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When I sat down to watch Netflix’s new documentary series, Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal, I expected nothing more than a sleazy exposé. After all, AshleyMadison.com (which, yes, is still active and going strong) is infamous for being the website where married people go to find other married people to cheat with. But the documentary dives deeper than its salacious premise.

It recounts the events of 2015 when hackers leaked the identities of the site’s 37 million members, exposing their names, home and work addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and even credit card transactions. The fallout was immense, impacting many lives in unforeseen and, as we find out, tragic ways.

How Ashley Madison Convinced 37 Million to Cheat

From the picture-perfect Texas Christian vlogging couple Nia and Sam Rader to Christi Gibson, who lost her minister husband to suicide days after he was exposed and subsequently lost his job, the documentary offered a raw, heartbreaking glimpse into the repercussions of the hack. These stories, told through interviews with the couples and people affected, stayed with me for days afterward.

How did Ashley Madison do it?

It really got me thinking: 37 million people? That’s more than the entire population of Australia! And in a country as religious as the US, how on earth did Ashley Madison manage to convince so many people to cheat?

Reframing the Narrative of a Happy Marriage

The first step was reframing the narrative: cheating wasn’t the end of a marriage; it was a solution for those stuck in the mundane routine of married life. The site promised excitement and escape from the daily grind and responsibilities, which perfectly targeted parents, like vlogger Sam Rader, exactly when they were feeling vulnerable and worn down.

How Ashley Madison Convinced 37 Million to Cheat

Noel Biderman, the CEO and self-proclaimed ‘King of Infidelity,’ despite his own monogamous marriage, was behind this message. He went on every daytime TV show and radio station and shamelessly championed the idea that an affair could save your marriage. Ironically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, he, too, was exposed in the leak.

Controversial Marketing Campaigns

Ashley Madison’s advertising campaigns echoed Biderman’s message, although they were designed to be even more provocative. Unfortunately, that cursed jingle is still in my head after watching the documentary!

“I’m looking for someone other than my wife. Other than my wife.”

My partner (male) is very confused as I potter around the house singing this. They also used taglines like “Life is short. Have an affair” and “Your wife is hot, but so are ours,” which were plastered on billboards across the country.

The Promise of Secrecy

Lastly, Ashley Madison convinced people to sign up for their site by assuring complete discretion. However, the hackers dramatically debunked this claim and showed that the company had made completely fake cybersecurity promises.

How Ashley Madison Convinced 37 Million to Cheat

An ex-employee even went on the record to say that they had designed fake logos and certificates that sat on their homepage. You also have to remember that this was the 2000s, so people were far less savvy about internet security and sharing their data.

The Psychology Behind Infidelity

So, is there any truth to their claims of infidelity helping marriages? Psychology Today sheds light on this question by sharing the findings of Sociologist Alicia M. Walker’s research.

In her paper, “Having Your Cake and Eating It, Too: Factors Impacting Perception of Life Satisfaction During Outside Partnerships,” she conducted an anonymous survey of 1,270 Ashley Madison users, aiming to understand why some people choose infidelity as a means to maintain their marriages.

Higher Life Satisfaction During Affairs

Participants reported higher life satisfaction during their extramarital relationships (7.68 out of 10) compared to before (5.47). While the satisfaction score dropped post-affair, it remained higher than pre-affair levels, indicating a lasting positive effect.

Reasons for Cheating

Emotional reasons for infidelity included unmet intimacy needs and the desire for emotional support. Sexual dissatisfaction also played a significant role, with reasons ranging from lack of variety to long-distance challenges.

How Ashley Madison Convinced 37 Million to Cheat

Gender Differences

Women, in particular, reported higher life satisfaction during and after affairs, possibly due to increased emotional connection over time.

Risks of Extramarital Affairs

There are many risks associated with extramarital affairs, such as sexually transmitted infections and developing sexual compulsions, which may impact people’s life satisfaction post-affair.

The Impact of the Ashley Madison Hack

The documentary series highlights not only the reasons behind Ashley Madison’s appeal but also the devastating consequences of the 2015 hack. The breach of privacy led to public shaming, broken marriages, and even suicides.

The Case of Sam and Nia Rader

Sam and Nia Rader, a seemingly perfect Christian vlogging couple, were exposed in the hack, causing a media frenzy and putting their marriage to the test. Their story, among others, illustrates the far-reaching impact of the data breach.

How Ashley Madison Convinced 37 Million to Cheat

The Tragic Story of John Gibson

Christi Gibson lost her husband, John Gibson, a minister, to suicide just days after he was exposed in the leak. He lost his job and felt immense shame, highlighting the tragic consequences of the hack.

The Ethical Debate

So, is Ashley Madison as evil as they’s been painted to be? The study concludes that while cheating can boost life satisfaction temporarily, the long-term sustainability and ethical implications are complex. In saying that, infidelity can serve as a successful, albeit controversial, strategy for people to maintain marital stability and personal satisfaction.


Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal offers a deep dive into the murky waters of infidelity, exploring how a website could convince 37 million people to cheat and the devastating consequences when those secrets were exposed. While the ethical implications of Ashley Madison’s business model are still up for debate, one thing is clear: the stories behind the scandal are both compelling and heartbreaking.

So, keep in mind the real lives and relationships that Ashley Madison’s promise of private affairs forever changed the next time you hear someone singing that catchy but cursed jingle.

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