The website ashleymadison.com has announced that it plans to have its first public offering on the London stock market. The 5-year-old website for married people looking to have affairs advertises itself as the second-largest dating website in the world, after match.com, with approximately 1.2 million members. A similar attempt to earn support from investors in 2010 was not successful, but this time the website has chosen the European market for what it believes is Europe’s more relaxed attitude toward infidelity. Although the company was originally Canadian, it reports that Europe, and the United Kingdom in particular, is its most lucrative market.
Money for Sex
There has always been money in sex, which is why prostitution has often been called the “oldest profession.” Inevitably, adultery has also been part of the sex-for-money exchange that may or may not be as old as civilization. But adultery dating sites like ashleymadison.com have created a whole new way to profit from other people’s desires to cheat on their partners. In the eyes of many, it is also a pretty reprehensible way of making a profit. The U.K. may be the most lucrative market for ashleymadison.com, but the company is not currently permitted to advertise on U.K. television because such ads are not considered to be “morally justifiable.”
Is Advertising Adultery Different Than Profiting From It?
The site’s founder, Noel Biderman, points out that many industries, including hotels, jewelry companies and restaurants, have been drawing significant profits from people having affairs for ages. These websites, the argument goes, are simply tapping into an existing market and are not creating adultery and adulterers out of thin air. Nevertheless, it’s precisely the up-front nature of ashleymadison.com and the like that is so distasteful to many people. Cheating is something that is supposed to be done secretly and shamefully rather than talked about openly. The fact that these websites explicitly and exclusively profit from adultery makes them a clear target for anger and despair about the widespread nature of cheating.
Cheating Websites Combine Visibility and Discretion
However, sociologist Catherine Hakim, in her book The New Rules, says that the forthright services offered by adultery websites actually enable affairs to be conducted more discreetly. Most people currently conduct affairs with people in their immediate circle of acquaintances, particularly people at work, which makes it much more likely that the affair will be detected. Cheating sites allow total strangers to connect for the purposes of having affairs, which makes it easier for them to keep the affair a secret. Hakim refers to this as cheating “the French way,” by keeping things discreet and uncomplicated. For many people, the fact that these websites make affairs harder to detect is another black mark against them. But it raises questions about degrees of misbehavior and whether there are better or worse ways to do something that many people consider immoral. On one hand, many experts recommend that cheaters not confess their one-time affairs to their partners, since their desires to alleviate their guilt does not justify the pain that they would cause their betrayed partners. But choosing to keep an affair that you regret secret—and hopefully recommitting yourself to your relationship—is a totally different matter than deliberately setting out to cheat and to keep it carefully hidden.