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Why Do Narcissists Withhold Sex And Intimacy? Main Reasons

Being in a relationship with an individual with a narcissistic personality disorder can feel like an emotional roller coaster.

Being in any relationship comes with its own set of complications. However, a relationship with a narcissist can be even more challenging and emotionally draining. Narcissists often prioritize their needs and desires over their partners, leaving them feeling neglected and unwanted.

They also seek constant admiration and attention, leaving their partners exhausted. This puts a tremendous strain on the relationship, often leading relationships to end. The controlling nature of narcissists makes it incredibly challenging to maintain healthy and fulfilling relationships.

This article will explore why a narcissist withholds sex and intimacy in relationships.

Why Do Narcissists Withhold Sex And Intimacy?

They do this because they love control more than their partners. They prioritize their needs and desires above their partners, withholding intimacy to exert control, maintain power, or manipulate them. Intimacy is used as a reward or punishment, creating an exhausting back and forth.

Narcissists are deeply insecure individuals. In a relationship, they often go aggressive, using verbal abuse, gaslighting, and other things, to control others and maintain a sense of superiority. To understand why narcissists withhold sex and intimacy in a relationship, we must first understand the narcissistic abuse cycle.

At Very Well Mind, the author says the narcissistic cycle of abuse has four distinct stages:

Idealization Stage

During the initial stage of a relationship with a narcissist, known as the appreciation stage or love bombing, they shower you with affection, compliments, and gifts. They make you feel special and create an intense connection.

However, even at this early stage, they may exhibit controlling behavior, such as guilt-tripping or setting boundaries. In different types of relationships, whether romantic, friendly, or professional, narcissists may use similar tactics to make you feel valued and indispensable, but they often fail to follow through on their promises.

Devaluation Stage

In the devaluation stage, the narcissist slowly starts making you feel insecure by dropping hints that you’ve done something wrong or hurt their feelings. They may use passive-aggressive behavior, backhanded compliments, criticism, and mind games. Gaslighting becomes common, where they accuse you of things you didn’t do, making you question your memory and sanity. This stage is marked by a lack of empathy, comparisons to others, and humiliation.

Repetition Stage

In the devaluation stage, you may experience depression, anxiety, confusion, and fear of losing the narcissist. You might react by trying harder to please them or pulling away to protect yourself. When you distance yourself, the narcissist will feel hurt and angry. Then, the cycle repeats as they return to idealizing you, showering you with compliments, and making you feel valued. But just as you start feeling secure, they resume devaluing you again.

Discard Stage

The discard stage can unfold in different ways. The narcissist may abruptly reject you, considering you no longer useful. Alternatively, you may recognize the unhealthy dynamics and choose to leave. In response, the narcissist may resume love bombing, perpetuating the cycle of idealization, devaluation, and discard until you break free.

Withholding love and intimacy is part of a bigger picture, the narcissistic cycle of abuse. While it may start charming and wonderful, the cycle quickly changes, causing a lot of pain to the victim. Once the narcissist feels secure in the relationship, they unleash emotional abuse and trauma. They ignore and withhold all intimacy without explanation.

In certain cases, the narcissist vanishes both physically and emotionally. This sudden withholding of attention, affection, and intimacy deeply distresses the partner, leaving them questioning their actions, hoping for the narcissist’s return, and seeking to make amends. 

The partner may not realize that the alternating pattern of love bombing and sudden withdrawal creates intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement is a form of psychological abuse that involves a pattern of cruel mistreatment followed by affection.

The narcissist will give extravagant gifts or praise after they have done something that hurt the victim. For instance, a narcissistic parent may buy something for their child as a ploy to dismiss some unfair punishment they inflicted on their children earlier.

This cycle makes the victim constantly seek the narcissist’s approval, being grateful for any positive interactions while hoping things will return to the way they are. However, things will never return to how they once were when the relationship began, the narcissist now has control, and they don’t need to be that charming.

Narcissists employ intermittent reinforcement to generate positive emotions in their partners. The partner may not comprehend why the narcissist suddenly becomes loving, but with each cycle, they become more bonded to the narcissist. This bond is known as a trauma bond, and it forms because of the constant back and forth between punishment and reward.

Every relationship with a narcissist is unique, and these behaviors can exist in varying degrees or not at all. While common patterns and traits are associated with narcissistic behavior, each relationship’s specific interactions and experiences will differ. Factors such as the individual’s level of narcissism, their other personality traits, the duration of the relationship, and the dynamics between the narcissist and their partner can all shape the course of the relationship.

why-do-narcissists-withhold-sex-and-intimacy? | vimprovement.com

Can Narcissists Be Intimate?

Narcissists struggle to be intimate with their partners. While narcissists are often known for having difficulties with intimacy, it is not accurate to say that all narcissists are incapable of being intimate. However, they will likely struggle with intimacy to different degrees.

Some narcissists may be capable of superficial or conditional forms of intimacy, particularly during a relationship’s idealization or love-bombing stage. They may initially appear to be emotionally available and engaged. However, this is often a means to gain control or admiration rather than a genuine desire for intimate connection.

