pleasure on every level, with investment and with a false sense of intimacy early on, so that you are less likely to backtrack on the relationship once you start noticing the red flags.
To understand why you might be blindsided by their sexual maneuvers, remember that your reward circuits are firing up when you first meet the narcissist and you’re less likely to focus on discrepancies or inadequacies while feeling the dopamine rush. In fact, the unpredictable nature of the relationship and intermittent love-bombing as it goes downhill actually strengthens these reward circuits in the brain rather than deterring them.
Part of the seductive allure of the narcissist is that he or she will convince you that you are special and unique to them, in every way. Narcissistic abusers will often claim that you are the "best" they've ever had in bed, that you outstrip any other partner in sexual prowess or that their sexual attraction to you is unsurpassed by any other lover. This is a way to "hook" their victim into trusting them and to break down their defenses, causing any sexual activity with a narcissistic partner to be muddied with the fog of illusion.
It does not matter what the actual quality of the sex is like, because a sense of emotional intimacy and safety with our partners often heightens the sexual experience nonetheless. A love-bombed victim is sure to feel like they are experiencing the best sex of their lives, if under this perpetual sexual idealization. As the victim glows with feelings of desirability and of being wanted by the narcissist, they also feel the emotional high of being cared for, nurtured, and physically intimate with their new partner.
Narcissists may also excessively objectify your body in unnerving, yet oddly ‘flattering’ ways. A common way they do this is by reducing you to a body part by developing a hyperfocus on your assets, rather than appreciating you as a full human being. Yet they do so in a manner that is outlandishly affectionate, so that victims are thrown into confusion about whether they should feel pleased or disturbed.
This dehumanization becomes more potent in the devaluation phase of the relationship, when the emotional or even physical abuse begins to escalate. Should the victim ever dare to question or challenge any of the narcissist’s sexual desires in the devaluation phase of the relationship (or sometimes even in the idealization phase), these toxic partners will later "flip a switch" on the very qualities and traits they idealized. They will do so in a way that devalues you as a sexual object rather than acknowledging your full humanity.
This goes for all of your other characteristics too – there is no limit on what these emotional predators can devalue and diminish about you during the abuse cycle. Once the devaluation of your abilities, skill sets, physical characteristics and sexual desirability kicks in, you will begin to feel as if sex with the narcissistic abuser is more like an act of identity erosion rather than an intimate experience with your partner. And no wonder: it feels coerced, empty, and degrading to physically connect with someone who is now psychologically and sexually terrorizing you.
(2) Abusers use sex as a "reset" button with which they can resume the relationship as if the abuse never occurred.
As the devaluation and discard phases of the relationship sets in, narcissists are prone to using sex as a quick and easy 'reset' button to resume the relationship and sweep any abusive experiences under the rug so they can continue to perpetuate the abuse cycle. They may convince the victim to engage in wild, passionate makeup sex in order to "reconnect”; they might suddenly seduce their partners right after an abusive incident to merge the memory of pain and pleasure. Make no mistake: it’s all a pattern of destructive conditioning designed to destroy the victim’s sense of security in the relationship. The emotional rollercoaster is emboldened by the abuser’s frightening and unpredictable behavior which combines intermittent kindness and affection with mind-blowing acts of full-frontal cruelty.
This can occur even in the event of a break-up. A recent study showed that those with darker personality traits such as narcissism or psychopathy maintain contact with their ex-partners for practical reasons, such as the possibility for sex and access to that partner’s various resources. It is no wonder, then, that even after a break-up or tumultuous period in the relationship, narcissistic abusers are quick to facilitate a seemingly innocent meeting with their victims that always, suspiciously enough, end up in bed. This is why maintaining No Contact (or Low Contact if co-parenting) is so important to ‘wean’ yourself off of the addictive cycle.
Once the victim is hoovered back into the traumatic vortex of the relationship, the devaluation and abuse begins again, and the cycle repeats itself until the narcissist discards the victim or the victim leaves. The victim is then made to feel used and more devalued as he or she realizes that the sex was not a heat-of-the-moment affair indicative of an uncontrollable passion, but rather a deliberate ploy to get back in their heads as well as their beds.
