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Unveiling the 'Madonna-Whore' Complex

How one of the most common, yet misunderstood, male sexual dysfunctions can rip relationships apart
 
 
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“Where such men love they have no desire, and where they desire they cannot love,” Sigmund Freud wrote back in 1925.  The founding father of psychoanalysis coined the Madonna-whore complex – a condition whereby men view women as either saintly, virgin Madonna’s or sexual “whores”.

In essence, the effect of Madonna-whore on a relationship is an inability of the man to maintain sexual arousal within a committed, loving partnership.  In his psyche he categorizes women into two groups: women he can admire and women he finds sexually attractive; the former he loves, the latter he devalues.

Dr. Patrick Suraci, Ph.D., and author of “ Male Sexual Armor: Erotic Fantasies and Sexual Realities of the Cop on the Beat and the Man in the Street” explained the origins to Alternet:

“Historically men had a dichotomy in their perception of women. In the past, men, especially teens, had the idea that they had to marry a 'good girl' - a virgin. They only had sex with the 'fast girls' or 'bad girls'.  They waited until marriage with a 'good girl' - a Madonna, before engaging in sexual activities with her. Literally, sometimes they went to a whore for their first sexual experience.  The advent of the pill changed the way women approached sex and thus men had to also change their views to accommodate women”, he told Alternet.

From then on, Dr. Suraci explained, women were as free to have sex as men were, and men no longer had to make a distinction between good and bad girls and didn't expect to marry a virgin. 

Yet, despite the effect that female contraception had on the women's liberation movement and that we live in a post Third-wave feminism era, the dichotomy still rears its ugly head today through pop culture, slut-shaming and condemning women in society who enjoy sex as being a whore.  Equally as patronizing to feminists, is the ‘Madonna’ label whereby men put a woman on a pedestal as someone to be protected and subservient to men. 

As it applies in the context of relationships in modern times, Madonna-whore complex generally manifests itself after marriage or the birth of a child as Dr. Suraci explains:

“A man may think of his wife as a mother and not an appropriate sex partner. He is accustomed to having intercourse with a sexy woman and his wife does not fit the bill. She is now the mother - Madonna. Unconsciously, she may remind him of his mother who cannot be a sexual being,” he said.

However, according to clinical psychologist and sex therapist, Dr. Peter S. Kanaris, Ph.D., while Freud’s conceptualization has some merit, cultural and religious considerations also play a major part:

“In our western American culture we get a divided message that the wholesomeness of love and the ‘good girl’ woman we want to be with in a long-term relationship and perhaps marry, is anything but sexual.  She is the person who is responsible and represents stability and foundation.  The other aspect of our culture is salacious emphasizing the ‘bad girl’, the one that you don’t marry and is separated in our culture from the one we think seriously about in terms of a long time relationship,” he explained to Alternet.  

Furthermore, religion is another factor in reinforcing that sex and love don’t really fit together in that many displays of sexuality in religious relationships are filled with disapproving messages that “Madonna type phenomena” should not be associated with anything sexual. 

Moreover, the fact that many males get their first sexual images from internet porn only further unwittingly forces the Madonna/whore divide which in turn becomes a challenge in the development of male sexuality.

 
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