Sex-without-commitment websites have mushroomed in recent years. The ill-fated website Ashley Madison encouraged married people to be unfaithful to their partners using the slogan ‘Life is short — have an affair’. Such sites give every impression of catering to selfish, cynical and self-serving men and women for whom adultery is no big deal. But is there another side to these outfits? One website claims that, in a survey, two thirds of their clients maintained that their extramarital encounters ‘strengthened’ their marriages. That seems unlikely. But perhaps there are circumstances in which carefully managed affairs might help a couple to avoid divorce.
Let’s take an example. Colin is a successful architect. Unfortunately, his wife Mary (whom he still loves) has no interest in sexual intimacy, and has made it plain to him that there is to be no further action in the ‘bedroom department’. However, Colin is a highly sexed chap. He is also a man who would never consider leaving the woman he adores. So he has resolved his situation by signing up with a ‘no-strings’ dating site for married people. Colin does not want to leave Mary, or disrupt their life together, or cause distress to his three teenage children, or lose his house. He feels that the present arrangement — in which he ‘sees’ a variety of ladies at intervals throughout the year — works well for him. His wife does not know what he is doing — though we think she may have an inkling.
Or take the case of Georgina. A legal consultant with two children, she works from home because she is the main carer for her long-term male partner — who has multiple sclerosis. As his illness worsened, sex became impossible, but, at his suggestion, Georgina signed up to an adult website and currently meets men every few weeks for sexual encounters. She told us: ‘It’s the only thing that stops me from going under. I love my partner and couldn’t leave him, but an occasional dalliance makes me feel alive in a way that my day-to-day routine simply doesn’t.’
Another example: Alan, who is a doctor, is married to an alcoholic woman. Every evening at home follows the same pattern. To ‘lift her mood’, his wife has a couple of large gins, before switching to wine. As the night progresses, she becomes morose, then abusive. Two bottles of rioja later, she falls asleep in front of the television, with her mouth hanging open.
‘I have sexual needs, like the next man,’ he says. ‘But my wife’s not interested in me and, to be honest, I shudder at the thought of attempting intercourse with her.’ Alan has considered divorce, but he feels it would be the wrong thing to do, and he also knows that it would ruin the lives of his son and daughter because their mother would then become their responsibility. He sighs: ‘I can’t do that to my children, can I?’
So, his solution is to have regular sex in a hotel bedroom with a female doctor (also married) whom he found on one of the extramarital dating websites. Are Colin, Georgina and Alan bad people? They don’t think so. They believe that by seeking sexual gratification in a 21st century way they are saving their sanity, and doing the decent thing for their families.
However, is all this ‘cheating via website’ as foolproof as it seems? The recent hacking of Ashley Madison suggests not. Leaving aside moral concerns, there are three big risks. First, your spouse may well find out. If you regularly book hotel rooms in which to have sex, you are bound to leave a paper or digital trail. And what happens on the ill-starred day when the hotel rings your home to confirm your booking — and your spouse answers the phone? Such occurrences may sound like the stuff of Feydeau farces. But in real life, they can lead to tragedy — including, occasionally, suicide.
You may catch a sexually transmitted infection. Let us imagine that you’re a fellow who has ‘adultery by appointment’ with 12 women a year. And let’s say that each of these ladies also has about a dozen liaisons per annum. What this means is that in the course of a 12-month period, you will potentially be exposed to the germs of 144 people. And if any of them has chlamydia or herpes, you could get it.
You may find yourself falling for your co-adulterer. A lot of men and women who go in for infidelity are convinced that their emotions will not be troubled by their actions. Alas, their optimism on this point is often misplaced. In fact, situations where sex turns into romantic love happen all the time, as any relationship therapist will tell you.
So, in summary, adultery websites are unlikely to go away: sites such as Illicit Encounters claim to have more than a million users. However, if you’re tempted to try one, go cautiously. You may believe that some extracurricular activity will save your marriage. But it could just as easily lead to the very outcome you hoped to avoid — a divorce!