(3) Malignant narcissists justify their infidelity, rationalize lewd remarks, actions or excessive pornography use by blaming and gaslighting their victims.
Narcissistic abusers tend to triangulate their victims with harem members, "friends," previous lovers, and even complete strangers. They may frequently engage in flirtatious or even sexually lewd remarks in public or on social media platforms with others outside of their intimate relationship. These overt flirtations serve to make their victims uncomfortable and on edge, uncertain about their own desirability, while their more covert, hidden flirtations serve to garner a steady flow of narcissistic supply outside of the relationship.
Narcissistic partners are able to use all the attention they’re receiving to bolster their belief that they are prime real estate for romance. This also strokes their ego: they feel self-important and desired by many as they are able to use their victims to vie for their approval and compete for their affection. That is why it is so important for survivors, when they realize triangulation is occurring, to not fall prey to the game of competing. Recognize your own irreplaceable qualities and refocus on what you can do to detach and extricate yourself from the abusive relationship instead. No healthy partner would ever want you to “compete” for them; in fact, the most loving partners usually communicate to their significant partners how much they appreciate and adore them on a daily basis.
One of the most common ways narcissists employ triangulation, is, of course, infidelity. Malignant narcissists may emotionally or physically cheat on their partners and then accuse their partners of cheating on them (a form of projection). In their delusional and grandiose worldview, they feel entitled to be unfaithful, but their victims are still their “property,” and thus must be controlled. Some narcissists will also claim they have a sex addiction and are unable to “control” themselves.
Narcissists may also use excessive consumption of pornography as a way to triangulate their partners with constant comparisons to the performers on screen or by spending more time on their computer and less time interacting with their intimate partners. According to recent research, a person’s narcissism levels and the numbers of hours spent consuming pornography are positively correlated.
These partners will then justify their pornography use or real-life infidelity (whether it be emotional or physical) by pointing out some sort of perceived physical or sexual shortcoming in their victims, convincing them that their victims are too "uptight" or too "promiscuous" to be sexually effective or desirable.
What survivors need to understand is that a narcissistic abuser who is roaming online dating sites while married, picking up partners on the side on Facebook or flirting lasciviously with their “friends” in front of you should not be the one accusing others of sexual inadequacy. Their lack of loyalty to their partners is an indication of their own malignant traits and inability to be intimate, rather than any deficiencies in their victims.
(4) They compare their victims to previous partners in terms of their bodies, sexual preferences, attitudes and capacity for engaging in certain sexual acts.
This is perhaps the one of most vile ways that narcissistic abusers diminish their victims in the devaluation or discard phases. The ex-partner that the narcissistic abuser once devalued in terms of their appearance or sexual performance is suddenly compared to the new victim in ways that are unfathomably hurtful and unsettling once the new victim becomes the recipient of the abuse. They may praise the ex-partner's appearance, sexual abilities, sexual stamina, or frequency of sexual engagement in a way that devalues the current victim's. The claims of "He or she did this - why can’t you?" are common.
This is a form of horrific triangulation that is meant to undercut the sexual confidence of the victim. It is used by the narcissist to ensure that you feel less confident in your sexual abilities. After all, the less sexually confident you are, the less likely you’ll move onto another partner. At least in the narcissist’s mind. Oddly enough, they fear that you will jump into the sack with someone else soon after their relationship with you is over - so by diminishing your sexual performance, they kill two birds with one stone. They not only belittle your sexuality, they also potentially coerce you into seeking their approval in the bedroom, often to the extent of going against your own boundaries. By lowering your self-esteem and confidence in this area, they gain the satisfaction of knowing that you may be less likely to sexually engage with someone else if you have their abusive remarks still playing as a record in your mind.
To combat internalizing their harsh remarks, survivors of narcissistic abuse must learn to self-validate when it comes to their sexual abilities and body image. Recalling positive feedback from previous, healthier partners can be one way to counter the absurd claims of your abuser; cultivating a healthy self-love for your appearance and abilities can be another. You may also want to explore self-care methods and diverse healing modalities that help you heal from any sexual trauma that you may have experienced in the abusive relationship.
(5) They are hypercritical of their victim's appearance, sexual desire, sexual history, and/or gender identity or expression, failing to account for the complexity of their identities.
