by Anastasia Prikhodko
In Australia one quarter of men (23.3 per cent) and one fifth (19.2 per cent) of women indicated they cheated during their current relationship, according to the latest Kinsey research.
The hot pink background, the picture of a woman with kissed-away lipstick, her finger with the glistening wedding band against her lips: Shh! And the bold slogan, “Life is Short. Have an Affair” makes this dating site one of controversy.
Originating in the States in 2002, Ashley Madison is a dating website for married people wanting to cheat with other married people.
Andreas Kouremenos, the website’s Australian manager, says the reason founder Noel Biderman started the site rather than a more traditional online dating website was because his research indicated a third to a quarter of people were not being honest about their marital status on traditional singles dating websites.
The Ashley Madison site has more than five million members worldwide. Currently operating in 29 countries, it continues to expand and be at the forefront of online dating.
In 2010 the site began operating in Australia and since then, 900,000 Australian users have signed up.
“Australia has been the fastest growing market; it seems Aussie people have really embraced the service,” Andreas Kouremenos says.
Mr Kouremenos is not surprised that the site has received its fair share of both negative and positive reviews
“We get a lot of responses from people who are supportive and think the site is a brilliant idea. The sheer success of the website goes to show there is a market there that wasn’t served properly.”
And the opposing views? “This site adds to the moral decay of society, the community is going to hell in a hand basket,” he says.
Ashley Madison is just another opportunity for people to cheat in a discreet and secretive way.
As Mr Kouremenos says, “We didn’t invent cheating and it’s going to happen whether we are there or not. This is something people have thought about for a long time.”
Traditionally, affairs begin at the office, Christmas party, or any form of gathering, however now not much effort is required and affairs are a lot more tactful, their beginnings often online.
Jarris Fuller, a private investigator who has been in the business for 26 years, has seen the Internet become a focal point to cheat.
“Around 30 to 40 per cent of infidelity matters now have some kind of Internet dating component or origin,” he says.
But as Guy Vicars, of Australian Association of Relationship Counsellors, says, it’s a lot easier to cover infidelity when it originates on the Internet.
“People can be having some sort of extramarital relationship or affair but they might be at home doing that and so their spouse isn’t going to pick it up as in more old school style infidelity.”
Online dating enables people to stay at home, go on the computer, sign on to the sultry website and chat to whom ever they please.
“It makes it easier for people to fool around with other people,” he says. “The Internet allows us to behave in ways that normally we wouldn’t. But the consequences are just as bad.”
Sex therapist and counselor Désirée Spierings, Director of Sexual Health Australia, lists some of the reasons for infidelity: entitlement (every person deserves to be happy); sexual novelty; a need for intimacy or variety; falling in love; issues in the primary relationship; proof they still have it; and to get even.
Dating sites provoke curiosity and, with the increase of sites similar to Ashley Madison, the future of monogamy and marriage continues to be an issue getting considerable media attention.
The prevalence of the media is another influential factor.
After hearing about Ashley Madison on a television show, Katie* first logged on to the website in February 2013.
“I was bored with my life in general; it wasn’t all about the sex. I wanted to meet new people and have that first connection all over again,” she says.
She remains married and doesn’t intend to change that aspect of her life. Katie believes use of the site has benefitted her marriage. “I’m not as bored or as stressed as I was,” she says.
And Jessica*, a married woman who is in an open marriage, says the site adds a new dimension to her relationship.
“My husband mentioned it to me! He had read an article about how much it was growing. I was very skeptical at first. I thought it would be a whole heap of sleazy guys just trying to get laid,” she says.
Five months later, she remains a happy client. “I think it’s awesome! I am very lucky though, as I have met someone I have really connected with.”
In June 2012, Ashley Madison released a global survey of 123,000 active members. The survey showed that 88 pe rcent of men and 91 per cent of women maintained the affairs as an attempt to save their marriages.
But as Guy Vicars says: “They rationalise their behavior by saying ‘well, I didn’t actually do anything and it made me more attentive to you and therefore it’s okay’.”
Extramarital activity is not a new concept and is present in every culture. In 1948, Alfred Kinsey conducted a study showing that around 50 per cent of men (though fewer than 20 per cent of women) reported having had extramarital sex during their married lives.
However, with fewer rules and restrictions surrounding extra marital activity, more couples are beginning to opt for open marriages. According to the Great Australian Sex Census 2009/10, 13.2 per cent of men and women are either in an open or swinging marriage. An additional 6.4 per cent of men and 8.6 per cent of women are in a committed open relationship.
Andreas Kouremenos is positive about the change, and says “It’s more of an evolution of marriage.”
But Guy Vicars compares such actions of betrayal and the use of dating sites to fast food. He says: “It’s a bit like eating McDonalds everyday, it’s just not good for you.”
*Names changed to protect personal privacy