On July 20, a group of hackers who call themselves the Impact Team demanded the shutdown of AshleyMadison.com, the dating site for people looking for extramarital affairs. The Impact Team threatened a massive leak of private customer information, including names, addresses, credit card information, and sexual predilections. The hackers gave Avid Life Media (ALM), the company that owns Ashley Madison, one month to comply. After the deadline came and went, the hackers made good on their promise, and posted the site's massive database in late August.
The 37 million leaked user accounts show the world what those of us in the sex trade have known for centuries: Married men want to have affairs and will pay good money to do so without risk.
The site promised discretion and took great pains to perpetuate a fantasy for its millions of male users, namely that there existed a utopia of hot and horny women eager to engage in infidelity. Women could use the site for free, while men had to pay to initiate any kind of communication with the millions of (mostly fake) female profiles.
An incredible analysis of the data dump by Gizmodo's Annalee Newitz confirmed what the Impact Team had claimed in their initial mission statement: The number of actual females on the site was negligible. It turned out that a huge number of the interactions that straight men had on the site were with artificially intelligent fembots inhabiting fake profiles created by Ashley Madison employees.
A former employee even tried to sue ALM in 2012, claiming she suffered a repetitive stress injury from having to create such a large number of fake female profiles — 1,000 in just one month.
"The purpose of these profiles is to entice paying heterosexual male members to join and spend money on the website," she told Toronto courts.
"Ninety percent of actual users are male," Impact Team wrote in a statement. "Chances are your man signed up on the world's biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters."
In the wake of the Ashley Madison hack, people have lost jobs, resigned from public office, and — in at least two cases — committed suicide when faced with the humiliation of being exposed as a cheater (or someone who thinks about cheating). The Impact Team was hoping to target ALM, as they took issue with the fake profiles, as well as the $20 "full-delete" service that over-promised and under-delivered. But it's the users who faced the brunt of the consequences. (Curiously, this incident hasn't meant the end of Ashley Madison. ALM claims the hack has been a boon for them, with hundreds of thousands of new accounts created during the last week of August, 87,596 of them women.)
However it plays out in the end, the Ashley Madison hack shows us that the desire to cheat is common. It's the norm, not the exception.
Cheating can have unpleasant consequences, but so can divorce, and many choose the former in lieu of the latter. This hack is destroying lives, and for what? Is thinking about cheating really a crime worthy of suicide?
I have affairs professionally.
Many of my clients are married, and most have no desire to leave their wives.
Some are in sexless marriages for a variety of reasons (illness, postpartum depression, disparate sex drives or interests), and some have perfectly healthy sexual relationships with their wives, but like having the occasional crush or midnight tryst.
They say that seeing me helps them stay married.
Without exception, they all love their wives very much.
Sometimes they brag or gush about their wives so much that eventually, I grow to love those women a little bit, too.
When I hear them talk about their marriage and family with such tenderness and care, I understand how high the stakes are, and I feel as committed to keeping the secret as they are.
I know that my time playing mistress is what keeps them together and what threatens to tear them apart, should I be found out.
I take the trust they put in me very seriously.
The moral of the story is: Next time, hire a professional. You'll know she's not a robot (for now), and in all likelihood she knows how to keep a secret.