Websites Encourage Discreet Adultery

Websites Encourage Discreet Adultery February 16, 2012


Well, every now and then I am actually startled by something on the Internet. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, USA Today featured a story called: “Sites that cater to ‘discreet’ encounters thriving.” Here’s how it starts:

Husbands and wives take note: If Valentine’s Day expectations aren’t met, your mate might soon be looking elsewhere for a little romance and appreciation.

That may sound like a cautionary tale, but for Noel Biderman and others who have founded dating websites for married people, it’s a lucrative business.

“The day after Valentine’s Day is one of our biggest days of the year,” says Biderman, founder and CEO of Ashley Madison, a 10-year-old site that unapologetically caters to “discreet” encounters for the married or otherwise attached. “People are disappointed by their spouses’ lack of effort, and they feel especially undervalued when there is a societal expectation of romance. Certain days of the year act as litmus tests for many people in relationships.”

In the classic words of the Church Lady, “Isn’t that special!”

Just to make your day, I thought I’d include a few more quotations from the article:

“People are going to cheat regardless of whether Ashley Madison is there or not,” says sociologist Diane Kholos Wysocki of the University of Nebraska-Kearney, who has surveyed the site’s members for her latest research. “There’s a bigger social issue going on — people aren’t taking care of their marriages.”

“American people are really hypocrites about infidelity,” says Teddy Truchot, co-founder of Gleeden, which launched in Europe in 2009, moved into Australia and entered the U.S. market last fall. . . . Everything from the U.S. which comes to Europe is about infidelity,” says Truchot, 29, who moved to Los Angeles two years ago from Paris. “You see cheating all over TV and in real life. … Everyone is cheating here.”

[T]he experts acknowledge that it is easier to have a liaison today. They say that when celebrities and politicians are repeatedly caught cheating — even on their stunning spouses — it begins to normalize the behavior. Also, business travel and telecommuting sometimes make the logistics of an affair less unwieldy. And the Internet and personal devices mean there can be direct communication with a paramour (or check-in with a spouse) anytime.

Ashley Madison yesterday marked its 10th anniversary. Ever since Biderman, 40, of Toronto founded the site (slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair.”) he has been blamed for promoting infidelity. But he says he’s saving marriages — he calls an affair a “marriage preservation device” that his website facilitates.

Biderman says it took five years to get the first 1 million anonymous members, but the total who have ever registered and created a free profile is 12.6 million. Currently, just over 2.3 million are registered and considered active by logging in or taking an action within the past 30 days (97% who log in take an action, he says). Members pay to communicate, $49 for 100 credits. Credits are used to send an e-mail, to chat in real time, or to send a virtual “gift,” such as a rose, necklace or Champagne bottle, Biderman says.

Top 10 U.S. cities that use Ashley Madison:
1. Washington, D.C.
2. San Antonio, Texas
3. Phoenix
4. Salt Lake City
5. Oklahoma City, Okla.
6. Pittsburgh
7. Boston
8. Chicago
9. Dallas
10. Orlando, Fla.
Note: Ashley Madison membership as a percentage of city population.
[MDR- A couple of surprises there: Salt Lake City in #4? San Antonio, Texas, where I live, #2?]

I find all of this deeply unsettling. It reveals something profoundly sad about our broken culture.

The USA Today story did not let the claims of the promoters of web-based adultery go unchallenged, I’m glad to say. A couple of academic experts weighed in:

Researcher John Gottman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, calls sites such as Biderman’s “destructive.”

“I don’t think he’s saving marriages at all. I think he’s ruining marriages,” Gottman says.

Sex educator Logan Levkoff of New York, author of How to Get Your Wife to Have Sex With You, agrees. “This deliberate betrayal is so disrespectful,” she says. “It’s the easy way out instead of doing the tough work to repair what’s making you unhappy in your sex life, in your relationship.

“This idea that you can sneak around and still have this wonderful life is really problematic. Where is the personal accountability? Where is the respect for your relationship? Not every couple is meant to stay together, but ideally, you exit a relationship with the same respect as you entered into one.”

All of this leaves me with many questions:

How can we help married couples grow into a deeper love and commitment?

How can we help young people growing up in this culture understand what commitment in marriage is really all about?

What will help people live moral and fruitful lives when they are able to live so much of the time in secret?

How can I nurture my marriage, so that my wife and I will flourish and grow into deeper love for each other?

Actually, I know part of the answer to that last question. I need to stop blogging and get home for dinner.

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