Sex sells and infidelity is a booming business according to Noel Biderman, president and CEO of The Ashley Madison Agency -- a discreet online dating service for married folks.
Yes, their slogan really is, "Life is short, have an affair." Yes, he really did launch a Cash for Chunkers (that is, an overweight spouse) campaign last month, offering "a cash incentive for those looking to temporarily trade in their Chunker for something a little sleeker."
And yes, Mr. Biderman's business card really is fashioned like an upscale hotel key.
All outrageousness aside, one would assume that Biderman is an instant hero to sneaky married men and Public Enemy No. 1 to suspicious married women -- but not so fast.
The bold broker of lust and I sat down for a chat recently and Biderman disclosed that his entire business strategy has been to lure married women to the other side of fidelity.
You can insert your shock and awe face right here, folks.
Zondra: Briefly, what is the origin of the name, Ashley Madison?
Noel: Everything we did from inception was to make women feel comfortable; the two most popular names that were out in 2001, when we developed the concept, were Ashley and Madison. The women named their children that, so they must have some kind of affinity for those names. So that became the fake persona behind the service.
Why target married women?
It's easier to convince men that extramarital affairs are OK than it is to convince women. From our research, women that do have affairs tend to have them in the workplace. When they go online and try to meet someone from that universe it has been the major challenge.
Who is the ideal Ashley Madison client?
Ashley Madison is for people who are disenfranchised in their relationships; women, men, it crosses every socio-economic group, every ethnic group and both genders so that there is no one who cannot use the service.
Your critics call you a home-wrecker ... and other things that shouldn't be printed here on this fine blog.
It sounds ironic, but Ashley Madison in a sense gave married people the opportunity to tell the truth. Not to their spouse per se, but to the community they were trying to engage with. As you can imagine, there are tons of people that are unsuspecting singles who engage with someone wonderful [online] but that person turns out to be married.
And that's a really challenging situation, because when they've been misled like that, the rules have changed. And if you're a married guy, [that online date] could call your spouse.
But if you come to another married person and, on the outset say, 'I'm attached and this is what I'm looking for,' there is that expectation of a mutual destruction concept, that is, 'I am going to keep this to myself but the golden rule is that our partners should never find out about this.'
That is why Ashley Madison is so attractive to people. You're engaged in a community where you know that you're all attached.
A new cheater registers to your site every 15 seconds -- over 4 million to date. What if someone leaves his or her spouse for the Ashley Madison date? Are you a home-wrecker in this scenario?
If you stood back and said, OK, affairs have happened. They have happened with our politicians, with athletes and celebrities, they have happened since time immemorial. Isn't it better off when they happen in a community when they're all together, or do we want this happening in the workplace where the work productivity declines? Or on the singles dating web sites, or breaking the law with escorts? I think we have to look at it objectively. Make no mistake; it's part of your DNA to desire to be sexually active with the opposite sex, it's not in your DNA to be monogamous.
Drawing from your typical membership profiles, who are the "married and dating" set, and why do they cheat?
One primary reason men visit the site is that they are in a sexless marriage, or they are getting very vanilla sex in their lives. This is my hypothesis, there is so much access to adult material on the web that these men see the others' user-generated adult content and they start thinking, "Oh my goodness my neighbor is a swinger, my neighbor is having threesomes." And they're thinking, not only have they not had sex for three weeks, it's the same old missionary position and with the same person every night. They're going to stray because they don't have the courage or the wherewithal to have the conversation with their partner to make that fantasy a reality, or they don't want to deal with the repercussion of asking for that fantasy, and that's why they come to our services. It's not because they are feeling disenfranchised or emasculated -- it's about sex.
Why would married women use your services?
On the female side, it's a totally different psychographic. Married women come to our service because for the last 10 years they haven't been paid attention to. They haven't been told that they're beautiful, or been brought flowers, and when they change their hair or their appearance their husband doesn't even notice anymore.
And for a woman who used to be the object of someone's desire or fantasy, to have lost that is very painful. They are lonely within their own relationships. And loneliness is a true driver -- it equates to pain. So if you're lonely you're going to change that. You sign up to the service and you have these men tell you, 'I want to meet you.' These men are interested in her as an object of desire, and that's a revalidation for her.
What about the other group that visit your site -- the good time guys and gals? Who are they?
Mistresses, and their view of the world is that a good man is hard to find, and if you've got one, and for whatever reason, you're not taking care of him, that's your tough, and I will. There is no notion of sisterhood with them -- that they are going to somehow keep married men off-limits. Their view is this: 'I am not interested in stress and picket fences and kids right now, I'm interested in fun. And to me, fun is being with a great guy that treats me well and takes me places. And if he's married, so be it.'
OK, Noel, you are married with two children; how would you feel if your wife used your service?
If she used my service, I wouldn't say the service is at fault. I wouldn't blame the man she was with. And ultimately, I wouldn't even blame her. I would take a long look in the mirror and ultimately, I would ask, 'How did I fail my wife?' That's accountability. If she strayed, I don't know what would become of our marriage, but there's one person to blame and that would be myself.
You can insert my shock and awe face right here, folks.
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