MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ANTHONY BROOKS, host:
And I'm Anthony Brooks.
New York Governor Eliot Spitzer resigned today. The resignation will take effect on Monday to allow Lieutenant Governor David Paterson time to plan a transition.
Spitzer succumbed to pressure to step down after revelations of his being caught up with prostitution, allegedly hiring high-price call girls through a service called Emperor's Club VIP.
BRAND: Though prostitution is illegal, cheating on your spouse is not. Many companies are finding that infidelity can bring in big profits. DAY TO DAY's Alex Cohen reports on one Toronto-based company that's made millions helping people cheat.
ALEX COHEN: The Ashley Madison Agency isn't subtle in its marketing. The Web site's motto is: life is short, have an affair.
Unidentified Man #1: Ashleymadison.com is the world's largest service of its kind, catering to men and women already in relationships but in need of something more.
COHEN: Their radio ads even recommend cheating on the company dime.
Unidentified Man #2: When you have a private moment at work today, remember to visit AshleyMadison.com. You'll be happy you came.
Mr. DON DESHIZZLE (IT Specialist): The ad sounded pretty - pretty interesting, and you know, I thought maybe I'd give it a shot and see if I could get any action.
COHEN: Don is a 52-year-old IT specialist living in Southern California. He didn't want his real last name used in this story in case his wife was listening. Online, he goes by the handle Don Deshizzle, where he says he's looking for an NSA, or no-strings-attached relationship. So far, Don says he's paid about a hundred bucks to e-mail and instant message with other Ashley Madison members.
Mr. DESHIZZLE: What you do is you buy credits - I think 100 credits at a time for like $55 - and then each e-mail that you initiate costs you like five credits. You burn through them pretty quickly.
COHEN: Don says he likes the site because it gives him the opportunity to be upfront about his marital status.
Mr. DESHIZZLE: 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.
COHEN: Don says he doesn't feel too ethically troubled by what he's doing, though he also says 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 either.
Mr. NOEL BIDERMAN (AshleyMadison.com): This is just a business to me. This is a market need much like any other business that's successful. There is huge demand for it.
COHEN: Chief Operating Officer Noel Biderman says the online business has made more than $20 million since they started in 2002. Biderman is himself married with children. He says he is faithful to his wife but that choice isn't for everyone.
Mr. BIDERMAN: This is just a fact of life. Monogamy is not in our DNA.
COHEN: In fact, Biderman goes so far as to claim that a little infidelity may do a person good. He says it can help people reclaim a sense of self worth.
Mr. BIDERMAN: 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 revalidation comes in a female user on our site within 30 or 40 minutes as a number of guys kind of knocking at her door and professing their desire to meet with her.
COHEN: Of course Biderman is not an expert in marital relations, but Framingham State College sociology professor Virginia Rutter is. She says there's nothing wrong with having a vivid sexual imagination.
Professor VIRGINIA RUTTER (Framingham State College): 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.
COHEN: What's not great, says Rutter, is lying to your partner or spouse and secretly conducting outside relationships.
Prof. RUTTER: That kind of injury, that kind of loss of trust, is going to make either your break-up or your continuing your relationship a lot harder to conduct.
COHEN: Rutter says she isn't surprised by the popularity of Web sites like Ashley Madison.
Prof. RUTTER: It reminded me of this song from the 1970s called if you like pina colada.
(Soundbite of song, "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)")
Mr. Rupert Holmes (Singer): (Singing) I was tired of my lady. We'd been together too long. Like a worn-out recording, of a favorite song.
Prof. RUTTER: A guy who's bored in his relationship advertises for someone who like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain - I'm so embarrassed I know all the lyrics still. And at the end the punch line is that when he meets up with the person he's found through the personal ads, the person is his actual partner and they reignite their connection.
COHEN: In real life, Rutter says, chances are things won't turn out quite as rosy if someone already in a relationship goes trolling for excitement online. Her advice: why not invest that time and energy in the existing relationship and look for ways to spice it up instead.
Alex Cohen, NPR News.
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