Web Site Makes Millions by Connecting Cheaters

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There are hundreds of Internet dating sites catering to just about every kind of person looking for love — sites for single parents, sites for Jewish people and sites for members of the military.

Now, there are also dating services to help you find that special someone, even when you already have someone special.

AshleyMadison.com, which caters to men and women who are already in relationships and are looking for something more, is the largest dating service of its kind. The Toronto-based company has made millions of dollars by helping people cheat on their spouses. Their tag line gets right to the point: "Life is short, have an affair."

Their radio ads even recommend cheating on the company dime.

"When you have a private moment at work today, visit AshleyMadison.com. You'll be happy you came," the ads say.

Don, a 52-year-old IT specialist living in Southern California who, not surprisingly, preferred not to give his real last name, is one of the site's hundreds of users.

"The ad sounded pretty interesting, so I thought I'd give it a shot and see if I got any action," he says.

Don, or "Don Deshizzle" as he is known online, says he is looking for an "NSA" — no strings attached — relationship. So far, he says, he has paid about $100 to e-mail and instant message with other Ashley Madison members.

"What you do is you buy credits — I think 100 credits at a time for $55 — and then each e-mail you initiate costs five credits. You burn through them pretty quickly," he says.

Don says he likes the site because it gives him the opportunity to be upfront about his marital status.

"Because, I guess, all the cards are on the table. It's not like if you go to a singles or a standard site, then you kind of have the stigma of being a cheater and that doesn't seem right," he says.

He doesn't feel too ethically troubled by what he's doing, he says, though he hasn't met anyone in person yet.

As for the people profiting from the Ashley Madison Web site, they say they have no moral qualms.

"This is just a business to me. This is a market need, just like any other business that's successful. There's huge demand for it," says Chief Operating Officer Noel Biderman, who is married with children. Biderman says he is faithful to his wife, but he doesn't object to the fact that cheaters have helped his online business make more than $20 million since it started in 2002.

"This is just a fact of life. Monogamy is not in our DNA," he says.

In fact, Biderman goes so far as to claim that a little infidelity may do a person good — helping an insecure man or woman reclaim a sense of self-worth.

"Women come to a service like Ashley Madison because they haven't been sent roses or flowers in God knows how long. Valentine's Day gets forgotten. That re-validation comes in a female user in our site within 30 or 40 minutes — as a number of guys are knocking at her door and professing their desire to be with her," he says.

Framingham State College sociology professor Virginia Rutter, who specializes in marital relations and sexuality, says there is nothing wrong with having a vivid sexual imagination.

"It's great to have a relationship that can tolerate and actually support and enjoy the fact that partners will flirt, will be interested in other people," she says.

What is not great, Rutter says, is lying to your partner or spouse and secretly conducting outside relationships.

"That kind of injury, that kind of loss of trust is going to make ... your relationship a lot harder to conduct," she says.

She urges people to take the time and energy that it takes to troll a cheating Web site, and re-invest it in their existing relationships.

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