Many narcissistic abusers suffer from what is known as the Madonna-Whore complex. They tend to categorize their victims into either sexually pure or promiscuous nymphomaniacs. To them, there is no sexual middle ground. In their limited perspective, partners cannot be both sexual and balanced. This form of black-and-white thinking can also extend to the narcissist’s perceptions of the victim’s personality as a whole, playing hand-in-hand with gender stereotypes as well. For example, if a victim is successful or intelligent, she is seen as less ‘feminine.’ Or, if a male victim is sensitive and empathic, he is seen as less masculine or powerful by a female narcissist. In the narcissist’s mind, it seems unacceptable that someone could be both sensitive and powerful, or that one could be both feminine and successful.
Therefore, it comes as a surprise to a narcissistic abuser when he or she meets a target that embodies seemingly “contradictory” traits that are often socially stereotyped as separate. For example, a partner who is sexy, yet well-rounded, funny, articulate, successful and intelligent all at the same time is a threat to the narcissist’s rigid dichotomies. In response, the narcissist may try to erode the qualities that contradict each other by categorizing his or her victims as one or the other.
This form of rigid dichotomization applies to how abusers use their victim's sexual history or preferences against them. It manifests in the way that they suggest their victims are too 'uptight,’ ‘sexless,’ or 'frigid' if their victims are more sexually reserved due to the emotional abuse – or to calling them 'easy' or 'sluts' if they are more sexually liberated in the bedroom or sexually determined to please their partners in response to the abuse. This often comes with the double standard of the narcissistic abusers themselves being either sexually reserved (usually common with cerebral narcissists) or more sexually experienced (more common with somatic narcissists).
(6) In the worst-case scenarios, malignant narcissists may even sexually coerce their victims into sex acts they are not comfortable with or invite other people into the sexual dynamic of the relationship without regard to the victim’s feelings or desires. They may also deliberately re-traumatize you using your sexual trauma history.
Narcissists on the high end of the spectrum can go as far as to coerce their victims into scenarios they are not comfortable with or do not consent to - such as threesomes, orgies, swinger scenarios, cuckholding, etc. These coercions can happen in other ways as well - they may try to force the victims into sending them provocative photos or coerce their victims to make sexual videos with them. They have no moral qualms about using these photos or videos for the purpose of emotional blackmail later on, should they ever lose control over their victims.
There are even darker implications at work with this method. Some narcissistic abusers will go so far as to use your past sexual traumas against you. They may claim that your sexual assault or rape was your fault, or that it took away an essential part of you or that it “damaged” you in some way (this is, and always will be, victim-shaming nonsense). They may use degrading lingo in the bedroom to covertly retraumatize and shame you. They do this so they can dig deeper into the sexual wounds that already exist and to gaslight you about their sexual and emotional abuse. After all, if they’re able to convince you that your past sexual traumas robbed you of something or made you defective sexually and emotionally, they’re more likely to leave you feeling uncertain about the abuse taking place.
With all that being said, perhaps the most horrific way this can take place is not in a romantic relationship with a malignant narcissist, but in the context of narcissistic parents and their children. A narcissistic parent may sexually abuse their children as they have no sense of boundaries, and see their children as objects, extensions of themselves. This terrifying degradation and erosion of a victim’s boundaries, along with emotional withholding and punishment if the victim does not comply with the narcissist’s desires, can be unbelievably traumatic.
Even if there is no sexual abuse, it is not uncommon in narcissistic families for there to be covert emotional incest and overdependence encouraged among siblings or narcissistic parents and their children due to the ‘enmeshment’ and ‘parentification’ present in these toxic families. This can occur more underhandedly too: narcissistic parents may speak inappropriately in front of their children about their sexual exploits or treat them as sexual objects (for example, enrolling their children in child beauty pageants).
Narcissistic parents may also go on the other end of the spectrum and try to micromanage every facet of the sexuality of their children – for example, refusing to speak about sex at all and shaming them for their sexuality. This is especially rampant in more oppressive households where children of narcissistic parents are punished for engaging in sex or expressing their sexuality in any way.
