An Evolutionary Explanation of the Madonna-Whore Complex

Steven Hertler, Mateo Perñaherrera-Aguirre, Aurelio José Figueredo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The Madonna-Whore complex is a product of male psychology that constrains female sexuality. Exaggerating actual differences, males categorize females as chaste “Madonnas” or promiscuous “whores.” This complex is a form of sexual dissociation according to Freudian dogma, proceeds from power imbalances according to feminist theory, and is a Western cultural feature of patriarchal oppression as per postmodern critics. While the Madonna-Whore complex does indeed violate the reality of female sexuality, it may be a feature rather than a bug. As herein argued, it is an evolved psychological outgrowth of paternal uncertainty. Paternal uncertainty forces male mating into short- and long-term strategies. Understanding its biological underpinnings allows us to place the Madonna-Whore complex in an evolutionarily informed matrix of sexual conflict. Therein considered, one can see the outsized threat of cuckoldry to the male. To the extent that males oppress females when dichotomizing their sexuality, females threaten males when engaging in short-term, extra-pair copulations. Thus, from seeing a one-sided oppression of a socio-cultural origin, we progress to an understanding of mutual conflict naturally extending from the biological realities of human mating among males and females with different interests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)372-384
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Psychological Science
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Keywords

  • Complex
  • Madonna-Whore
  • Mating
  • Sexual conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology

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