It’s Time To Shed The Madonna Whore Complex

madonna whore complex
Photo by Alice AliNari

Judging women for their sexual lives seems to be a common target against women since the beginning of time. Despite the progress we’ve made over the years, women’s sexuality is still scrutinized by the rest of the world.

The Madonna-whore complex is a common dichotomy that supposedly describes the two ways women express their sexuality. They either engage in it casually with multiple partners or abstain from having sex completely until they are married. Even then, they only have sex with a heterosexual man. Unlike men, women are not allowed to exist in both realms. They are sharply divided into the whore or virgin trope.

On the one end of the spectrum lies the whore.

The whore is despised by society. She dresses provocatively, always showing skin because she has no self-respect. She represents everything that’s wrong with women. Women who have sex with multiple people are abhorred and avoided at all costs. This number is always defined by the misogynist’s opinion of what “too many” partners look like.

The whore flaunts her sexuality unflinchingly. She simply throws sex around and sleeps with every man she comes across—Queer women do not exist in this universe. She is obsessed with sex, not love, and therefore will never be in a committed, monogamous relationship. The worst part is she’s a person; men can’t tell her what to do or what her sex life should look like. In other words, she’s untamable. A woman who has a mind of her own and makes her own decisions is a threat to our patriarchal society.

Far away on the other end of the spectrum lies the Madonna, or virgin, as she’s commonly called.

The virgin represents everything a woman is supposed to be. She dresses modestly. She’s not forthcoming or intimidating in any way; she knows her place in society. The virgin is the good girl who waits for marriage, or at least until she’s in a monogamous, committed relationship before she has sex with anyone.

She saves herself from having sex until she meets the right man, but it doesn’t require much effort on her part. Abstinence comes naturally to the virgin; she has very little, if any, interest in having sex with anyone. She’s not asexual, though, since queer women don’t exist in this universe.

She is a sexless being to her core or simply naive about her own sexuality and has to have it awakened by a man. Make no mistake, though: she only has sex that the man enjoys, and she has sex solely to please him. It’s what she wants to do, and she’s happy to do it.

She is unfamiliar with her own sexual interests because she has none and has absolutely no experience sexually experimenting with herself. She has never masturbated before or fantasized, and her inexperience is to be expected. A man will have to teach her things about herself and her body and vice versa, and pretty soon, he’ll show her a great time and the first and best orgasm she’s ever had.

None of us are immune to believing in the ridiculous dichotomy of the Madonna-whore complex.

I’ve definitely been guilty of slut-shaming in the past, not to mention following the purity nonsense mentality that comes with virgin praising.

I spent most of my teenage years thinking that women “shouldn’t” dress a certain way, “shouldn’t” have sex with multiple people, and all sorts of faulty lines of thinking on how a woman should behave when it had nothing to do with me.

Most—if not all—of this thinking came from my own internalized misogyny, the one that taught me to fear my sexuality. I tried to repress any sexual feelings I had because I thought I wasn’t supposed to think about sex until marriage. Even now, I have to remind myself that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex and being honest about my experiences with sex.

But I am finally at a place in my life where I’m accepting my sexuality. I love sex and readily admit that to myself and others; should I choose to divulge that information. I don’t feel so guilty when I think about fucking random guys and girls (because yes, queer women exist, and I am one of them). I enjoy my sexual fantasies and the sexual experiences I’ve had.

Sex is just one aspect of myself, and I want to love every part of me.

Contrary to popular belief, both traits can coexist in one person. Someone who enjoys causal sex can enjoy monogamous relationships, too, and decide to abstain from sex if she desires to. Someone who’s never had sex with a partner can masturbate, and she might decide to pursue sex casually at some point in her life. Women aren’t caricatures, and reducing them to such is beyond absurd.

To paraphrase the poet Rupi Kaur: “Slut-shaming is rape culture, and virgin praising is rape culture.” Stop telling women how to live their goddamn lives when it comes to our sexuality and everything else. As long as we’re not hurting anyone, who the fuck cares what we do with our bodies?

Embracing your sexuality, no matter what it looks like, is empowering. I hope every person out there can come to this conclusion. It truly is liberating to live life on your own terms. Let go of the Madonna-whore complex today.

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