Over time, as the relationship progresses and the initial idealization fades, narcissists may struggle to maintain intimacy. They may become more self-centered, withhold emotional support, or engage in manipulative behaviors that undermine the development of a truly intimate connection.

It is important to understand that healthy, reciprocal intimacy requires mutual trust, emotional vulnerability, and empathy. These are qualities that narcissists typically struggle with due to their underlying personality traits and self-centered focus.

Are Narcissists Afraid Of Intimacy?

Yes, the narcissist’s strong desire to project an image of strength and invincibility directly contradicts the concept of vulnerability and the willingness to reveal their true selves to others. Their mask tends to be a shield, hiding their true selves from the rest of the world.

Despite their intimidating demeanor, narcissists struggle with their mental health and have likely spent significant time constructing barriers to shield themselves and conceal what they perceive as their vulnerabilities. The considerable effort they put into maintaining distance sadly means that even genuine love cannot break through their defenses.

In her article, the author attributes the narcissist’s fear of intimacy to the following factors:

  • They feel empty inside

Narcissists suppress their emotions, fearing that showing vulnerability makes them look weak. They struggle with emotional intimacy, leading to repressed feelings that contribute to their toxic behavior.

  • Their upbringing

Narcissists develop destructive personalities based on their upbringing, reflecting their parents’ behaviors and lack of genuine love. This cycle from childhood shapes their continued patterns in adulthood.

  • They’re afraid of commitment

Narcissists struggle with commitment because of their fickleness and inflated egos. They believe they deserve the best in every aspect of life and relentlessly pursue it. Their fear of getting hurt and self-preservation instincts make them unfaithful, undermining their ability to form lasting romantic connections.

  • Affection causes discomfort

While expressions of love and care bring joy to most of us, it is not the case for narcissists. Hugs, kisses, and gentle gestures make them wary of others’ intentions and prompt them to withdraw deeper into their shells.

  • They are insecure

Narcissists may appear confident, but deep down, they are insecure. Their extremely low self-esteem is crippling and makes them dangerous and unpredictable. This insecurity leads them to project their frustrations onto innocent victims and prevents them from forming genuine relationships.

  • They fear being abandoned

Intimacy means exposing your true self, like being emotionally naked with someone. Narcissists are terrified of being dumped and humiliated, so they are cautious about anything that can make them vulnerable.

Therapy is crucial in addressing intimacy issues for individuals with narcissistic traits. A skilled therapist helps them understand the reasons behind their struggles, such as low self-esteem and fear of vulnerability. Therapy offers insights and healthier ways to cope with these challenges.

How Does Narcissism Affect Relationships?

Narcissism can significantly affect relationships, profoundly negatively affecting narcissists and their romantic partners. One prominent issue is the lack of empathy displayed by narcissists, making it challenging for them to understand and support their partners’ emotions.

Their self-centeredness often leads to a one-sided focus on their needs, resulting in neglect and frustration for their partners. The narcissist will often resort to gaslighting and guilt-tripping to maintain power in the relationship and get what they desire, not worrying about the consequences of their actions.

Narcissists often withhold emotional connection and affection, leaving their partners unloved and inadequate. They generally do this because of their fears of vulnerability. However, they also withhold affection to leave their partner confused and on edge.

Regarding relationships with narcissists, boundaries are often disregarded, with narcissists invading personal space and ignoring privacy, leading to discomfort and violation. This can cause many problems for the victim, especially if they are not assertive. Relationships with narcissists make it much more important to state and enforce boundaries.

Additionally, the cycle of idealization and devaluation creates instability and confusion, as partners are initially showered with love and admiration only to face criticism and withdrawal later. This mind game leaves the partner desperate for approval, always seeking ways to please the narcissist.

The impact of narcissism on relationships can vary, but seeking therapy or counselling can provide valuable guidance in navigating these challenges.

why-do-narcissists-withhold-sex-and-intimacy? | vimprovement.com


In conclusion, a relationship with a narcissist can feel like riding an emotional roller coaster. It brings its complications that can make things even more challenging and emotionally draining. Narcissists prioritize their needs and desires, often leaving their partners neglected and unwanted.

They exert control over their partners by withholding sex and intimacy. It becomes a tool they use to manipulate, maintain power, or punish their partners. This creates an exhausting back-and-forth dynamic where intimacy becomes a reward or a weapon.

Withholding intimacy is just one aspect of the larger cycle of narcissistic abuse. It starts with the idealization stage, where the narcissist showers their partner with affection and admiration. However, as the relationship progresses, they enter the devaluation stage, slowly chipping away at their partner’s self-esteem through criticism, manipulation, and gaslighting.

This cycle repeats itself, causing emotional turmoil and leaving the partner constantly striving for the narcissist’s approval. The intermittent reinforcement, where the narcissist alternates between cruel mistreatment and affection, creates a trauma bond that further strengthens the narcissist’s hold over their partner.

While every relationship with a narcissist is unique, certain patterns and traits are often associated with narcissistic behavior. Factors such as the level of narcissism, other personality traits, the duration of the relationship, and the dynamics between the narcissist and their partner can all shape the course of the relationship.

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