The Madonna/Whore Complex


“You’re cute and sexy, you know that?” a guy friend asks me over drinks.

“Why do men always mention that? What does that even mean?” I respond.

From a young age, I have been referred to as both “cute and sexy.” But while I’ve always taken it as a compliment — um hello, why wouldn’t I?! — the older I get , the more the terms confuse me. All of a sudden, I’m realizing that when men utter this  compliment, they’re partly in shock. They can’t fathom a woman being both sexy and cute. It’s like you can be either or, but definitely not both. Like it’s so difficult to believe that there can be hybrid women who encapsulate multiple layers of depth and character.

As I sip my tequila pineapple, my friend breaks my mid-thought mind-banter.

“I have a Madonna-Whore complex,” he tells me. I ask him to explain.

He laughs and proceeds to enlighten me. “I have trouble sleeping with — or having sexual thoughts about — any woman I date seriously.”

Aka the Madonna.

Instead, he can only hook-up with the whore – any bad girl or deemed “naughty” woman. I am shook to the core, first, on a self-awareness level.

Obviously I wasn’t born yesterday and I am fully conscious of my online presence, my specific work field, and the utter reality that on a biased level I must come off as the whore right away. My first reaction is to be defensive and repudiate  the validation I originally felt from being called “cute and sexy.” Now, what I thought was such a high compliment, feels like a trigger word.

I want to blame this complex for all the times a guy I liked didn’t “choose” me and instead went steady with what I’ll call a “safer” bet. Although I have been referred to as a combination I am ultimately judged as a whore. I mean how dare a woman be open about her sexuality — she must be a slut and therefore everything she does is devalued and her only use is to be a human fleshlight for the insecure and unstable. It’s a no-win situation. Shit, are my insecurities showing…

My guy friend drags me back down to earth once more. I press him for more information about this so-called Madonna-Whore complex, but he doesn’t have much to say after his general explanation, and honestly after a couple shots I was ready to change directions in conversation. However, the complex had been stamped into my brain.

I decided to do my own research. In SZA’s song “Normal Girl” she sings about her struggle with wanting to be normal, regular, or otherwise “basic” girl. I feel her pain. My sisterhood of quirky girlfriends and I sigh over the success of the normal girl, the good girl, the virgin, the Madonna. Strong, independent, and fearless women are rarely rewarded in today’s society, and though they might elicit desire, they rarely receive the respect they deserve unless they somehow fit into the “strong but not too strong, independent but still dependant on a man, fearless but non-threatening” female archetype. A new day a new box to be contained in. Fully invested in this tragic complex that I’ve been forcefully subjected to without consent I continue my research.

“A pattern of thought that divides female-humanity into two mutually exclusive categories: Madonnas and Whores. The virtuous Madonna figure, possessing and protecting social virtue (and deploring sexuality) is an object of worship and everything that all females should aspire to be. However, sex is not part of this. Anyone who fails to live up to the Madonna standard is a Whore driven exclusively by sexual desire and (therefore) lacking in morality and humanity.”

Discovered by Freud, these usually heterosexual gender-normative scripts have morphed into a new, all-encompassing gender-fluid role, leaving no person free from its grasp. Dissecting the dichotomy of these polarizing viewpoints, respect vs desire, is enough to disable any blossoming relationship – no matter age, gender, race, etc. The reality of the matter is that nothing and no one will fit perfectly into either of these categories. We all possess qualities of the Madonna and the whore. That’s what makes us individually beautiful and unique. Our personalities are not mutually exclusive, and to believe that you can only be one way, is simply ludicrous.

The question is how are we still giving power to these dated concepts? It boils down to being closed-minded and having a stern biased mentality. Release inner anxieties concerning people and sexuality. Quit trying to judge others by splitting their personas into these severe “good/bad” categories. Realize that no one will be able to live up to these extremities. Accept that each person is both the virgin and the whore. This all-or-nothing self-serving attitude will only do relationships an injustice. Putting unfair limitations and regulations on a partner or lover will destroy any foundation of trust. Let go of and break free from sexual repression.




Photos by Jacquie Ray