There is theoretical reason to believe that narcissism is associated with infidelity. Yet, studies that have examined this association have yielded inconsistent results. Given that these inconsistencies may have emerged because prior studies used global assessments of narcissism that do not capture the extent to which the components of narcissism are activated in the sexual domain, the current research drew from two longitudinal studies of 123 married couples to examine the extent to which sexual narcissism predicted marital infidelity. Consistent with the idea that narcissism predicts sexual behavior when activated in the sexual domain, own sexual narcissism was positively associated with infidelity, controlling for own marital and sexual satisfaction, own globally-assessed narcissism, partner globally-assessed narcissism, and partner sexual narcissism. Helping to explain why this association emerged, further analyses demonstrated that it was driven by all four facets of sexual narcissism—sexual exploitation, grandiose sense of sexual skill, sexual entitlement (Study 1 only), and lack of sexual empathy (husbands only). Additionally, although partner sexual narcissism was unrelated to infidelity on average, partners’ grandiose sense of sexual skill and partners’ sexual entitlement (Study 2 only) were positively associated with infidelity, and partners’ lack of sexual empathy was negatively associated with infidelity (Study 2 only). These findings highlight the benefits of using domain-specific measures of sexual narcissism in research on sexual behavior and the benefits of using domain-specific measures of personality more generally.
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Throughout this article, we use the phrase sexual infidelity to refer to extra-dyadic sexual relations that occur in the context of committed relationships presumed to be monogamous rather than extra-dyadic sexual relations that are accepted as part of open or polyamorous relationships.
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McNulty, J.K., Widman, L. Sexual Narcissism and Infidelity in Early Marriage. Arch Sex Behav 43, 1315–1325 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0282-6