Relationship Tips

Heads Up, You Might Be Sexting a Narcissist—Here Are 4 Ways To Tell, According to Psychologists

Erica Sloan

Stocksy/Ivan-Gener
Sexting is a communication tool that can help build a sense of physical intimacy between sex partners who are geographically distant, and it can even serve as a steamy stand-in for partnered sex itself. In fact, engaging in safe sexting can be a gloriously exploratory way to deepen a sexual or romantic relationship. But according to a study published earlier this year analyzing the sexting styles of more than 6,000 people ages 13 to 30, certain kinds of sexting behaviors—like coercion and non-consensual sharing—may be evidence that the sexter possesses Dark Triad personality traits, including narcissism. Because getting entangled with a narcissist can be a slippery slope to experiencing emotional mayhem, it’d be wise to keep an eye out for the red flags of sexting linked to narcissism.

The Dark Triad personality traits that the study authors analyzed include narcissism (inflated ego), psychopathy (lack of remorse), and Machiavellianism (fixation on power and manipulation). Each of the study participants filled out a questionnaire about their sexting styles and completed the Dark Triad 12-item scale, which is generally used to identify people who fall into those three aforementioned personality groups.

Researchers found that those who fell into the narcissistic and Machiavellian groups were more likely to share their private sexts with other people, and those in the Machiavellian and psychopathic groups were more likely to engage in risky sexting (aka sexting while using substances) as well as aggravated sexting, including pressuring others to sext or sending sexts without consent. In general, however, spotting any of these kinds of sexting behaviors in a partner could reflect an emotionally dangerous personality type lurking beneath the surface of those texts.

“While narcissism is typically defined as an inflated sense of self, it can also show up in the form of the manipulation, contempt for others, and vindictiveness linked to Machiavellianism.” —Ramani Durvasula, PhD

“The researchers found Machiavellianism to be a strong predictor of all the dangerous sexting behaviors identified, but I actually view that personality type as part and parcel of narcissism,” says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD, author of Don’t You Know Who I Am?”: How To Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. “While narcissism is typically defined as an inflated sense of self, it can also show up in the form of the manipulation, contempt for others, and vindictiveness linked to Machiavellianism.”

With that in mind, as soon as sexting shifts to anything other than comfortable and consensual for all parties involved, it becomes potentially dangerous in nature. But how can you spot the signs that you may be sexting a narcissist, or someone who displays other Dark Triad traits linked to dangerous sexting? Below, Dr. Ramani and clinical psychologist Danielle Forshee, PsyD, LCSW offer common signs to look out for.

4 signs you may be sexting a narcissist:

1. The person you're sexting is sharing sexts that they’ve sent or received with others.

This is a typical indicator of sexual narcissism linked to a grandiose view of the self, says Dr. Forshee: “Narcissists see themselves in an extra-positive light, so they’re more likely to say, ‘Hey, look at what I’ve done,’ or ‘Look how this person responded to me,’ in conversations with other friends.” This type of sharing serves to reinforce their ego by way of external validation. But, of course, it can be harmful to you, as the other participant in the sexting exchange—particularly if you would’ve preferred to keep your sexts private.

2. You feel pressured to sext with them on their terms.

Narcissists are on the lookout for a lot of admiration, says Dr. Forshee, and they search for sexual partners who will comply with that. They may sext openly from the jump and without inhibition, and they’ll want you, as the sexual counterpart, to reward that behavior whenever it occurs—even if it’s unsolicited.

3. If you pull back, they get upset or angry.

The narcissist often meets any negative response to their sexts with rejection, anger, or manipulation, says Dr. Durvasula. Whenever you aren’t reciprocal or don’t demonstrate satisfaction with their sexts, they’ll take it as an ego hit and could also turn it into an opportunity to guilt you. (By contrast, when you’re engaging in healthy sexting, if you indicate that something is uncomfortable or doesn’t sit well with you, your partner should be willing to stop or course-correct at that moment, adds Dr. Durvasula.)

4. Sexting is the only sexual communication you can have with this person.

“If sexting is a primary, consistent, and highly pervasive form of communication, it’s a sign that this person is viewing the relationship from a shallow and validation-seeking perspective,” says Dr. Durvasula. To clarify, if everyone involved in the sexting is choosing to engage in sexting as the sole method of communication for their relationship, that is perfectly okay—but if you’ve sought additional depth from a person, and find that they tend to revert back to surface-level sexting, that’s your cue that they’re using the sexting as an ego-booster alone.

Ultimately, ensuring that the perspectives of all parties involved in the sexting are aligned is what's key here. “When sexting feels fun and exciting to both people, and neither is looking for anything more serious, that’s great,” says Dr. Forshee. “But as soon as one person wants a deeper, more committed relationship and the other has difficulty discussing anything beyond the sexting, that’s when it becomes not fun and shouldn’t be continued.”

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