TIME Infidelity

Cheaters’ Dating Site Ashley Madison Spied on Its Users

Erin Patrice O'Brien—Getty Images

A service for people seeking affairs secretly analyzed its members' conversations

In a study to be presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco on Saturday Aug. 16, Eric Anderson, a professor at the University of Winchester in England claims that women who seek extra-marital affairs usually still love their husbands and are cheating instead of divorcing, because they need more passion. “It is very clear that our model of having sex and love with just one other person for life has failed— and it has failed massively,” says Anderson.

How does he know this? Because he spied on the conversations women were having on Ashley Madison, a website created for the purpose of having an affair. Professor Anderson, who as it turns out is a the “chief science officer” at Ashley Madison, looked at more than 4,000 conversations that 100 women were having with potential paramours. “I monitored their conversation with men on the website, without their knowing that I was monitoring and analyzing their conversations,” he says. “The men did not know either.”

Now, let’s put aside for one second that it’s mighty convenient for a guy paid by a website that promotes cheating among married people to publish a study that finds that cheating probably doesn’t hurt marriages. Let’s put aside too, as a probable clerical error, that the study’s press release calls Anderson a professor of masculinity, sexuality, and sport, but the University of Winchester website lists him merely as Professor of Sports Studies, and that seven of his 10 books are about sports and only one is about relationships.

And while we’re putting things aside, let’s also overlook the fact that in seeking to find out how women feel about their marriages, he drew his subjects entirely from a website that women visit specifically to cheat. And from conversations among people who were seeking to be anonymous and who had ample reason to be less than candid. Almost by definition, any user of Ashley Madison is lying to someone: either her husband, which draws her honesty into question, and/or other users of Ashley Madison, which makes the data highly suspect. Or she has an open marriage, in which case she is not a good subject for a study on cheating.

When asked how he adjusts his figures for this selection bias, Anderson’s answer is simple. “I don’t,” he says. “Most of our knowledge of women who cheat comes from another population via selection bias, those in counselors’ offices. My method is the best way we can do this. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we have.” That’s a lot of caveats for a guy who also says he wants the study “to help unravel the stranglehold that our culture has on sex and love.”

Even if we overlook that whole pile of problems, or get around it somehow since it’s a little large to look over, then we still have the basic problem with this study that this guy spied on Ashley Madison users to get his data. He covertly monitored the conversations of people who had come to the website in order to ensure their privacy.

Anderson’s data “included profile information that the women supplied when they signed up for the site (information not made available to other Ashley Madison users)” he writes in the study, as well as information other users could see. “We also acquired all private message conversations that [users] had with men on the website for one month.” Were the users aware that every intimate thing they said in the course of finding an affair partner might be made available to Professors of Sports Studies? Well, sort of. Back when they registered for the site, it was in the terms and conditions. Because everybody reads the user agreement carefully, of course.

Anderson, who likes to use the term “monoganism,” as if mutually agreed fidelity were a cult of some sort, maintains that one of the reasons monogamy is becoming such an imposition on modern couples is a condition he calls “relative sexual deprivation.” His theory is that people feel sexually deprived because thanks to the internet, everybody’s aware that there are many more opportunities to get some nooky that monogamous couples have to let slide. “Individuals evaluate their own standing by comparing their current position with those who have more,” he writes. “Women may therefore look at their monogamous relationships and consider themselves sexually deprived in comparison to what they see occurring in today’s sexualized culture.”

To recap: women want to cheat, not because they don’t love their spouses, but because the internet makes them feel like they’re not getting enough sex and also gives them so many more opportunities to cheat. Places, like, say, Ashley Madison. Which is totally the place you should go, apparently, if you both love your husband and wish to be spied on.

 

TIME Marriage

The Real Problem With Women as the Family Breadwinner

Fox News isn't all wrong, but it ain't (just) about the money

Watching the recent kerfuffle over whether it’s sexist to think that marriages might be threatened when wives make more than husbands is a bit like watching a person trying to change a flat on a bus that’s on fire. Everybody’s avoiding the main issue.

In almost a quarter of marriages in the U.S., wives earn more than husbands. This is a huge, fourfold-sized shift from a half-century ago. And the effects on intimate human relations of this realignment in bacon bringing are still shaking out. The prognostications follow one of two narratives: either husbands’ egos — and thus the American family — will be annihilated; or men will eventually learn to stop holding women back and everyone will be better, more equal and richer than before.

A recent Fox news segment rehearsed the first theory, asking a series of young telegenic types if marriage would be destroyed by alpha females and their earning capacity. “Isn’t there some sort of biological, innate need for men to be the caveman?” asked Fox’s Clayton Morris. “Go out and bring home the dinner …?” The segment was roundly scoffed at by media commenters for being hopelessly outdated and antiwoman. “Men at Fox continued to justify their position that female breadwinners marked a breakdown in society,” wrote Emily Arrowood at Media Matters.

But the data, such as it is, tends to support the view, crudely put by Morris, that men find not being the breadwinner a little unsteadying. Pew research shows that most Americans still believe that having a mother at home and a father at work is the best arrangement for raising a family. And it’s true that men’s self-esteem is very much tied up in their ability to do well at work and to make money. Studies have found that men are more likely to cheat and feel worse about themselves when their wives make more than they do.

The anxiety all this generates is at the center of financial journalist Farnoosh Torabi’s new book When She Makes More. “The cold reality about making a relationship work when there’s an unusual income disparity,” she writes, “is that it takes a lot more effort than relationships with no or a traditional income disparity.” Torabi’s book offers a bunch of tips for high-earning wives-to-be, including being very open about their remunerative status, letting men pay the bill at the restaurant even if the women pay the credit-card bill later and sharing a bank account.

Torabi is pregnant, which is lovely for her, but she is in for one helluva shock. (She’s also been married for almost two full years, so it’s impressive that she’s already written a book about being a wife.) Meanwhile, the “marriage experts” on the Fox show probably had a cumulative age of less than 75. All of them, well-meaning as they were, are ignorant of the real issue, which is that the breadwinner problems are less about how much money any one spouse makes and more about what they do with that other resource, time.

But then, how could it be otherwise? Few people are prepared for the ferocity with which children siphon up every available resource in terms of time, money and brain space. It’s easy to be magnanimous and reasonable when every evening is available and every dollar disposable. Husbands and wives can discuss their finances at a leisurely pace over old-fashioneds in a local boîte. Mothers and fathers, on the other hand, usually find they take up the subject in enraged whispers around bedtime after they’ve discovered that the credit-card bill has gone unpaid yet again.

Women, studies show, are still bearing the brunt of child rearing and housework. This is not always because the dads are lazy; sometimes well-educated and competent women decline to delegate child-rearing responsibilities to other people. But either way, the marital-financial equation is exponentially harder to solve when there are offspring. And there’s less time to solve it and less room for error or experimentation. As divorce lawyers know, many ex-wives feel that if they were making most of the money and doing most of the child rearing and homekeeping, there was very little point in having a husband.

And many ex-husbands, who probably easily managed to get past the fact that their wives earned more, did not believe their lower salary then meant they had to do more on the homefront, especially if they worked just as hard as their better-paid wife. The data suggests two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women, but the data does not show what the husbands did that might have led the wives to call their lawyers.

If we’re going to have an honest discussion about breadwinning women, it can’t just be a rational discussion about the wisest ways to divide up dollars. It has to be about time as well. And I’m happy to lead it off. Right after I get back from dealing with whatever my kids’ school called me about now.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,371 other followers