"The word and works of God are quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes."
— Martin Luther
A pattern of thought that divides female-humanity into two mutually exclusive categories: Madonnas and Whores. The virtuous Madonna figure, possessing and protecting social virtue (and deploring sexuality) is an object of worship and everything that all females should aspire to be. However, sex is not part of this. Anyone who fails to live up to the Madonna standard is a Whore driven exclusively by sexual desire and (therefore) lacking in morality and humanity. An active sex life makes one a Whore... unless one is married, and sometimes not even then. The Madonna-Whore complex is a notable contrast to the The Three Faces of Eve as it ignores the Wife archetype (one who is sexually active but morally good/"pure") and creates a False Dichotomy between the Child and Seductress. That said, many Madonnas are wives, though they are more often mothers or sisters, or other females with close emotional ties to whomever considers them a Madonna.
The Madonna-Whore Complex (aka "Virgin-Whore Complex") was described by Sigmund Freud on the basis of some of his clinical work. Specifically, he noticed the difficulty some men had in having sexual relations with their wives because they differentiated women into these categories. Those men were aroused by prostitutes and mistresses but not their wives because, paradoxically, they respected the latter too much (they viewed them as fellow humans, i.e. not whores) to be sexually attracted to them.
Occasionally this is enforced by The Scourge of God.
Compare Slut Shaming, Light Feminine and Dark Feminine, Betty and Veronica, My Girl Is Not a Slut, Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains, Good People Have Good Sex. Sometimes may be seen as a sign of Black and White Insanity.
No relation to the pop musician Madonna.
The Madonna is always good at heart, always chaste and often passive. She sometimes is corrupted - often sexually, and often by the Whore, directly or indirectly. Common tropes applying to the Madonna:
Miki definitely has this complex. He loves Anthy, whom he sees as entirely virginal and passive, because he sees her as basically the foil of his promiscuous sister Kozue, whom he is sexually attracted to. The theme appears to be that Miki sees Anthy and Kozue as two sides of one woman, and by extension seeing neither as a full person in her own right.
Naruto contains a variation with the characterization of Sakura and Karin. Sakura is never seen making any sexual advances to Sasuke, only a teary Anguished Declaration of Love and total devotion pre-timeskip. Whereas Karin is much more openly sexual, to the point of planning to drug Sasuke's teammates post-timeskip so as to rape him while he's weakened.
Played with in Sailor Moon. While the female villains are always provocatively dressed; positively-depicted females are always dressed, if not actively conservatively, then in socially acceptable variations on uniforms. On the other hand Usagi is shown sleeping with her boyfriend several times throughout the manga series, including the very end of the manga, when he asks her to marry him. She's shown very clearly to be a good person. And not only that, but Naoko Takeuchi often draws Usagi in lingerie or naked. Often alongside a naked/half-naked Mamoru.And she's never denigrated for that.
"Usagi is pure-hearted, but she isn’t “pure” in the archaic sense. She’s sexual. And I love that she can be both. She’s the amaranthine avatar of goodness and love and serenity in the universe—she is every cherished ideal we hold of what it means to be a “magical girl.” She stands for truth and freedom and hope. She wears floaty pastel clothes and enormous pigtails and her weapons are covered in hearts and stylized angel wings. She’s often drawn with angel wings herself! And she has sex. It doesn’t make her dirty, or suddenly inappropriate as entertainment for young girls. She doesn’t lose her power or her magic. She is a multifaceted young woman who loves sweets and comics and vanquishes the forces of evil and also has sex."
Magical Girl anime in general tend to have shades of this just by the nature of the genre: if the villain is female (and not the same age as the heroine), there's a better-than-even chance she'll be an older, "fallen" woman whose list of motivations is likely to include things like "bitterness" and "jealousy".
Played with in Anatolia Story. The Big Bad, Queen Nakia, is The Vamp and a Vain Sorceress, but she isn't defined by sexuality. She married her husband out of political obligation and has no love for him, she gave birth to her son only for revenge (she wanted her bloodline to rule the land she was forced to live in), and the only man she seems to have any actual affection for is a eunuch, and thus cannot possibly have a sexual relationship with her. Yuri is young, sweet, idealistic, and hesitant about having sex with Kail; however she doesn't hesitate to get involved with political or dangerous matters (she often goes into war zones to fight), is quite a Guile Hero, tells her female friends to live for love if they want to, and eventually has a very sexual and passionate relationship with Kail, which is considered normal. (In fact, her friends and servants considered it very strange that she waited as long as she did to sleep with him).
