How The Madonna/Whore Complex Ruined My Relationship

He began to shame me for my sexuality while simultaneously demanding it of me. And it eventually torpedoed the relationship.

As women, we learn to accept that the world wants a lot from us. It’s exhausting.

And nowhere—nowhere—is this minefield of expectation and pressure more pronounced than when it comes to our sexuality. The contradicting demands put on us by society (and sometimes by our partners) are frustrating and confusing at best, and oppressive and scarring at worst.

It starts from the minute we enter into the world of sexual politics.

The worst and most common thing to call a girl in my middle school was “prude.” If you hadn’t kissed a boy yet or didn’t let a boy go as far as he wanted—you were branded. It was meant to be humiliating and shameful. And it was.

By high school, we had matured past that. Then, the worst and most common thing to call a girl was “slut.” And that was meant to be humiliating and shameful. It also was.

I’ve been called both. You probably have too.

And spoiler alert—we grow up, have sex, and it all gets even more complicated.

Enter: the Madonna/Whore Complex.

Everybody’s favorite incest enthusiast, Sigmund Freud, talked about men’s “anxiety” about female sexuality with a theory he dubbed “The Madonna/Whore Complex.” Freud said that men see women in two mutually exclusive groups: the virginal, pure Madonna and the dirty, sexual Whore. These categories are rigid and they are absolute. He theorized that men won’t (or can’t) have real relationships with women they see as Whores—and also that they won’t sexually desire those they see as Madonnas.


Now, I am not in the business of validating Freud’s theories, but as a feminist, a sexual woman and a (sometimes) active participant in New York City’s dating scene…it’s impossible to deny that he was on to something.

My recent experience of the Madonna/Whore Complex was with a partner who wanted me to be both—on his terms.

He would call me “hypersexual.” When we first started dating, he said it as a compliment (I think). Now, I’m super sex-positive, my cleavage is my favorite accessory to highlight on a night out, I talk openly about sex and I have a very healthy sexual appetite…so I didn’t disagree with his assessment or think much of his comments.

But soon, he began to shame me for my sexuality while simultaneously demanding it of me. And it eventually torpedoed the relationship.

He would make offensive assumptions, such as…

He saw a picture of two friends and I from when I was visiting South Africa (where I used to live) while we were on a break. He mistakenly assumed that they were my ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend. I asked him what, on god’s green earth, he was thinking, to which he matter-of-factly replied “I figured you were sleeping with both of them.”

Or when he and a mutual friend FaceTimed me and I answered in my dark bedroom. We all spoke for about 10 minutes and when we hung up, he texted me: “We have a bet about why it’s so dark there. Either you were [masturbating] or you’re not alone.” I asked him “Which one of you thinks I’m not alone?” he responded “Me.” For the record, it was dark because I put myself to bed early for a Netflix session and my light switch is all the way across the room. But that doesn’t matter.

I realized that if, to him, a photo with two people meant I’m sleeping with them, and a dark room meant I’m either masturbating or sleeping with someone else, then my sexuality, or rather, his perception of it, was dominating how he saw me. And I was completely suffocated and offended by it.

Freud was starting to make some sense. It seemed like my partner needed to understand my sexual nature by fitting me into the binary of female sexuality as he knew it. And in a world of Madonnas and Whores, to him, I was the Whore.

I remember one time, after a particularly hot morning-sex session, we both flopped down on to the bed, smiling like idiots and catching our breath. He thought we were finished, I disagreed. “MORE?!?!” he said with such judgmental exasperation, I nearly hobbled him.

In the “spirited” conversation that ensued, he explained why my wanting more sex was such a problem for him.

“When you still want more, I feel like I’m not satisfying you and eventually I just won’t be enough.”

Ahh, it made him insecure.

A recent study from the European Journal of Social Psychology shows that new relationships can suffer from the man’s issues with a woman’s display of sexual desire. Mic summed it up perfectly: “Study says straight men worry if their girlfriends are too horny. Because sexism.”

So, it was obvious, and now confirmed by psychological research, that he was overwhelmed, intimidated, and perhaps a bit bewildered by my level of sexuality.

He saw me as the Whore, but was trying to be in a relationship with the Madonna.

Right? Wrong.

My “hyper-sexuality” came in quite handy when he wanted to do things I am only assuming he learned from PornHub categories I have never visited (and I’ve visited most).

Sometimes he craved the Whore, and encouraged her. When it suited him.

There were times, to his shock and dismay, I would want to sleep or talk instead of have sex. Or I wouldn’t be in the mood to sext during the day. Or not be into fulfilling one of his kinks. Sometimes, I’d just really want to cuddle. When he got the Madonna, he didn’t want her.

Amy Schumer totally nailed this dynamic of being a woman trying to figure out which side of the Madonna/Whore spectrum your partner is looking for.

In her sketch “Madonna vs. Whore,” the new guy she’s about to sleep with is giving her tons of mixed signals about the type of girl he wants her to be. He even calls her a “filthy angel” and a “sweet innocent whorebag.” So she finally just asks him:

“Do you want the Madonna or the Whore?”

“Yeah,” he responds.

“Wait….which one?” she presses.

“Both…I need you to be a combination of Hermione from the third movie and Nicki Minaj.”

He wants her to be totally virginal and inexperienced, but also really good at sex.

“I need you to be a sexual Good Will Hunting. You have no formal education, but then you see my dick and just get it.”


Needless to say, my relationship ended. The fight that resulted from the “FaceTiming in the dark” debacle was our last.

During our final phone call he suggested we “stay friends” and “hang out,” but just not have sex. I scoffed and told him that I wasn’t interested in a recipe for disaster like that. To which he responded: “We’re not animals, you know. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still want to take you down as hard as I can…but you have so much more than sex to offer as a person.”

So, in his mind, in order to talk to me about politics or take advantage of all the other aspects of my personality or friendship, we’d need to stop having sex? Poor thing, he was genuinely trying to salvage something from our relationship. And I was rooting for him and for us. But instead, he just became a living, breathing Freudian theory.

The point is that I’m not a Madonna or a Whore…I’m both, and more, on any given day.

I really liked this one. We had a true connection, sexual and otherwise. But it could never work because I didn’t like how I looked through his eyes. And neither of us could do anything to change that.

We are all complex, multi-dimensional, sexual beings. Beautiful ones. And we deserve to be loved, and seen, as such.

Bobby Shayne is a 29-year-old single woman living in New York City. She is an Entrepreneur, Writer, and Intersectional Feminist. 

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