A pattern of thought that divides women 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 a woman should aspire to be. However, sex is not part of this. Any woman who fails to live up to the Madonna standard in any part is a worthless Whore, driven exclusively by sexual desire and therefore lacking morality. As soon as a woman is known to have an active sex life, she is automatically viewed as a Whore.
The Madonna-Whore Complex (sometimes referred to as the "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.
The Madonna is not necessarily a wife. It is commonly also oriented on the mother or a sister, or another woman with close emotional ties.
Note how this contradicts The Three Faces of Eve. By ignoring the Wife archetype (who is sexually active but morally "pure"), it creates a False Dichotomy between the Child and the Seductress.
Many societies past and present have bought into this dichotomy (see All Women Are Lustful and Honor Related Abuse and Defiled Forever). Women can be forced to identify with one or the other, and can be ostracized or socially stigmatized for failing to do so. This burden weighs heavily on the heterosexual relationships of both partners, entirely dismissing the sexual desires of "good" women and relegating the sex lives of "good" men to illicit partnerships (since A Man Is Not a Virgin). Practical considerations, such as the use of sex to which the Madonnas became mothers , have no place in this sort of thinking.
Commonly found in older works. Under the Madonna-Whore Complex, all women are either portrayed as promiscuous, immoral, often Evil Is Sexy seductresses or sweet, naive ingenues and the elegant, sexless matriarchs they become. Smart, capable, good women who are sexually active do not exist.
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.
No relation to the pop musician Madonna.
The Madonna is always good at heart and often passive. She sometimes is corrupted - often sexually, and often by the Whore, directly or indirectly. Common tropes applying to the Madonna:
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.
The female villains (and most of the monsters, too) in Sailor Moon are always provocatively dressed; positively-depicted females are always dressed, if not actively conservatively, then in socially acceptable variations on uniforms.
Except that Ariel 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.
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).
What's more, Quasimodo is well-intentioned but only sees Esmeralda as a pure Madonna, heavily idealising 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. Ironic, considering in the original book...
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.
In Analyze ThisBilly 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.
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.
Eight 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.
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.
The music video for Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me". The "narrator"? Totally sweet and Girl Next Door-like and thus undoubtly the better option. Her pretty and popular cheerleader rival? 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.
Taylor Swift in general gets a lot of hate for villainizing women that dress more provocatively. On the internet, she is often accused of Slut Shaming.
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
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.
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 always be a heel. Eve Torres, Lita, Stephanie Mc Mahon and Trish Stratus are examples.
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.
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!
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.
Yuna from Final Fantasy X is a Madonna in the first game - saintly, pure and sheltered - and she is pursued by the love interest. In the second game, she is now a Whore - rebellious, more action-oriented and skimpier clothing - and it is now her who is pursuing the love interest. This trope is likely the reason fans tend to prefer her character from the first game.
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".
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.
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.
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.
The Dolorosa literally was the Troll Madonna - she was the adoptive mother of Troll Crystal Dragon Jesus.