Sexiness and Motherhood: Uneasy Bedfellows?


Be warned that this article discusses the subject matter candidly. In addition, I edited the name of the complex defined below slightly hence the square brackets.

In psychoanalytic literature, a Madonna–[Magdalene] Complex is the inability to maintain sexual arousal within a committed, loving relationship. First identified by Sigmund Freud, under the rubric of psychic impotence, this psychological complex is said to develop in men who see women as either saintly Madonnas or debased [“Magdalenes”]. Men with this complex desire a sexual partner who has been degraded (Magdalene) while they cannot desire the respected partner (the Madonna).[3] Freud wrote: “Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love.”[4]Clinical psychologist Uwe Hartmann, writing in 2009, stated that the complex “is still highly prevalent in today’s patients”.[3]

I came across this very interesting article titled ‘You don’t look like a mom’: Why women are expected to deny their sexuality in motherhood

If television commercials are to be believed, mothers are responsible for doing the laundry, preparing healthy after-school snacks, deodorizing their teen son’s bedroom, all while sporting a neat bob and sensible pants. Never is a mother depicted as a sexual object. The subtext is, a mom is always a Madonna and never a Magdalene.

The article cites an Instagram post by  Kelly Oxford, an Edmonton-born Los Angeles resident who is also a mother of 3 and author of the bestselling book Everything Is Perfect When You’re a Liar, featuring a number of sultry photos that were taken while on vacation. The post drew a lot of criticism which led to her editing the caption to add “I get so annoyed when people say, ‘You don’t look like a mom,’” she wrote. “What’s a mom supposed to look like? This is a Mom.”

From Kelly Oxford’s Instagram Account

One of the comments in support of her view read “Yes! As if the state of motherhood denies our sexuality… pretty sure being sexy made us mothers to begin with.” I had to chuckle at the truth in this statement.

But where does the idea that equates motherhood with asexuality stem from? According to some experts, it’s part biological and part social construct. “Some research has looked at how sex changes for women during pregnancy and postpartum,” says Dr. Rose Robbins, a psychologist in the pain clinic at the Ottawa Hospital. “It’s clear that in terms of sexual desire, arousal and orgasm, the changes a woman undergoes in the last few months of pregnancy lead to a steep decline in libido and desire.”

In a small study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found that sexual activity and desire between pregnant women and their partners declined significantly over the course of the three trimesters compared to pre-pregnancy. In addition, desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm and satisfaction decreased.

Another much larger study published in the Journal of Sex Research reached similar conclusions, and also found that although most couples resume intercourse eight weeks after childbirth, it doesn’t reach the same frequency as pre-pregnancy until closer to 12 months.

Physical barriers aside, however, there’s no question that women are viewed differently once they have children.

“A lot of this is due to the Judeo-Christian values our society is based on,” Robbins says. “There’s a common duality women deal with between the mother figure who’s asexual and the Magdalene who is a sexual being. There’s no equivalent for men.”

In fact, sexy dads are celebrated — just look at DILFs of Disneyland and the plethora of sexy celebrity dads articles.

“If there’s a man who’s conventionally attractive and a dad, the reaction is usually, ‘Wow! He’s a star,’” says relationship psychologist Dr. Natasha Sharma. “Whereas there’s something unorthodox about a woman who’s a mom and also a sexual being.”

She says that this attitude comes as much from the female camp as it does the male. In the case of Oxford, women may feel intimidated or insecure by her physique, while men feel conflicted or confused by the insinuation that a mother may be more than just a nurturer. (Indeed, Oxford makes no bones about the fact that her identity doesn’t begin and end with her kids.)

Part of this is also exacerbated by the colloquial (if crude) terminology we use for sexy moms — specifically MILF … “Why do we have to identify a woman as a mom that you’d like to have sex with? That plays into the idea that this is a mom and therefore a member of a subset of otherwise asexual people who happens to be attractive,” Sharma says. “We’re inadvertently creating a culture that believes mothers who are sexual beings are an odd thing.”

Furthermore, the idea that a mother is a mother alone, and has no other identity, can come with a host of problems both on a social level and a personal one.

“[Oxford] is not the first public figure to be criticized for depicting herself as sexy. And that can come with a lot of guilt,” Robbins says. “The message is that if you’re sexy, you’re not a good mom, because you have to choose between the two. You can’t be both. But no woman is just a mother.”

She says the best way to change this attitude is to raise awareness of the issue and educate people on the complexity of women’s and mothers’ personalities. Oxford, Robbins points out, is doing her part to get the message out…

Could it be that a large part of society is seeing the question of sexuality through the lens of the Madonna complex? That in our minds somehow, the birth of a child “sanitizes” a woman of sexuality? A rather extreme but difficult to ignore example is Kim Kadarshian. She made herself using her sexuality I am neither pro nor against this for the record. I’m pro-informed choices. This is not about inviting the morality police to come out on patrol 🙂 . It is about asking why the same sexual content become so particularly repugnant after she had children. It’s about asking why “you don’t look like a mom” is used as an indictment of women who look sultry in photos or post a sexy bikini picture? When we question a mother’s sexuality, is it becuase we think sexiness a tool for procreation only? I have a lot of questions and not so many answers. I certainly hope you have a few for me.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Hondo says:

    I can relate. All this comes from the horridness that is gender norms and the wish to control and contain women’s sexuality. As an African woman, a single woman’s sexiness is seen as necessary for the purposes of getting her a man. It’s considered advertising of sorts. With the caveat that it shouldn’t be too much.

    A married woman, hence a mother has found a man, because God forbid you say have children out of wedlock hahaha. So the logic of sexism is, mother’s have no need for sexiness, no reason to be whites. It requires we be the Madonnas that look after house and home, keep the church in business etc. Meanwhile married men, fathers, ever sexy roam free and cherry pick from sexy singles who aren’t saddled with the baggage of being unsexy.

    It’s a trap. We need to define our own ways of being. Starting with just acknowledging the role a absurd and unfair – then challenging and changing them.


    1. Chio says:

      Girl! You took me to church with this comment. It is absolutely absurd that external norms are so defining in such a personal area of an individual’s life and body. These conversations need to be had because sometimes we don’t even recognise that these “norms” can be challenged by us for us.


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