The way Noel Biderman sees it, having an affair can save a marriage.
That’s just one of the many altruistic reasons the president and CEO of AshleyMadison.com, which went live in Israel this week, gives for the service his website provides: helping married men and women have affairs discretely outside of marriage.
“None of us anywhere are engineered for monogamy,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a Thursday morning interview in Tel Aviv. Monogamy, he argued, was put in place for keeping inheritance issues in line.
“Cohabitation kills attraction,” he offered. Between paying the bills and raising the kids and piling the frustrations on, any couple might lose the spark in the bedroom. But, he said, “People don’t want to get divorced, they want to have their cake and eat it too.”
He wouldn’t want a lack of sex to end his marriage, which he said is both monogamous and – as far as he knows – faithful.
“I would cheat before I would leave,” he said.
Now, for the first time, Israelis will have access to the website, which seems to be attracting a fair amount of interest.
Before the Hebrew version launched, 35,000 people already registered, higher than the average in other countries.
The company hopes to have 1 percent of Israel’s population registered within a year, and help boost the $125 million in revenues it pulled in 2013.
“I just got here to Israel and I promise you that you’re not a monogamous society,” said Biderman, who first visited Israel for his bar mitzva, and subsequently returned for a summer to work at Kibbutz Revivim.
The website and mobile app are built for deception. “A person looking for the perfect affair needs two things: a great partner and the ability to get away with it,” the website explains.
To ensure discretion, the service stores your little black book of lovers’ phone numbers, and encourages online communication to ensure that a snooping spouse won’t find stray texts (though the presence of the AshleyMadison app on one’s phone is probably a dead giveaway). It offers a “panic button,” which quickly changes the screen should your life partner walk into the room while you’re browsing, and a special mode for planning affairs while traveling.
Biderman saw for himself how often men strayed from their marital beds when he worked as a basketball lawyer.
The world-traveling players would often indulge in forbidden foreign fruit, and sometimes land in sticky situations as a result. One time, a player turned to him for help when his wife said she wanted to visit him on the road in Italy. The problem? “My Italian wife won’t like it,” the player told him.
But one statistic convinced Biderman he had something to offer the market: 30 percents of guys on dating sites, he read, were not actually single.
Wouldn’t it be better if instead of subtly slipping off wedding bands, people were upfront about their situations? Much of the website is geared at females. The names Ashley and Madison were two of the most popular girls names when he founded the company, and the website is branded in pinks and purples.
While there were all sorts of businesses catering to male-driven sex, nobody was addressing “female monogamy gaps,” he said. “That’s where I felt where infidelity is going to grow in the Internet era.”
Though Biderman talks of increasing gender equality in infidelity, the business seems to mimic the standard “Ladies Night” model. Just as sleazy bars may let women drink free in hopes that the women will attract spendthrift men, AshleyMadison lets women use all parts of the service for free, but charges men for the ability to initiate conversation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, more men than women use the service, with the disparity increasing as they advance in age. Some places stand out as exceptions. In Rio and Sydney, young married women are more eager than their husbands to have affairs.
In fact, data collected from the website has yielded some interesting insights into infidelity, which the company is sharing with behavioral researchers such as Duke University Israeli American psychologist Prof. Dan Ariely, founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight.
The seven-year itch? That came from Hollywood. Most men explore their first affair three to four years into the marriage, usually when there’s a pregnancy or a first child on the scene, said Biderman.
The number of women seeking affairs, on the other hand, spikes dramatically between the ages of 38 and 39, as the big 40 looms and women reevaluate their lives. Similar usage spikes occur after holidays like Valentine’s Day, presumably by husbands and wives disappointed in their partner’s meager efforts at romance.
Men and women may also have different triggers for having affairs: Men seek sex, while women seek passion.
“When men have affairs, they blame their genetics. When women have affairs, they blame their husbands.”
Biderman said his saddest discovery was that women in their late 30s believe their sexual appetite is abnormally high. “That’s crazy talk. They think that just because they want to have sex with their husbands that something’s wrong with them.”
Understandably, Ashley- Madison has caused a huge amount of controversy across the globe as it has expanded (Israel will be the 39th country, Hebrew the 18th language on the site).
“I don’t know how many other people have been sued by the queen of Spain, have had the international affairs minister of Chile denounce them on CNN, and the Singapore government ban their website because it didn’t ‘adhere to their values,’” said Biderman.
“I’m a really nice guy. I’m not the devil I’m portrayed as.”
To him, the website is a net win for society. Infidelity happens anyway, he said, so why not help it happen between two like-minded adults? Infidelity is a symptom and not a cause of problems in marriage.
Why kill the messenger? Nobody would write an angry letter to Apple if they discovered their spouse texting a lover on an iPhone.
Yet for all his moral rationalizations, Biderman dropped his cheer-leading act twice during the conversation.
If it became clear that his website ended more marriages than it saved through affairs, he said, “That would be tough. That would be hard for me.”
And if he ever discovered that his wife cheated on him? “I would be devastated.”