Played with in Hope Springs Eternal. The "bad girl" Hecate, who tries to seduce Hades, is incredibly amoral and trying to control him so she can have command of the Underworld. Persephone, on the other hand, is shown as being pure, naive, and the virginal spring goddess. It's subverted when Persephone's Hidden Depths are revealed: she's naive because her mother has kept her over-protected for her entire life, which she hates. While she's got a good heart, she also can be pretty fierce. And as she points out, spring is the time when animals mate, meaning she's a virginal goddess who's very sexually frustrated. She and Hades end up having a very passionate, physical relationship. It's further subverted with Hades's first wife, who was a tree nymph who was sweet, loving, and too innocent to fake her feelings, but like Persephone, enjoyed a very passionate relationship with Hades.
Film - Animated
In most Disney films, but especially Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty, where the "good" princess is pure and virginal and the "evil" villainess is an older woman with more sexuality. The first princess to play with this was Ariel, who is a Fiery Redhead who uses a Seashell Bra and is left pretty much naked when she transforms into a human - she's naive and sheltered, but her design was the first one that evoked sexuality.
Funnily enough, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs could be said to invert this trope. Pure-hearted Snow White is more interested in men (she spends most of the movie fantasizing of reuniting with her prince) than her stepmother, the Queen, who is more interested in her looks than anything.
Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame has this as a plot point and heavily deconstructs the trope. Esmeralda, our female heroine is considered to be a Whore (seductive, performs suggestive dances, other men fantasise about her) which puts Frollo in a tough position. He lusts after her but knows he can't have her because she is a Whore (plus he's bigoted against gypsies) so he decides to burn her if she refuses him.
What's more, Quasimodo is well-intentioned but only sees Esmeralda as a pure Madonna, heavily idealizing her since she saved him from humiliation and possible death — which does NOT mix well with the fact that Quasi has an extremely naive view of human relationships due to him living all of his life locked away fom the world. Phoebus is attracted to both Esmeralda's kind heart and her alluring nature, so she chooses him because he's the only one that sees her as a proper human being with flaws and pros instead of just one thing or another. Ironic, considering in the original book...
A much milder version is used in Corpse Bride. Victor finds himself engaged to both the sweet but demure Victoria and the much more passionate (but dead) Emily. Victor remains faithful to Victoria, with the advantage that she's the one he metand fell in love with first, but the movie still does show Emily as a good person, and Victor cares very much about her (as do quite a few of the residents of the afterlife, who are pleased with a chance to have at her murderer, at the end of the movie).
The Night of the Hunter: The villain Harry Powell has this — being caught at a strip club at the beginning of the film, then later refusing to have sex with his wife on their wedding night and lecturing her that her body is only meant for having children.
The Cabin in the Woods has Jules and Dana shoehorned into both roles, Jules becoming "The Whore" and Dana being "The Virgin". Though in reality the Whore is in a steady relationship with her boyfriend and isn't exactly that promiscuous while the Virgin/Madonna isn't actually a virgin and has been having an affair with her professor.
The existence of the Final Girl in slasher movies runs on this trope. The Final Girl is typically a virgin and above vices such as drinking, smoking and being promiscuous. She is usually contrasted with other girls in the film who enjoy frequent sex and therefore don't survive the film. Halloween (1978) was among the first to do this with all the female victims being killed in relation to sex. Two had just had sex while the third was on her way to do so.
The titular heroine of Malena. Renato sees Malena as a Madonna figure, even having an Imagine Spot where she rides through the town dressed as the Virgin Mary. The women of the town see her as a Whore because the men ogle her and stare at her as she passes by. Malena herself starts out the film as a Madonna but becomes a Whore when she is forced to become a prostitute to make money.
Cruel Intentions has the virginal Annette Hargrove contrasted with the manipulative and sexual Kathryn Merteuil.
Tony: Are you a nice girl or are you a cunt? Annette: Can't I be both? Tony: No. It's a decision a girl's gotta make early in life, if she's gonna be a nice girl or a cunt.
In Analyze This Billy Crystal asks Robert De Niro why he has a mistress. De Niro explains that there are things he can't do with his wife. When Crystal asks what, De Niro replies "Doc, it's the mouth that kisses my children goodnight".
