The term is also used popularly, if sometimes with subtly different meanings.
Freud argued that the Madonna–whore complex was caused by a split between the affectionate and the sexual currents in male desire.
This earlier theory is based not on oedipal-based castration anxiety but on man's primary
hatred of women, stimulated by the child's sense that he had been made to experience intolerable frustration and/or narcissistic injury at the hands of his mother. According to this theory, in adulthood the boy-turned-man seeks to avenge these mistreatments through sadisticattacks on women who are stand-ins for mother.
It is possible that such a split may be exacerbated when the sufferer is raised by a cold but overprotective mother – a lack of emotional nurturing paradoxically strengthening an incestuous tie. Such a man will often court someone with maternal qualities, hoping to fulfill a need for maternal
Another theory claims that the Madonna–whore complex derives from the representations of women as either madonnas or whores in mythology and Judeo-Christian theology rather than developmental disabilities of individual men.