The Madonna/Whore Complex and Sexuality During Motherhood
Am I a Madonna, or am I The Whore?
Jesus Christ. As a third wave feminist I cannot believe I am having to ask myself this question. I know better than this. We are allowed to be both. Sex positive and have boundaries. But… Here I am. Naomi Wolfs “The Beauty Myth” doesn’t help me now. My MA in counseling psychology isn’t working either, after all Sigmund Freud famously said (apparently to Maria Bonaparte); “The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is: 'What does a woman want?'”
Who the hell knows? If I cannot tell you what women want then no one can. Each one is quite different. But I think one thing we all can agree on is, no matter what religion you grew up in, both men and women have a Madonna/Whore complex in this culture when it comes to sex, love and marriage. The Madonna -- referring to the woman worthy of praise, respect, flowers, expensive dinners -- is a good and virtuous, and marriage material. While The Whore, according to legend, is a second class someone who likes to be used and abused; she is full of sexual lust, has a wandering, non-committal eye, and is willing to do anything (even degrading things) for love, protection or money. Her values are poor and she’s the family secret you cannot take out in public or even really tell your friends about.
My guess is if you are reading this, you are a mom. Your feathers may ruffle as you proclaim you are neither of these archetypes. Or you may boast that you are both these archetypes. Is anyone brave enough to admit this split exists in them, or in their spouse? It’s a heavy concept to take apart. I don’t even feel like taking it on, but I will for the sake of wanting to open this discussion for us all.
I AM worthy of love, adoration, flowers and jewelry, meeting the family, and being seen in public. And I have been wild and passionate both before and after marriage. But after baby? Sigh. It has been a real struggle. Society most definitely does not want to think about a mother being wild. Young men these days grow up with the internet as their way to discover what women want and are like, and even if they know it’s not real, they assume these women are out there because they may even have met them on their journey.
Since I am healing my own split I will own up to having been both the Madonna and The Whore in different parts of my journey. But, I am married with a child and there seems to be no room for the wild feminine that once was. And quite frankly my husband misses it.
Who can blame him? What is sexier than being a woman really in her power and body ? A woman who loves to dress and look sexy and knows it is SHE IS…HOT. A woman who can seduce an entire room if she wants to when she dances is HOT. Even I can admit that. I find empowered women sexy as hell. Think Madonna, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Britney Spears or whomever your favorite diva is. Do you love her? Do you hate her? Do you envy her? Or emulate her?
So how does a busy mother who cleans diapers, does dishes and laundry and sing “abc’s and 1-2-3’s” all day find time for sex and “drop it like its hot” on command? Do we need to remind our husbands they are still the love of their lives and we still think they are as sexy and handsome as the day we married them? Maybe even more? When no one has the time or money to do that very much if at all?
I have maybe had 2 dates in two years. Do I feel like getting in a little black dress and strappy heels and sultry make up in the bedroom for eating takeout on the bed? NO. Should I do so for the sake of my marriage? Probably. So I do from time to time. Is it my idea of a date? Sorry, no. I cannot access that lusty part of me anymore.
Before we had a child we had a wild passionate creative sex life. Now I am one step away from either nunnery, convent , feminist lesbian cult, or using copious amounts of alcohol as my “relaxant”. Which let’s face it, is not a healthy coping mechanism.
So what happened?!?!?!? Well...let’s back up 9 months prior to having a baby. As soon as I found out that I was pregnant, my body started changing. My nipples hurt and I threw up the entire first and third trimesters. I went from wanting rough passionate pull-my-hair sex, and throw-me-against -the-wall sex, to being so sensitive I didn’t want to be touched at all. Hormones. Thanks for that.
Then, after having a baby, our bodies are changed. For some that means weight gain, bloat, stretch marks. For me it means I am stressed at all times. I work 16 hours days without ANY breaks or “lunch” besides maybe the leftover mac and cheese I made for my kiddo. I try to be the best wife and mother I know how to be. I told myself, “It will normalize after the baby right?” Well, as I observed in my peers who had babies around the time I did. The sex drive came back for a about 3 or 4 of the 13 women I talked to, so I know I am not alone. Are we moms having sex and enjoying like we used to? Or am I just broken? Is the answer that as a woman being “provided for” should I put more effort into looking sexy? Is it that I need counseling (more) to discover my inherent self worth? Is it that I just lack the right lingerie?
More importantly is this question, for all of us: do we have to put out or get out? An especially interesting question for stay at home moms: If you don’t cook, clean, and put out is your value gone? Or are they enough just as is by birth? By class? by race? Socioeconomic status? Heart? Or are we judged by performance? If you got a job would this not be an issue? Or would that exacerbate the power struggle?
I tell myself, “after all ….out of our love, we created this child. This child is made from our love. Love deserves to be kindled and rekindled, so this child is raised in a relaxed loving home.” I wish I had the cure-all answer for this issue. But until I get 2 weeks to kumbaya at Esalen in a NorCal workshop about divine bean-ticking, or Tantra in Hawaii for 1G a pop with money that we don’t have and time that we don’t have, I am gonna settle for a glass of champagne.
Or I'll try to be compassionate that men struggle just as hard as we do. No pun intended. I know I do not have the right answers yet, but I hope I am asking the right questions. Can Mom’s and Dad’s understand the pressure each is put on them? Can we empathize with a woman’s need to care for her child and husband? Can we understand that a man is equally as pressured? Do we have the time to consider the other half and what they grapple with? Do you/we/all of us have a Madonna Whore complex? Can we be both ? Can we heal?
I certainly hope so.
Photo reproduction of "The Madonna and Child" by Il Sassoferrato