Noel Biderman says he's not encouraging anyone to have an affair - he's just giving them a place to do it.
Since its launch in Canada in 2002 (stateside in '07), nearly six million people have signed up to cheat on their spouses through his controversial married dating service, AshleyMadison.com. Biderman, a happily married (allegedly faithful) man and father of two children, says America's view of marriage is too conservative: Sex, quite simply, needs to be removed as a central tenet of marriage. If all your needs are being met in every other way, he says, why dissolve your union simply because of one physical incompatibility?
Here, one woman backs up that claim. Valeria (not the name on her birth certificate), a 29-year-old resident of SouthPark and two-year member of Ashley Madison, is just one of over 500 newlywed women in Charlotte secretly seeking bliss outside their bedrooms through the site - a figure that's nearly doubled since April 2009 (not counting this year's post-Mother's Day explosion). She recently spoke with me about her experiences and why she ascribes to the Ashley Madison philosophy, "Life is short. Have an affair."
Why have you agreed to speak on behalf of Ashley Madison?
I guess the confessional part of it is interesting to me.
What is unsatisfying about your marriage?
My husband's low sex drive. He was always ready to go when we first started dating, but after we were married, it had almost completely evaporated. I, on the other hand, have a very high sex drive.
Does your husband know that you are unsatisfied in the bedroom?
Yes, but I try not to be confrontational about it anymore.
Do you believe that you can get all your needs met by one person?
I don't know. I think the word "needs" is a false expectation - like we have a finite number of needs that can be enumerated and listed. I believe that we can have edifying experiences that allow us to learn about ourselves.
How many affairs have you had?
I've had two encounters with the same man (my first affair), and then I've had a series of encounters (still ongoing) with a couple (who are unmarried).
Why stray? Why not just get divorced?
I do genuinely love him. It is just this one aspect where we are not compatible.
Before joining Ashley Madison, had you always found it easy to have casual sex?
I never really had casual sex prior to this. I was rather conservative in high school and in college. It was right around the time that I started dating my husband that I sort of had my sexual awakening.
Do you ever feel guilty? How hard is it to keep this secret from your husband?
I do feel guilty if I dwell upon it for too long. But there are always ways to justify something. It is easy to hide it from him, as he travels a lot on business.
I think it's interesting you primarily see a couple now.
Anything else you want to know about that?
Anything else you want to tell me about that?
I'm not sure... You are the first person I have told about it. Not even my best girlfriend or sister knows!
Tell me more about the nervousness of your first affair. Was it like a date or strictly sex?
In our initial correspondence, we were both pretty blunt about what we were looking for. We met at a hotel bar for a few drinks, and after about two hours of small talk, we both had enough courage to go through with it. He was very laid back, but we were both giggly about the whole thing, which helped.
Were you nervous about joining the couple?
Not as much. There was a genuine friendship connection between me and her at first, and this was their first time with another person as well. There was no real pressure at all. We corresponded over the course of a few weeks, and gradually our e-mails became more explicit. By the time we first met in person, there was so much pent-up sexual energy that it just flowed very organically.
You've taken some pretty big experimental leaps over the last couple years, compared to what you've said about your past...
It is part of myself that I am learning about and mapping. I don't see this as a lifestyle for me. It's more like an educational phase.
What is your philosophy on monogamy?
I believe in emotional monogamy.
Women typically have a hard time separating emotions and sex. Have you made any emotional connections with those you've had affairs with?
With the first man, it was more nervous energy than true emotion. However, I do have a genuine connection with the couple I see now. I thought I could compartmentalize this aspect of my life, and to a certain degree I can. It being clandestine certainly helps in that regard. But one time, early in the affair, they had to cancel on me at the last minute, and it was then that I realized I had a deeper connection to them than just casual sex. I felt a bit wounded. I wouldn't necessarily call it love - more like deep physical affection.
Again, why get married? Why not have a lifelong best friend and just continue casually dating, which is essentially what you're doing - minus the big, expensive ceremony and legal documents?
I do believe that he is my life mate - we will be with each other for a very long time. I believe this affair is just a season for me, something I am exploring my way through.