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Madonna Whore Complex and Patriarchy with Brooke Brownlee, APCC

Feb 28, 2023

There exists a psychological complex is which some men have split conceptions about women, especially the women they have sexual relationships with. Sigmund Freud wrote, “Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire, they cannot love.” What was Freud alluding to when he said that and what does it have to do with how men come to desire a sexual partner and also lose respect for her as a sexual being? In this episode of the Modern Intimacy podcast, Clinical Associate Brooke Brownlee, APCC and Dr. Kate Balestrieri discuss the paradox of the Madonna Whore complex and how it ties into patriarchal ideals.

What is the Madonna Whore Complex

The Madonna Whore Complex is a psychological complex, usually experienced by men who see women as either a sexually pure woman or sexually seductive, with little to no room for a woman to be both or neither of those descriptors. Men who present with a Madonna Whore Complex ideology typically only understand women as either saintly, or a “good girl” or as sexually liberated “whores,” a mental dichotomy that can thwart a man’s sexual arousal or desire based on these beliefs.

The concept of a Madonna Whore Complex is most prevalent in cisgender, heterosexual relationship dynamics and is tied into puritanical, misogynistic gender roles and expectations of what a man’s sexuality is like and how women should present sexually.

The Madonna Whore Complex suggests that women’s sexuality only falls into two categories – one that is sexually submissive and passive and another that is sexually liberating and expressive. Due to the black and white nature of this complex, it certainly impacts women who have faced this restrictive ideology, and it also harms the men who view women this way as it limits the level of intimacy and connection they could have with female partners if they were more easily able to see women as dynamic as opposed to one dimensional human beings.

The Madonna Whore Complex & Patriarchy: What’s the Connection

It might come as no surprise that ideologies such as that of the Madonna Whore Complex are rooted in misogyny and patriarchal ideals of women’s sexuality. Under patriarchy, the sexuality and sexual expression of women is policed, and expectations are rigid. A sexually active woman who is confident and empowered in her sexuality is more likely to receive the “whore” label from misogynistic men, even those who desire a sexual partner who they expect to have fulfilling simultaneous sexual and loving relationships with.

A Madonna Whore Complex, while the underpinnings of sexual power and control might feel beneficial to misogynistic men, hold men back from having more connective relationships with women on an emotional and physical level. People tend to have better sexual encounters when they feel safe and respected by the person they are sexually active with; if a woman feels her sexuality is constantly judged and looked at under a microscope, she likely will not feel comfortable to be her authentic self and thus put up a protective barrier, often unconsciously, to protect herself from the potential shaming they may receive from someone with a Madonna Whore Complex.

Unpacking the MWC

If you or a partner displays signs of aligning with a Madonna Whore Complex, there are ways you can access education on how to move through the harmful ideology. Everyone has the ability to be impacted and molded by the societal messages they are inundated with during developmental years where they may have learned to develop certain biases. There is always the ability to identify those negative messages and learn different and more empathetic ways of understanding and interacting with people, especially people you have close and intimate relationships with.

Brooke Brownlee, APCC is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor at Modern Intimacy under the supervision of Dr. Kate Balestrieri. Brooke is passionate about helping clients heal from trauma, feel more empowered sexually, and repair relationships. Brooke is continuing her education and working towards becoming a Certified Sex Therapist.

“Where such men love, they have no desire, and where they desire, they cannot love.” This quote directly from Sigmund Freud describes a phenomenon he called the Madonna Whore Complex (MWC).

The MWC is deeply rooted in misogynic beliefs and is damaging to women on both an individual and societal level.

The MWC is a psychological complex often perpetuated by heterosexual, cisgender males which places women into two categories the “Madonna, “ a woman who is pure, virtuous, and nurturing, or a “Whore,” a woman who is deemed as overly sexual, manipulating, and promiscuous. The dichotomy of MWC creates a rigidity that limits women’s sexual expression, agency, and freedom by defining their sexuality into one of two categories.

Dr. Kate and Brooke discuss the origin and effects of the Madonna Whore Complex in this podcast: the effects on women and men.

Brooke wrote a blog on the Madonna Whore Complex that can be found on the Modern Intimacy website.

https://www.modernintimacy.com/the-psychology-of-the-madonna-whore-complex/

Website: www.modernintimacy.com

Dr. Kate Balestrieri 

Modern Intimacy

This is the cover for the Modern Intimacy with Dr. Kate Balestrieri podcast.
Dr. Kate Balestrieri, host of Modern Intimacy, a licensed psychologist and certified sex therapist, helps people live more fulfilled lives by shattering stigma and erasing shame. Dr. Kate invites you to join her as she investigates the relationship between sex, mental health, relationships and modern society.

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