The Madonna-Whore Complex is a concept coined by Sigmund Freud. Freud’s assertion was that men experience impotence in their marriages because they are not able to both love and have sex with the same woman. While Freud takes a psychological point of view, it is important to see that these kinds of complexes are a result of pervasive societal beliefs.

The Madonna complex arose from religious and social institutions that painted women as inherently pure and in need of protection from the evils of sex. This attitude continues to this day in what is now commonly referred to as slut-shaming. As much as we’d like society to be beyond slut-shaming, it is not.

Symptoms of the Complex

The long-term negative Madonna-whore complex symptoms are many. The pattern begins with the separation in some men’s minds between women they have sex with, and the ones they date or marry. Madonna-whore complex symptoms generally show up in relationships after a man has been having sex with a woman for a while. When he begins developing feelings for her and starts to think of her as a potential long-term partner – and sometimes a potential mother – he stops feeling aroused by her.

Over the course of the relationship, this can lead to affairs, choosing porn over partner sex, or hiring sex workers. A man will look for women he can use for sex, but for whom he won’t develop feelings. There is often a lot of objectification and sexism that is part of the Madonna-whore complex symptom. The idea that some women are only good for sex has its roots in sexism, objectification, and classism. Lower class women have historically been thought of as more sexual, less pure, and less worthy of male protectionism.

The Madonna-Whore Complex in Women

While the Madonna-whore complex is identified largely as a male problem, the same social messages also often impact women’s sexual development. From an early age, women receive the message that sex is not for them, or that they are more precious and deserving of love and protection if they maintain their virginity.

Young women who internalize these ideas often shut down their sexuality. If they have a very strong sex drive, they might engage in sex secretly or embrace the slut label. The problem with this societal concept is that they are then expected suddenly to be able to enjoy sex once they are in a committed relationship or marriage. However, the shutdown can be very difficult to undo and women’s biggest sexual complaint is low desire.

Because the Madonna complex paints mothers as even less sexual than other women, once they have children, they often feel like they shouldn’t do wild sexual things anymore. This often leads to lower sex drive and unimaginative sexual interactions.

The Madonna Syndrome in Marriage

The Madonna syndrome in marriage shows up if one or even both partners suffer from negative and mistaken beliefs about women’s sexuality. A sexless marriage, low sex marriage, or sex that is boring and monotonous are frequent results of the Madonna syndrome.

It gets particularly difficult when women have children as they and their partners may begin to view them solely as mothers instead of lovers. Consciously reintegrating the mother and lover is an important step to treating the Madonna-whore complex.

Madonna-Whore Complex Treatment

The first step in treating the Madonna-whore complex in both men and women is the same as in most other emotional dysfunctions: you have to realize and admit that you have a problem. Then you need to identify the feelings, thoughts, and symptoms that go along with it. It is best if you do this without judging yourself or your partner. After all, you did not create these beliefs in yourself. They come from being steeped in a society that aggrandizes male sexuality and denigrates female sexuality.

For men, the next treatment steps entail self-education about women’s sexual desires – and the fact they are perfectly natural. If they are in a relationship with a woman for whom they have lost desire, they need to try to fantasize doing all of the sexual acts with her that they would do with a woman who they feel it’s ok to be sexual with.

They should communicate what they want to do to their partner – and then try to engage in some of those behaviors. It can be very helpful to do this work with a sex coach because it can unearth many difficult emotions and blocks along the way. It will help to have a non-judgemental and supportive coach to walk them through the process and give validity to all the feelings that might be hard for their partner to hear.

For women, treating the Madonna-whore complex should primarily focus on achieving the realization that separating women into two categories is harmful and disempowers them from enjoying their desire. To recover from the Madonna syndrome, a woman needs to explore what she wants for herself sexually and give herself permission to go after it. This can mean looking at her own fantasies and having places where she can celebrate her sexual desires and interactions.

How a Sex Coach Can Help

A sex coach can really help women in this exploration because slut-shaming makes women distance themselves from their desires. They may never have fantasized or felt comfortable asking for what they want – so they will need someone to help them learn what’s on the menu sexually, and practice how to express their sexual desires.

Women with the Madonna-whore complex may also have trouble orgasming or may never even have had an orgasm. A sex coach can help a woman learn to orgasm for the first time.

If you’re interested in finding a sex coach to help you address your own issues, there’s one near you.

Previous articleHow to Write an Online Dating Profile: 4 Essential Rules
Next articleHow to Stop Porn Addiction
Danielle Harel
Danielle Harel, PhD is the Co-creator of the Somatica® Method and the Co-Founder of the Somatica® Institute. She trains coaches in the Somatica® Method of Sex and Relationship Coaching. She has her own private practice in Sunnyvale, where she supports her clients in having amazing sex and relationships as well as passion-fueled lives. She has published original research on Orgasmic Birth and is the co-author of two books, Cockfidence - The Definitive Guide to Being the Man You Want to Be and Driving Women Wild and Making Love Real - The Intelligent Couples Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion. Danielle Has her Masters in Clinical Social Work From Haifa University in Israel and her PhD in Human Sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS). She is a Clinical Sexologist and a Certified Sexological Bodyworker. Danielle is a Certified Body Positive Facilitator and took many trainings in embodied and mindfulness based therapeutic approaches such as Hakomi.