Life is Short. Have an Affair. A Sociological Experiment on Steroids

The dating site for married people, Ashley Madison, has now been around for over a decade. What can we now learn about marriage and monogamy from this “sociological experiment on steroids"?


What's the Big Idea?

In the world of online dating there are sites for people claiming just about any sort of interest or identity, whether they are a dog lover or a conservative Christian, or even a married person looking to have an affair.

That's right, a dating site for married people, Ashley Madison, has been around for over a decade, an experience its founder Noel Biderman has described as "a sociological experiment on steroids." As you might imagine, Biderman gets beat up in the media quite often. His many critics, and competitors, have charged that he has built a business "on the back of broken hearts, ruined marriages and damaged families." 

I invited Biderman to appear on Big Think, after all, to have a dialogue about a subject that is very much out in the open, yet all too often needlessly clouded by hypocricy and false moralizing. Biderman, after all, certainly didn't create infidelity. Do we wish to make him the boogie man for our own failure to understand human nature? Biderman told Big Think:

My intent was to cannibalize a behavior pattern where people were going on singles dating sites when that wasn't the appropriate forum for them to conduct an affair or they were having in the workplace. So I always thought that I could move them into a social network of their own.  

So Biderman was unambiguously out to make buck with a clever enterprise. At the same time, a secondary outcome of Biderman's business has been a Kinsey-esque accumulation of data about marriage and monogamy. Biderman has found that people have become quite comfortable sharing personal information online, and this data helps his dating site better serve its customer. One of the most surprising discoveries, for instance, that Biderman points to in his data is that open relationships lead to "much less divorce." He tells Big Think:

I don't want to say that's a more successful marriage just because you didn't get divorced, but if their divorce rates are half that or even less than couples in monogamous relationships maybe we're onto something. Is this manmade contract we've created for ourselves setting us up to fail? I think a lot of people would argue yes, it is.  

Are all affairs the same? We don't know what happens behind closed doors, but what Biderman says his site offers married people is discretion.

Watch him in his own words here:

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
  • Prejudice is typically perpetrated against 'the other', i.e. a group outside our own.
  • But ageism is prejudice against ourselves — at least, the people we will (hopefully!) become.
  • Different generations needs to cooperate now more than ever to solve global problems.

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Keep reading Show less