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man : Stephen Dedalus seems to suffer from this acutely
In Anita Blake, the eponymous character suffers from this kind of thinking. Often she and other characters, mostly male, believe her to be a slut and treat her badly because she has something called The Arduer, a magical compulsion to have sex. If she didn't give in to it, it would eventually kill her, and through her, everyone she is magically tied to (most of the cast). This is a source of much Wangst in the series.
In And Eternity, the protagonists read the memories of a rapist/serial killer, and find that he was motivated by this.
Certainly the view of Ambrosio in The Monk, who tires of Matilda and Antonia for that matter after she is no longer "pure." Lewis himself seems to take a less extreme stance on the matter, painting Antonia as an innocent victim.
Margareta (Greta) in Faust is seen by her brother(and the rest of the village)as having fallen from Madonna to Whore as a result of taking a lover.
Battlestar Galactica: Showrunner Ron Moore has described Number Six (or at least the Six that only Baltar can see, who is really a messenger of a higher power) as being a Madonna-Whore made real.
Dollhouse has an entertaining scene where Victor, who has apparently been given the imprint of a psychologist, speculates that Adelle is jealous of Echo and the other female actives because they get to be both the Madonna (their innocent resting states) and the Whore (a fair amount of their requested personas) and are celebrated for both roles. Adelle is not amused.
In Noah's Arc, initially it appears that Ricky doesn't want to have sex with Junito because Junito is HIV positive. Ricky later confesses that it's because Ricky's falling in love with him, despite having had random sex partners in the quadruple digits.
Merlin is one interesting inversion: it is the unambiguously moral Guinevere who is linked with love and sex (desired by both Arthur and Lancelot) whilst the more dubiously good Morgana becomes more asexual as the show goes on (she begins the show as a flirty and good female version of The Charmer, but loses all interest in men by series 3, at which point she's a Wicked Witch). Even more interestingly, Morgana's evil plan to discredit Guinevere revolves around making Arthur believe that she's cheating on him with Lancelot. While Morgana's descent into darkness makes her less and less careful as to the impression she gives (though no less persuasive), Guinevere learns to be more confident and becomes Progressively Prettier.
8 Simple Rules initially contrasts the bookish and conservative Kerry with the outgoing and promiscuous Bridget, Kerry would often be given more steady boyfriends while Bridget would have a different guy every week (sometimes when she was with a boyfriend too). The show keeps subverting it though and Kerry lampshades it in one episode where she remarks that their father expects her to be "some old spinster like Miss Havisham" and tries to act like a Whore to annoy him. The show really turned the trope on its head when it's revealed Bridget is still a virgin and Kerry loses hers by cheating on her boyfriend.
The trope is actually invoked by another female - Bridget after she's annoyed that her mother starts dating.
Bridget: You're not a woman, you're a mother.
Cate: I hate to break it to you but you can be both. Or are you unsure about how I became a mother?
A similar contrast is done in Hope And Faith with Madonna Hayley and Whore Sydney, as well as the titular sisters Hope and Faith respectively.
In Boardwalk Empire, the protagonist Nucky Thompson spends his time indulging in blatant "Whore" Lucy Danziger, but later dumps her in favor of innocent Irish Madonna Margaret Schroeder. Of course, every female character in the show is at least a subversion of this dichotomy. Lucy ends up finding redemption after giving birth to a child, while Margaret struggles with her identity as Nucky's paramour.
Victoria: "Boyfriends? I guess I've only had two."
Robin: "Prude alert!"
Victoria: "Wh-? Well, that's serious boyfriends. I've dated other guys in between."
Robin: "Oh, slut alert!"
Once Upon a Time uses this with Belle and her Cursed counterpart Lacey. Belle is the Madonna - she's the Token Wholesome as well as bookish and caring. She's the one able to see the good in Rumpelstiltskin. Lacey meanwhile is the Whore - she dresses provocatively, Really Gets Around, drinks and hustles people playing pool. She meanwhile is attracted to the darkness in Rumple.
A similar contrast is done between Snow White and Regina. Snow White of course has Incorruptible Pure Pureness and her Storybrook counterpart Mary Margaret is modest and virgin-like. Regina meanwhile as the Evil Queen favoured outfits with Absolute Cleavage that provided plenty of Fanservice. Whenever she's attempting a Heel-Face Turn, her outfits become more modest.
Madonna is almost the embodiment of this trope, down to her name. She has cultivated a pious and chaste Catholic image along with very confrontational sexuality throughout her entire career. Like A Virgin was likewise the first time she teased the audience with this.
