A brief insight into “Madonna whore complex”

The Madonna Whore Complex is a psychoanalytical term, coined by Sigmund Freud to describe a male psychological dichotomy in the perception of women – either as saint or sinner. The complex was termed as such by Sigmund Freud, but this dichotomy seems to have existed since time immemorial. Some men experience the inability to view a woman as a whole, but can only view her through the perception of either saint or sinner. The cultural portrayal of men and women as adhering to fixed gender roles also does not help in overcoming this flawed perception of women. Needless to say, this can take a serious toll on personal relationships and many of those who are impacted seek the help of a counsellor to deal with the problem.

According to the Madonna Whore Complex, men either view a woman as a sexually restrained and well behaved ‘Madonna’, or as a sexually free ‘whore’ who must be punished by the man.

The Freudian view

Sigmund Freud first coined this psychoanalytical term and according to him the origins of this dichotomy lie in the childhood relationship with one’s mother. Freud suggests that men feel a fear of oedipal castration when they start to feel the same affection for their wives or partner that they felt for their mother. In order to deal with this subconscious fear, two distinct categories must be created – the women of virtue to admire and protect, and the women to desire, to punish and demean for being sexual.

While Freud’s theory is largely concerning childhood influences, and the mother-son relationship, the psychology behind the Madonna Whore Complex could also be about power, and man’s subconscious fear of losing power. Women’s sexual liberation implies a transfer of power from man to woman, as the man is no longer in control. The woman is no longer a submissive being at the mercy of man’s sexuality, but rather expresses her sexuality independent of the man. Female sexuality also implies loss of power over reproduction as women possess the womb. Procreation and protecting one’s young is a very deeply embedded primal instinct, and control over reproduction is key to this instinct.

The Madonna whore complex as a perceived dichotomy in the roles of women exists everywhere in our society. In fact, the ‘ideal woman as a saintly and glorified being who must be protected vs. the bold, sexually free bad girl’ is a commonly used and popular cultural trope, seen in cultural products in societies all over the world. We may be living in the 21st century, but this portrayal of women and men adhering to fixed gender roles is still at large. So how does this dichotomy affect some people to the point of needing the help of a counsellor?

Seeing a women as a whole self

Some men are affected by this psychological distinction of women into good and bad to a degree where they are unable to view a woman as a whole human being with sexual desires. The man is unable to feel unrestrained sexual desire for a woman he loves and admires, as she cannot be respected and desired at the same time. But although the man is unable to view his wife or partner in a sexual way, sexual desire still exists, and so he starts to look elsewhere, and can only feel attracted to ‘bad women’ who he despises for being sexual. As both the partners are human beings with sexual needs, this usually leads to infidelity and broken relationships.

The Madonna Whore complex can affect a person at any stage in their relationship. For some men, key stages in life such as marriage or fatherhood can trigger them to feel like their wife or partner cannot be viewed in a sexual way. The human mind is an incredibly complex thing, and each person has a unique set of experiences, felt and dealt with in their unique way. While it is impossible to generalise as to what exactly causes the switch in a person, a professional counsellor can help explore the personal issues that may lie at the root of problem.

How to relate better

Sexuality is an integral part of human experience, but it can also be a confusing part of the human experience. A surprisingly high number of people are maladjusted to the notion of sexual desire, not least due to powerful social and cultural influences. Talking to a counsellor in a non judgemental and frank setting can help explore their concept of sexuality, and how the individual perceives their own.

The aim of talking to a counsellor in the context of the Madonna Whore Complex would be to help deal with overcoming a false dichotomy between good and bad women and learning to view all women as beings with their own sexual desires. Prejudice and conditioning is usually very deep rooted. So much so, that sometimes we are not even aware of our own prejudices. Therapy and talking to a counsellor can help conquer deep rooted prejudice and conditioning. It can help overcome a fragmented and flawed perception of women, and develop a more ‘whole’ view of women as human beings.

Images on Creative Commons license courtesy of Gonmi, The Wandering Faun, CJ Scuffins – iPhoneography

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