With Valentine's Day approaching, it's time to make sure your honey knows you care — because these days, an affair is just a click away, notes Noel Biderman, founder of the 12-year-old adultery website AshleyMadison.com. His new book, Adultropology, is a self-published study of the cheating mind. (His first book, in 2011, was titled Cheaters Prosper: How Infidelity Will Save the Modern Marriage.) Married for 11 years, Biderman, 42, of Toronto, says he's a faithful husband and father of two kids, ages 6 and 9 — as well as an expert on infidelity. He talks to USA TODAY's Sharon Jayson.
Q: What's the point of your title, "Adultropology," and subtitle, "the cyber-anthropology behind infidelity"?
A: Instead of planting ourselves in the field, we're using computer data. We're sitting back and watching as literally millions of lines of communication flow across our servers every day with people talking about why they've come to an affair, what they're looking to pursue in an affair and self-identifying within an affair. This is cyber-anthropology in the adultery world, so it's Adultropology.
Q: Academic researchers use AshleyMadison.com to study infidelity and you note that you've collected a lot of data about cheating. What are some things you've learned and why is it important to share it?
A: They (researchers) were interested in diving deep into the data because it has been very difficult for them to get people to self-identify as adulterers. The usual cohort they might rely on — university students — isn't a good sample size or a good cohort in general for life-long marriage. They've been continually interested in looking at our members. Our view was, shouldn't there be some kind of much more consumable version of this that isn't for academics but for the regular man and woman who actually might want to know this data? The more that we can provide and say, the day after Valentine's Day is a real, real slippery slope for when people have affairs, so maybe the day before, you want to step up and play differently. Let's take this data and make it more consumable and give people a better road map to navigate at least the infidelity components of marriage.
Q: How has the Internet-dominated world changed cheating behaviors?
A: Just being a click away has dramatically changed things. That's first and foremost. But second, the avenues for women to pursue infidelity have greatly changed. It wasn't that long ago in American society — a woman discovered having an affair risked losing her kids in a custody hearing. She risked economic support because she was a person of questionable morals. Society has removed those. Technology has created for women the opportunity for the anonymous affair — someone not in their circle of influence, someone brand-new that they're meeting.
Q: You note in the book that this is new terrain for scientific research. But how do you know you can trust what cheaters say?
A: There's two points. One, a lot of this is passively gathered. We're sitting back and we're watching. They don't realize they're being watched and it's all anonymous, so I think the reliability factor is fairly high. Second, these people do not want to take a massive risk. They do say their true weight and explain why they're coming to an affair because they're looking for someone to understand them. It might sound ironic, but this is one of the more honest places on the Web.
Q: You say the most fascinating finding deals with misconceptions about the so-called "seven-year itch" that leads men to stray, and that it's really the "first bump" effect. Explain what's happening here.
A: One of the important groupings we have found on AshleyMadison is the first-time affair seeker. It happens three to four years into a marriage and there's a real correlation factor with pregnancy. It has to do with sexual behavior being reduced tenfold. You were in a relationship and it was just two of you. Sex could be had as frequently as the two of you wanted — in any room at any time of day. It's now gone to where there's physical constraints brought on by a pregnancy or birth and then followed up by time constraints or exhaustion or any number of things. Some people react poorly to that and didn't expect that.
Q: There are a lot of interesting tidbits of data covered in the book. What are some of the data points you've discovered?
A: It's fascinating stuff to read. It turns out that at least among our users, it seems to be the more women there are in a family — the more daughters they have — the more unfaithfulness there is. On the zodiac, when a woman or man signs up for our service, they tell us their date of birth. We can then use that to backtrack to their (astrological) signs. We can then watch a whole bunch of behavior patterns from their signs. We've just relayed what we are seeing from the Geminis and Pisces on the service and it turns out they act differently from the Scorpios and Libras. (The finding: Pisces men and Gemini women are the least faithful.)
Q: You have made the argument that monogamy is a failed experiment and infidelity is the way of the future. How can you say cheating helps a marriage?
A: Infidelity has always been amongst us. It just happened to be the dominion of men for the most part. What I hear from the women in particular on my site and even the men is, "I love my partner. I cherish my kids. I can't stand what doesn't happen in the bedroom." Most people are not willing to give it all up for a one-night stand or encounter. What I'm saying is the majority of people having affairs are looking to preserve their marriage — not to leave it.