Have You Heard of the Madonna-Whore Complex?

I wasn't aware of the Madonna-Whore Complex (MWC) until recently when my best friend pointed it out to me in regards to scenarios we'd witnessed in our own lives where this dichotomy appeared to have been present. If you're not familiar with this term, the MWC was a psychological contradiction found in men by Sigmund Freud, a famous Austrian neurologist in the early 1900s. The complex follows the idea that men can only see women as "Madonnas" or "Whores," but not anything in-between. "Madonnas" are presented as virginal and pure, almost depictions of the Virgin Mary, and these are the type of women that a man loves. On the other hand, a "Whore" would be sexual and flirtatious, and this would be the type of woman a man would only desire. However, the theory indicates that a woman cannot share both qualities, she must fall into one of the two categories and that will reveal whether she is worthy of love or desire. 

There are suggestions that the complex stems from a man's relationship with the maternal figure in his life, and they may seek similar qualities that they see in their mother in long-term partners. Whatever the origin is, this dichotomy explains the anxiety that men feel towards women's sexuality - they want a woman that they can respect and love, but once they start to view her as a sexual being, she is no longer deserving of that love. The MWC showcases how women are shamed for having sexual desires, even if they also have "Madonna" qualities. 

The MWC has caused a strain in many relationships, especially in marriage and motherhood. For example, when a couple waits until marriage to have sex, the image of the husband's wife can be immediately tainted on their wedding night once the groom realizes that his bride is a woman with sexual desires. In motherhood, the MWC becomes present in the opposite way; a woman can be viewed as a "Whore," but once she becomes pregnant, she becomes a "Madonna" due to the motherly qualities they suddenly obtain. 

Black women in bra Photo by Womanizer WOW Tech from Unsplash The MWC becomes extremely damaging in relationships when men cannot see their partners as loving and sexual, and it often leads to affairs and sexual frustrations in the relationship. This complex is also extremely prevalent in the media, given that women are still being told to suppress their sexuality, while also being valued for their attractiveness and youth in society. It becomes impossible for some men to realize that women want to be both respected and desired and not put into a box where they can either be pure virgins or forthcoming prostitutes. Media instills the MWC in today's society by portraying the main female protagonists in films as innocent and respected, while the promiscuous girl in horror movies is always immediately killed off. There have even been Tik Tok videos in which men comment on how they can't view the girl they are pursuing sexually because it feels wrong, which is a perfect example of the MWC. 

It seems odd that such outdated and sexist views still hold relevance in today's society, but I see scenarios involving this dichotomy almost too often; I usually witness this on occasions where a guy is courting a girl and seems serious about making the relationship official until they take things to a sexual level and almost immediately afterward, the guy realizes he no longer wants a relationship with that girl. Men need to acknowledge this issue and the deeply rooted societal programming that may be instilled in their perceptions of women and maybe this will allow them to realize when they are viewing a woman as either a "Madonna" or a "Whore." Overall, this is an issue that needs to be addressed more often because women should be allowed to have fluid sensualities without losing any respect or being viewed any differently just because of what is expected of their gender.