The video for "You Belong With Me" is really anvilicious. The "narrator"? Totally sweet, tomboyish and Girl Next Door-like and thus undoubtly the better option. Her pretty and popular cheerleader rival, who also is more overly sexual than her? Stupid evil whore who cheats and whines and is BAD because she's pretty and popular.
In the "The Story of Us" music video, where Taylor's love interest chooses a girl who's much more physical in her affections than Taylor is, who shows to be more flirty and playful.
Another more meta example is from her album Speak Now. In "Speak Now", the narrator persuades the groom to run away on his wedding day but is played to be sympathetic and heroic. In "Better Than Revenge" another girl steals the narrator's boyfriend is told in no uncertain terms to be "better known for the things that she does on the mattress."
Christina Aguilera has been very vocal about her dislike of the whole thing, and her second album Stripped spends a good amount of time complaining about it.
Britney Spears is have been noted for using this as her selling point. In her Greatest Hits:My Prerogative collection the writer says is she a good girl doing bad things, a bad girl doing good things, or a mixture of both
Meat Loaf has a song titled "Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere."
The J. Geils Band song "Centerfold" is about a guy who realizes that the "pure" girl he had a crush on in school is now doing porn. Eventually he gets over it.
Cyndi Lauper has a song titled Madonna Whore which is about this exact trope.
Deconstructed in Berlin's "Sex (I'm A)". The male singing part is repeating "I'm a man", while the female part is "I'm a..." followed by "goddess", "virgin", "blue movie", "bitch", "geisha", "little girl", "boy", "your mother", "one night stand", "bi" (male chuckle), "slave", "virgin", "drug", "dream divine", and so on, emphasizing while the male is only required to be the male in sex, a woman has to adopt a myriad of roles.
Tends to be inverted with Bra and Panties matches. When the woman is stripped to her underwear, the villainous woman will be hugely embarrassed and try to cover herself up while the fan favourite will not be and will proudly show off her body. And if she wins the match (by keeping her clothes on) she'll usually remove her clothes anyway.
Often played straight when it comes to characters. While most women in wrestling tend to be sexualised in some way, a face will often be a Girl Next Door type and sexuality will tend to be downplayed. A seductress character will usually be a heel. Eve Torres, Lita, Stephanie McMahon and Trish Stratus are examples, though Jackie Gayda is one who was a baby face, at points, such as times she flashed La Resistance and Test, distracting them long enough for Rico and or Charlie Haas to gain the upper hand. In Test's case it was in retaliation to him stomping on her hand.
The WWE Divas vs the TNA Knockouts. The Divas are Madonnas - they belong to a family-friendly company, any sexual stuff is more often implied (when villainous women do it) or just playful and light hearted (when fan favourites do it). Most of the Divas fit a certain look (read: very pretty) and naturally they don't curse on PG television. The Knockouts however are the Whores - they are brash, heavily sexualised, curse a lot and some of them even bleed from time to time.
Inverted with Molly Holly. She was a villainous Madonna who referred to herself as "pure and wholesome" and despised the other Divas for flaunting their sexuality and frequently wore a lot of white outfits. She was a heroic Whore before that, not necessarily being heavily sexualised but her attractiveness was played up a lot more and she took part in a lot more bikini shoots and provided Fanservice.
On the inversion end, there's also Ivory from Right 2 Censor, as well as ODB and Jackie Moore's "cleaning up the Knockout division" gimmick from when they both returned to TNA and feuded with Velvet Sky. Looking through history, face women wrestlers are usually actually in the middle—somewhat sexualized but still implied to be women of valor and virtue—whereas women played to either extreme have made for great heels in the past.
Velvet Sky is a great defiance of this trope in her own right. As a heel she was definitely a Whore. However as a face she was still Ms. Fanservice and had no problem showing off her body - she just happened to be presented as heroic as well.
"Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee/Lousy with virginity/Won't go to bed 'til I'm legally wed/I can't; I'm Sandra Dee"
There Are Worse Things I Could Do" deconstructs this trope. Betty/Rizzo laments that everyone sees her just as a whore and specially when there are rumors about her Teen Pregnancy, even when she's not a petty thief and only sleeps with one guy. Ironically, she's the ringleader in the "Sandra Dee" song (mocking Sandy for being a Madonna), Sandy is one of the few who offers Rizzo support when she's shunned for being apparently pregnantand Sandy ends up having a sexy Unnecessary Makeover in the end.
