Bad to the bone

Our resident sex therapist, Cat O Dowd, explains why “bad boys” aren’t good for anyone…

The rebel without a cause, the smouldering country and western outlaw or charming spy who kills indiscriminately while women swoon: this problematic fantasy promotes characteristics that aren’t exactly favourable or conducive to healthy relationships – or positive masculinity.

Research reveals “bad boys” are bursting with what are called the dark triad traits – narcissistic (entitlement, grandiose self-view), psychopathic (callous, deceit, lacking empathy) and Machiavellian (duplicity, coercive) tendencies. 

These might be useful for short-term mating but hazardous for fulfilling relationships. Relationships need security and predictability to thrive but, paradoxically, these qualities kill desire. 

The bad boy might initially seem appealing because they provide high drama that a “comfortable” relationship might not have delivered. For women, this leads to a destructive cycle of being used and treated badly by emotionally unavailable men.

Rather than run off with manipulative narcissists, how can we cultivate the excitement and spontaneity in our own relationships that keeps desire alive? 

Don’t try to rescue your partner. Some women are attracted to bad boys because they seem fragile or troubled and in need of saving. This could stem from previous abusive relationships or trying to act out patterns from your childhood when you couldn’t save or rescue a parent or caregiver. Try to work on ways of realising your own uniqueness and self-worth independent of anyone else.

Evaluate your own fear of intimacy and commitment or playing the victim role. Is it a defence mechanism to stop you finding true happiness?

Answer these questions: what things turn me on and wake up my desire? Is it moonlight, strawberries, exercise, nature, music, a scent? Rather than saying, “You don’t turn me on,” start owning your desires and empowering yourself. Contemplate what shuts down your desire and become aware of this in your relationships. 

Use imagination and planning to actively plan sexual encounters.

Learning to find the thrill in true intimacy and emotional connection is the antidote for chasing superficial drama with the wrong people.

If you like to think of yourself as a “bad boy” you need to think about what unconscious needs you are trying to fulfil by acting like this. Focus on your partner as a separate entity rather than how they fulfil your needs.

Working on self compassion, (treating yourself with kindness, being aware of your inner critical voice) and what you give, rather than what you get, helps create a better relationship with yourself and others. 

Words: Cat O Dowd. Sex therapist, Couples Coach and Art Therapist.