Ashley Madison is notoriously known as a dating site for people who seeking affairs outside their marriages or relationships.
But it’s also possible for single people to find each other on the site — and one former user tells us the resulting relationships can be more open and satisfying than those that sprout from traditional dating sites.
It’s tough to tell just how many single people are using Ashley Madison to meet other singles. After the site was hacked earlier this year, Gizmodo reported that the site has 31 million male users and only 5.5 million female users — and of those female “users,” about 70,000 are bots.
But there are plenty of real female users, and not all of them are looking for affairs.
Tech Insider chatted with one of these women to find out what it’s like to use Ashley Madison as a traditional dating site.
Pam (whose name has been changed for anonymity) is a 50-year-old divorcée with a rich social life and a demanding job. She tried to find men to date on Match.com and Zoosk, but didn’t have much luck.
She was tired of matching with catfish scammers and sketchy-seeming men.
“It just did not work out for me,” Pam said. “I just was not reading profiles of guys that really stimulating.”
She also grew tired of what she calls “the great un-said” — that delicate dance at the beginning of a new relationship when each party tries to determine how long is appropriate to wait to have sex. Of course, the way people determine this usually has nothing to do with talking about it openly, so it’s just an extended guessing game.
Pam was surprised to find that on Ashley Madison, where she met two men with whom she had satisfying relationships, this was not an issue.
At first, Pam decided to set herself up on Ashley Madison, “partially out of curiosity and partially out of [a sense of] ‘I have nothing to lose, no one knows who I am, so why not?'”
In her time using Ashley Madison, Pam built a long-distance, platonic friendship with one married man and met with two single men.
She and the first single man decided not to take the relationship to the next level after a couple of months because of the man’s issues with commitment.
“It had nothing to do with me,” Pam said, “but we had a great time. And sexually, it was absolutely fabulous. We had great conversations and a lot of similar interests.”
They also shared some laughs over the fact that they’d met on Ashley Madison. He, too, had joined out of curiosity as well as frustration with typical dating websites. He came from a conservative background, Pam said, “so he kept apologizing… It was almost like he was apologetic that we met that way.”
But when they started negotiating how sex would work before the end of their first date, Pam quickly picked up on one huge benefit of meeting people on Ashley Madison: users don’t hold back, sexually or otherwise.
“There is liberation in having everyone disclose what they want up front,” Pam said. “The fact that I’m a woman and I have sexual needs — it was ok for me to come up and take ownership of it. I was brought up in a circumstance where it would be very unladylike to act that way. There’s judgment around that — you’re seen as being slutty or a hussy. Where in this forum, it was actually about having sexual needs met.”
This openness translated to other aspects of the relationship, too.
“I would ask him if he was meeting or seeing anyone else, and he would tell me honestly,” she said.
This trend continued with the second man Pam met on Ashley Madison. He was single, too, and “both of guys were really good-looking guys who had a lot going for them,” she said.
On other websites, Pam says there is a “great un-said” surrounding sexuality. People don’t discuss it openly, and the biggest hurdle in the beginning of a relationship is determining how long the other person thinks you should wait to become intimate.
But on Ashley Madison, propriety is out from the get-go. After all, it’s a website designed to help you cheat on your spouse.
Once you’ve smashed that taboo by signing up, everything else falls away pretty quickly, too.
“At the end of the day, you’re not being judgmental about why that person’s on the website,” Pam said.
Also, the site has a section for denoting your sexual preferences. You can check off a box for everything from “cuddling and hugging” to “bondage” and “fetishes.”
“If you want to do something — if you want to dress up or you want conventional sex or hand-holding or erotic chat, then the website has asked you about it and there’s not judgment around it,” she said. “It’s a way of exploring or having those needs met.”
Pam thinks her time on Ashley Madison helped her to be more assertive with her own sexuality. On traditional websites, she felt she had to wait for the men she was seeing to take the lead sexually or risk being judged. But on Ashley Madison, things were more transparent and there weren’t secrets surrounding sexuality — people went for what they wanted.
Still, she doesn’t know if she’d recommend Ashley Madison or any other dating website to anyone else — but that doesn’t make her the first habitual online dater to wish the process was less tedious.
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