Swan Lake follows two identical girls, each expressing one side of this complex, and ultimately ends in tragedy. It subtly deconstructs this trope, as the prince loves the White Swan's purity, but doesn't seem to have any problem with it when she seduces him (though it's actually an imposter). It further emphasizes the deconstruction by having the same dancer play both parts, implying a real woman has both the Black and White Swan.
In Faust Greta's brother used to boast of her virtue and feminine perfection until she started an affair. Then he calls her a whore and tells her to start charging all comers. Okay, so he's mortally wounded and understandably bitter when he says that bit, but still!
Religion and Mythology
Famously, nowhere does The Bible say "Mary Magdalene was a prostitute", neither is she positively identified with the Woman With The Alabaster Jar (who seems to be a shamed slut, whether professional or not), it just strikes many men as a great idea to call her a Whore to counterbalance, you know, The Madonna.
Though if she was, Mary Magdalene possibly deconstructs this by being a Whore who becomes a Madonna.
Averted even further back with a prostitute named Rahab. (Although some believe she was just an innkeeper or the wife of one, the mainstream view is that she was actually a High-Class Call Girl.) She is shown to be a kind person, and even hides the Israelite spies. Not only does she end up later having a family of her own, but she becomes part of the lineage of the Messiah.
Further back, still, in the Book of Genesis, where Tamar disguises herself as a shrine prostitute to sleep with her former father-in-law and becomes pregnant by him. At first, Judah sentences her to be burned to death for engaging in illicit sex...but she sends a messenger with the cord and seal that she had taken as "collateral," saying that the man who owns them is the father. Judah recognizes the MacGuffins as his, and spares Tamar's life. He even says that she is more righteous than he is, because she had done her duty (perpetuating the lineage of her deceased husband) and Judah had not (he married his youngest son Shelah off to someone else, even though Shelah was supposed to marry Tamar to provide for her and father children on his dead brother's behalf.) From then on, Tamar lives in Judah's household, raises the twins born from their sexual act and he provides for her and the kids as he would an actual wife (although they didn't have sex again.)
Heo Min-Jung from Analogue: A Hate Story. Being from a culture that is reminiscent of Joseon-era Korea, she strongly believes that all women desire to get married and be good, obedient wives. She equates any woman wanting otherwise and be "independent" to being a "Whore".
Heavy Rain: Madison plays with this one in a weird way. Her encounters along the story tend to be overtly and unnecessarily sexualized, but they play her up to be an abuse victim (a dream sequence where she's attacked in her underwear, being assaulted by an insane rapist/murderer doctor, being forced to perform a striptease at gunpoint) and her successful action sequences are when she's defending herself from those assaults; further, there is an optional sex scene between Madison and Ethan, but the player is controlling him, and not her.
A variant in Psychonauts: when Sasha Nein was a child he wanted to know more about his Missing Mom, but his dad was reluctant to discuss her. Eventually Sasha started reading his dad's mind, and got some happy images of her as an angel in Heaven—but, when he dug too deep, also got some more...personal memories of her. It's implied this made the father-son relationship a bit awkward, and inspired Sasha to leave home as soon as possible.
Gender-inverted with The Nostalgia Chick, Todd in the Shadows and The Nostalgia Critic. In the Chick's eyes, Todd is the every way perfect man who'll fix her, and she's driving herself crazy in order to attain him. Critic on the other hand, is the comfortable flirt who jacks off butter and sings about how everyone should be slutty, but is just too fucked up for her to think a proper relationship with him could work.
In the Freddy Got Fingered review, a crossover with Oancitizen, he suggests that Gord's Love Interest is the perfect synthesis of Madonna and Whore: she's obsessed with phallic objects and blowjobs, but they never have any other kind of sex, and being a disabled nurse plays her as being nurturing but also needing to be nurtured herself.
In the Charlie's Angels review a combination of the movie and stupid fan comments brings about the end of feminism, and she declares that the two options are "burqa or slut." Thus she does the review in a burqanote "That's not a burqa, it's a niqab!".
Porrim from Homestuck blurs the lines between the two, being attractive and unabashedly promiscuous while also the friendly Team Mom. Her post-Scratch self The Dolorosa and her descendant Kanaya are much closer to the Madonna side of this trope, and in the case of The Dolorosa she literally was the Troll Madonna as the adoptive mother of Troll Crystal Dragon Jesus.