Ashley Madison, the world’s biggest online hookup site for married people, works only when monogamy is the rule on the surface but, deep inside, couples want to cheat.
That is why it is scoring big in Japan.
The nation that prides itself on conformity and proper appearances reached 1 million users in eight-and-a-half months, the fastest pace among any of the 37 countries where the adultery site operates. The previous record was Brazil at 10 months.
The US, which has the biggest number of users at 13 million, took a year to achieve the 1 million mark. Spain took nearly two years.
Extramarital sex and affairs are not new to Japan, but a site such as Ashley Madison is a “a leveling out of the playing field” for women, said Noel Biderman, chief executive of Avid Life Media, which runs AshleyMadison.com. There is a tradition of wealthy men taking mistresses in Japan and its male-dominated society has provided plenty of outlets for married men to find casual sex.
The divorce rate in Japan is relatively low at about two cases per 1,000 people versus four cases in the US, although sinking marriages rates in Japan also lower the divorce numbers. In the 1960s, divorces were even rarer, with fewer than one per 1,000 people.
With its slogan: “Life is short. Have an affair,” Ashley Madison has drawn nearly 25 million users worldwide since being started in Canada in 2002. It now has 1.07 million users there after opening in Japan in June last year.
Biderman, who is in a monogamous marriage and has two children, insists the social network is just a tool and no one can force anyone to betray a spouse. A friendly uninhibited man with quick answers to almost any question about infidelity, he does not shy from declaring he would cheat if his marriage were sexually unsatisfying.
One appeal of the site is that it allows for pseudonyms or anonymity. It is secure and closed so digital tracks like e-mails do not get left behind, reducing the chances of getting caught. It is far less messy than trying to find an erotic outlet on Facebook or in the office, Biderman said during a visit to Tokyo last week.
A small, but significant, portion of users around the world do not have affairs and merely flirt in “fantasy dates” in cyberspace, according to Ashley Madison.
Singles can join, but only if they are willing to get together with married people. Women can use the services for free.
Revenue comes from charging the male users. A package of 100 credits costs ￥4,900 (US$49), which allow connections with 20 potential partners. Credits are also used for gifts to woo potential lovers, such as virtual flowers. The privately owned company had profit of about US$40 million last year. Its revenue was about US$125 million, up from US$100 million in 2012.
Ashley Madison has not been warmly welcomed everywhere in Asia.
Singapore’s government blocked access to the site ahead of its launch there late last year amid a public outcry, lambasting the service as a “flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality.”
The nation that invented the geisha, Japan is no newcomer to the cheating game. It already has a host of online encounter sites called deaikei, which means “meeting people.” “Soap land” is a real place, where scantily clad women give massages and more. “Love hotels,” the official place for secret flings, are a booming business.