Rachael Flach
Madonna-Whore Complex
Freudian History: It’s all in your mind
The famous psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud, is considered by many to be the “creator” of the Madonna-Whore Complex theory. In Freud’s practice, impotence was a huge complaint among patients. He attributed the dysfunction to “an inhibition due to an unresolved neurotic fixation leading to an arrest of the libidinal development” (Hartmann, 2009). In other words, male impotence is caused by something in the mind that is blocking your libido. A person has negative thoughts in the mind, and thus does not want to have sex. Freud states that what results from this inhibition is that sex is a “splitting of the tender and the sensual dimension of sexuality, most notably in the so-called Madonna-whore complex” (Hartmann, 2009). Thus this inhibition results in males associating sex with one of two things, either something full of love, or something highly erotic.
Dysfunctional Mothers and Sons
playboy.jpg
A Spanish Playboy Cover: The Madonna-Whore complex is represented here, with a highly sexualized Madonna, the mother of Jesus.

Freud attributes the main cause of the complex to be a dysfunctional relationship between mothers and sons, most often when the male is raised by a mother who is emotionally unavailable (Speyrer, n.d.). The male then subconsciously courts a woman with the same qualities as his mother. He courts the similar woman because he is subconsciously searching for the intimacy missing in his childhood. By developing a relationship with a woman who has the same qualities as his mother, the son is forming a “new” relationship with his mom. The man soon starts to see his wife as a mother figure, and “thus not a possible object of sexual attraction” (Speyrer, n.d.). Because of the splitting dimensions of sex as discussed above (sex for love or sex for sensuality), the male thinks that love and sex cannot be associated with one another. As Speyrer states, “for this reason…the man is reluctant to have sexual relations with his wife, for that, he thinks subconsciously, would be incest” (Speyrer, n.d.). Because the male sees his wife as a mother figure, sex with her would be incest. Thus women are either placed into the “Madonna category”, the virginal mothers, or the “Whore” category, the women used exclusively for sex.
The Double Standard
The Madonna-Whore Complex is often associated with the double standard with men and women. Conrad (2006) states that the “meaning and significance of female sexuality…is defined in relation to and against the natural sexual aggression and prowess of a man.” In other words, women’s sexuality is defined by men and according to male standards. As a result, women and their sexuality are separated into two possible categories, the good girls or the bad girls. Good girls “submit themselves to a male-defined double standard that says women should not consummate a sexual relationship too often, too quickly, with too many men, or under the wrong circumstances,” while bad girls do the complete opposite, “only to find they have been played as pawns in a sexual game conceived and controlled by men” (Conrad, 2006). In other words, women who are “good” and do not have sex are submitting to the double standard and are placed in the “Madonna” category on the Madonna-Whore spectrum. Women who are “bad” are used by men and thus placed in the “Whore” category.
Implications
While the double standard for women is a huge consequence of the Madonna-Whore complex present in men, there are other implications present on women. For one, this complex “continues to exist in the cultural view of women’s sexuality and the private realm of women’s individual psyches” (Straussner & Brown, 2002). Not only do men continue to view and judge women, labeling them as either whores who are “willingly available for sex” or as Madonna’s who are “nonsexual…idealized and worshipped,” but more importantly, women place themselves in these categories (Straussner & Brown, 2002). Women judge themselves and their actions by this Madonna-Whore duality. They are either virgins or sluts, with no gray area in between. The labels of “whore,” “slut,” and “skank” are becoming much more common. Indeed, girls even jokingly themselves and friends these names.
Even more importantly is that because of this double standard, women’s sexuality and communication about that sexuality has been ignored or suppressed. Straussner & Brown (2002) state “As a consequence of this split, there has been scant attention given by health professionals to the issue of women’s sexuality in general and to the issue of sexual addiction among women in particular.” As a result of the Madonna-Whore complex, communication among women and their doctors regarding their sexuality is extremely limited. This limited communication can result in a number of things, including the repression or hindrance of women and their sexuality, misinformation and misdiagnosis on the doctor’s part, the development of a preventable disease, and many more others. If a woman is unable to talk to her doctor about condom use, safe sex with multiple sexual partners, symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease or infection, she and the doctor are missing huge health risks.
Not only does the Madonna-Whore complex result in a communication gap between doctors and women, but it also results in a communication gap between men and women or more specifically between husbands and wives. As stated above, men label women either as a virginal Madonna or a sexually available whore. This labeling of all whores as sexually available could potentially result in sexual violence and rape against these women seen as promiscuous and available. On the other hand, the virginal Madonnas are potential victims of sexual frustration and cheating husbands. Men marry the “good girl,” but can’t have sex with her. As stated by John (1986), “men seem eager to marry virgins, but they still want to fool around.” The implications of the Madonna-Whore complex on men, and especially women, are very vast and complicated.
References
Conrad, B. (2006). NEO-INSTITUTIONALISM, SOCIAL MOVEMENTS, AND THE CULTURAL REPRODUCTION OF A MENTALITÉ: Promise Keepers Reconstruct the Madonna/Whore Complex. Sociological Quarterly, 47(2), 305-331. doi:10.1111/j.1533-8525.2006.00047.x
Hartmann, U. (2009). Sigmund freud and his impact on our understanding of male sexual dysfunction. The journal of sexual medicine, 6(8), 2332-2339.
John, C. (1986, August 11). 'THE HUMAN ANIMAL,' A 5-PART SERIES. New York Times. p. 17. Retrieved from EBSCOhost..
Psychology « Boys Beauty and Brains. (n.d.). Boys Beauty and Brains. Retrieved April 11, 2011, from http://boysbeautyandbrains.wordpress.com/tag/psychology/
Speyrer, J. A. (n.d.). The Madonna/Whore Complex: - A Primal Therapy Theory Interpretation . The Primal Psychotherapy Page. Retrieved April 11, 2011, from http://primal-page.com/madonna.htm
Straussner, S. L., & Brown, S. (2002). The handbook of addiction treatment for women . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.