You may have experienced loving affection from a narcissistic father, for example, up until the age where you became a teenager. That is when the surveillance, monitoring and shaming usually begins. To the abusive parent, children who are becoming aware of their sexuality and entering puberty represent a threat: they are no longer able to be controlled and thus their desires or burgeoning questions must be stifled to keep them in a sort of perpetual ‘childhood.’
Narcissistic mothers are also well known for competing with their daughters, as well as envying the beauty and youth of their offspring. In these situations, children of narcissistic parents find that they have less of a parent than they do a toxic caretaker that teaches them unhealthy ideals about sex, sexuality and self-confidence.
In paving the path back to freedom, survivors may find it helpful to seek professional support to regain their sense of sexual agency and security, address any childhood wounding if any, as well as engaging in mind-body techniques that enable them to feel safe in their bodies again. Yoga and meditation, for example, can be incredible pathways to regain mastery of the mind and body and has been shown by research to be helpful for trauma survivors.
(7) Malignant narcissists show sexual disinterest to deliberately instill insecurity in their victims. Simultaneously, they may accuse their victims of sexually withholding even after heinous acts of physical or psychological violence.
These types of abusers are known for shaming their victims for being "childish" for not giving into their sexual demands and depicting sex as an "adult" act that they have to engage in to meet the standards of the narcissist. It is one thing to address a lack of sex in a relationship, but a whole other ball game when shaming and abuse comes into the mix.
No one is allowed to abuse you, demand sex, and then have the nerve to shame you for refusing to engage with them intimately. If your partner is subjecting you to stonewalling, emotional invalidation and verbal abuse, they should not be expecting a sexual or emotional connection with you - they have already violated your mind, and they are not entitled to your body.
Narcissistic abusers may even attack their victim's femininity or masculinity in the process of doing this, claiming you’re somehow less of a “real woman” or “real man” if you’re unable to meet their constantly shifting sexual goal posts. This is a direct attack on your identity and is meant to make you feel sexually incompetent and unworthy.
Remember: a healthy partner would never attempt to force or coerce their partners into sexual acts they are comfortable with or make them feel guilty when they feel too emotionally drained to engage sexually with an abusive partner.
Abusive narcissists may also withhold any sexual interest or seeming desire towards their victims deliberately, in order to degrade a victim's sense of desirability throughout the relationship. In the idealization phase, they may crave sexual interaction with you 24/7; in the devaluation phase, they’ll claim you never sexually excited them at all. Their sexual disinterest is deliberately demonstrated to make you feel lacking or unworthy of inspiring desire in your abuser – and to make you feel inclined to prove them wrong.
To be clear, every relationship has a sexual ebb and flow – there may be normal stages of sexual disinterest depending on the circumstances. Constructive feedback from a healthy partner can often help both partners to grow, sexually or otherwise. However, in an abusive relationship with a narcissist, sexual disinterest, contempt and disdain is used periodically to demean the victim, especially after incidents of abuse.
Rather than taking the bait, realize that it’s a hook to get you back into the abuse cycle. Instead of falling for it, become sexually disinterested and disengaged from the narcissist instead. You’ll be shocked at how quickly they sexually re-idealize you when they’ve lost control. By that time, you’ll be well on your way to the nearest exit.
These forms of sexual abuse and coercion can leave a startling impact on the victim, who is likely to feel less sexually confident and more trauma bonded to his or her abuser throughout the cycle of abuse. The key to healing from this form of sexual manipulation is first identifying it, learning which tactics our abusers used to subjugate us sexually, and target any areas of trauma and self-doubt. Loving our bodies, self-validating when it comes to our sexual abilities and our capacity to emotionally connect during intimacy can be monumental in our healing journey.
While sex to the narcissist is more about a power play than an equal partnership, you can still take your power back. Survivors of malignant narcissists ultimately have the advantage in this scenario once they begin to heal. We are able to authentically establish an emotional as well as sexual connection with our future partners without manipulation or coercion involved. We have the ability to sustain healthy relationships that are fulfilling on an emotional, physical and spiritual level – and this is something the narcissist will never have.
Copyright © 2017 by Shahida Arabi.
All rights reserved. This article is derived from copyrighted excerpts from Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare: How to Devalue and Discard the Narcissist While Supplying Yourself. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.