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CHEATING is frowned upon. Yet, in just two days, 4 100 South Africans signed up as members of AshleyMadison.com, a dating website for married people looking to have an affair.
Imagine you’re newly engaged. Then your fiancé tells you he’s starting a business that promotes infidelity.
Cape Town-born Amanda Biderman, 37, said it was “hard to digest” at first. She doesn’t believe in infidelity, but after doing research and realising the business opportunity, she decided to support Noel Biderman, her then husband-to-be.
Amanda and Noel agree that affairs happen all the time, but the subject is taboo and not spoken about. Amanda, who would not tolerate infidelity in her own marriage, says the website is not going to convert happily married people into cheaters.
“You can’t convince anyone to have an affair with radio, television or billboard adverts. But you can convince them not to do it in the workplace or on Facebook,” says Noel.
The couple, who have been married for nine years, are monogamous. The greatest irony is that as a couple doing research to try to understand what makes people have affairs, they have discovered ways to maintain their monogamous relationship.
The couple have two children, aged four and seven, who don’t know about the website.
Initially, their families’ reactions ranged from “you’re insane” to “that’s brilliant”.
Noel, 41, a Canadian-born former sport and property attorney, jokes that his mother was just pleased he finally had a real job.
Ten years later, more than 14 million people have signed up as members of the AshleyMadison world. The oldest members are men in their 70s – described as the Viagra generation – looking to meet women in their 50s. Noel said there were no women members in that age category.
In the 30s age group, the gender ratio is 1:1.
Why the name AshleyMadison? Ashley and Madison were the most popular girls’ names in the US in 2002, when the website was launched.
The site went live in SA on Monday and Noel says local membership is expected to grow to 100 000 in four months, and reach 500 000 in a year.
Before the launch, it was found that between 20 000 and 30 000 people had tried to join the site from SA. He explained that because only people living in member countries could join, they were able to keep track of demand from elsewhere by checking how many people had tried to log on from non-member countries.
But while the concept has earned him success, Noel has been on the receiving end of lots of outrage. But not necessarily from the spouses of the adulterers.
He says there are two parts to an affair: meeting someone and, more importantly, not getting caught.
As for his detractors, Noel says affairs existed long before he came to SA, and long before he started the website. In fact, his service had drawn married people away from dating websites and other social media, and into a space where they know what they were getting into.
And while there had been wild objections to his brainchild, “behind closed doors people are clinking their glasses”.
Noel brushes his critics aside with research into infidelity that he is conducting with 12 universities across the world.
They have found that while some societies may appear to be conservative and religious, in reality they are just paying lip service and it is in these countries that his business thrives.
About 70 percent of men will cheat at some point in their lives, while women are fast approaching the 50 percent mark.
He said men’s reasons for cheating are centred on sex – the lack thereof or dissatisfaction with what they have. Women are more likely to have affairs as a means of trying to reclaim a period in their lives when they were pursued by men and at their happiest.
He also regularly gets positive feedback from members.
One was a woman who married at the age of 18 because she was pregnant. She found herself trapped in an unhappy and abusive marriage for 10 years before she went online and had an affair with a married man.
They each left their spouses, married each other and are still living happily together.
But Noel warns that this is a rare occurrence. What is more common are reports of enjoying a better sex life at home after an affair.
Noel says people feel confident after the affair and that often spills over into other areas of their lives, including work and home.