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Dr. P


Dear Dr. P, What do you think about the Madonna-Whore Syndrome?  It seems that guys separate women into two categories—one they date and sleep with, and one they marry—and I don’t think this is fair.

The Madonna-Whore Syndrome cuts both ways.  A Father-Don Juan complex exists also.  There are women who find that they are attracted to the exciting, mysterious “players,” who have women swarming , and they are not so attracted to the non-exciting “nice guys” who treat women as ladies with respect.  Men have told me about this.  Only when it is time to “settle down” to marriage is the “nice girl” and “nice guy” considered.  Unfortunately, our partners are then soon discovered to be not quite as sexually exciting as were our pre-marital partnered situations.  For a significant minority of our wedded relationships, then begins a furtive hunt for that sexual excitement that was lost as a result of the marriage.

The dichotomous separation of both men and women into Madonna-Whore, or Father-Don Juan, is indicative of a schism in our thinking about reproduction into two worlds—one of love and the other of lust.  The separation of sex into this duality persists in our sex-negative European-American-Latino Christian culture.  In some Latino cultures it is known as “Marianismo” for the patient wife and “Machismo” for the husband who attends to his mistresses—who will never attain the status of the saintly wife.

This is the result of the philosophical idea of dualism originating in large part with Plato in Greece, and infused into Christian theology by St. Paul (a Greek) and finalized into a profound sexual negativity by St. Augustine (after a life of sexual wantonness, by the way). Reality was divided into things of the mind/spiritual realm which were idealized, eternal and perfect, and into things of the body/material world which were imperfect corruptible.  In psychology the idea persists as the “mind-body” dualism when we attempt to attribute causality of behavior to thought, free-will and choice, or to genetics, biology and environmental factors.

Madonna-Whore in regard to one’s sexual conduct is synonymous with love-lust, virtuous-sinful, “clean-dirty,” honored-dishonored, revered-scorned.  Virgins gained status whereas the “ruined” girls lost status.  This was not so true of men who, in a double-standard of sexual conduct, gained status for being rogues or an admired “ladies’man.”  (“Bond. James Bond.”)

In the Middle-ages, this dichotomy in sexuality, especially that of women, was encoded in the mythology of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.  Although the reputation of Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ closest female friend, as being a saved former prostitute, is today considered to be without evidence by the Vatican, Saint Mary Magdalene is still accepted by sex-workers (prostitutes) as their patron.  Whereas the Virgin Mary was present at Jesus’ corporeal birth, Mary Magdalene was the first person present at Christ’s resurrection. Not only was Jesus conceived without sexual activity, Mary was later declared by a Council of the Church to be Eternally Virgin.  For the longest time, women were urged to maintain their virginity until marriage. But men had less expectation to  remain chaste.  Young ladies (and men) were told, in not so many words “Remember, sex is nasty, dirty, dangerous and disgusting, so save it for someone you love!”  When the time came for persons to then marry and be fruitful, the early sexual restraints were difficult or sometime impossible to overcome.

Most of the sexual dysfunctions and paraphilias that mental health therapists, clergy and agents treat today are the result of unresolved conflicts in the minds of individuals who cannot merge the separate worlds of love and lust or of Madonna and Whore.  How can a husband ask his wife to do this or that in the bedroom when she will use her same hands and mouth in feeding and kissing the children?  How can the wife ask the husband to do this or that, or to actually take the initiative in doing this or that without him thinking that she is whorish in so acting? (“Where did she learn that?”)

The Madonna-Whore syndrome testifies to the essential sexual inequality of women and men.  As parity is achieved, the Madonna-Whore syndrome will fade into history and women will celebrate, rather than deny, their sexuality.  The epitome of this type of woman is seen in one of our most powerful, successful and enduring celebrities.  She has taken the name of “Madonna” and has confounded observers with her mixture of Christian symbolism with her overtly blatant, sometimes pornographic sexuality.  The successful TV series, “Sex and the City”  is another indication that the Madonna-whore syndrome is fading.  It can’t be too soon.

Opinionatedly yours,

Dr. P