FUSION

In the aftermath of a hack that revealed the identities of millions of users of the infidelity dating website Ashley Madison, we've heard many stories from people who've said the data leak is ruining their lives. But what happened on Ashley Madison before the hack? What drew people to a site that carried the risk of ruin if they were linked to it?

David, a 43-year-old man in California who has used the site for almost a decade, told me the story of why he signed up and what happened when he did. Disclaimer: it gets sexy.

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I initially went on Ashley Madison with zero expectations. I heard about it on Dr. Phil. I thought that it sounded crazy. I had never even been in an online chat room. Frustrated one night after yet another sexless evening with my wife, I created a free profile and entered into a dark world. This was eight years ago and Ashley Madison was much different from today. Finding women to have sex with was easy.

My wife is a wonderful person, but like most marriages, our relationship was strained. We were going through a period where I was horrible in bed and she had little motivation to engage in sex. I was sexually frustrated and had no confidence. We had a great family life, but I struggled. We’ve been married for 17 years — you get married and you haven’t really discovered your sexuality yet and then you just wind up with different levels of sexual desire.

I was amazed by how many women I met on Ashley Madison who said that they had more sexual desire than their spouse. I thought, “Why don’t I have that? Why doesn’t my wife want to dress up for me?”

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The first woman I talked to was a woman from a different state.  I was 38 at the time and she was a few years older. She told me she had been on the site a few months and had numerous sexual encounters. She told me about the experience she had the evening before: she had a man show up to her work and meet her in the parking garage to have sex in the back seat of her car. He gave her oral sex, she orgasmed and then he left.  I asked if I could talk to her on the phone and she agreed. It was very therapeutic for me. I went out and purchased a prepaid Visa card and bought a full membership.

I began talking to numerous woman and became addicted to it. This is very common for new people. Most of us who go on initially are looking to be appreciated, we feel that we are not valued.  Some stranger is now giving you attention and you begin to feel a connection.

I was spending my nights chatting with several women. I did my first meet and greet with a woman from out of town who was visiting on business.  She was much heavier than I expected. We had a great time chatting in person, but did nothing more. That was my first attempt at cheating. I was nervous and couldn’t go through with it.

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The next woman I met in person was 29.  She sent me pictures. We had a few nights of phone sex where I talked her through orgasms. Then I went out and purchased a hotel room. She knocked on the door and we kissed and within minutes we were naked. We spent the afternoon having sex for hours. We took a break, went to get food and then had more sex. I didn’t have time to feel guilty or think about what I was doing. I knew I liked it and thought, "This is too easy." We never met again.

I focused on a new woman who was recently divorced, had no kids and was looking for fun. We had exchanged some basic pictures and talked for three weeks every night on the phone. She seemed too good to be true. She told me that she was tired of men treating her like a little princess. She wanted a guy to have his way with her. I was intimidated by this initially, but she opened my eyes to what I would find was a very common reason women were on Ashley Madison.

I made an excuse to my wife that I was going to be out of town playing golf. I purchased a hotel room for us and she drove five hours to spend a few days with me. I hid myself in the lobby to see her from afar when she arrived. She was better than advertised. I remember thinking, “This can’t really be happening.” This was a beautiful woman who wanted to do anything I wanted with her.

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We couldn’t get enough of each other. After about six months, I got caught. I was being careless. I thought there was no reason for my wife to not trust me. But when you’re cheating, the signs are all there if the spouse wants to look. Maybe you just joined a gym, you’ve gotten your teeth whitened or you’re generally paying more attention to how you look. She found out through the history on the computer, which I thought I’d deleted.

I came clean about Ashley Madison. My response was that it was an online affair, not a physical affair. She was hurt and angry. Her first thought was she wanted a divorce.

We sought out counseling. The initial reaction is that you want to stay together because of the kids, the house, the life, the embarrassment of separating. You think you made a mistake. You want to do the right thing.

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I shut everything down. She stepped up her sexual game, but after a few months, that faded. I refocused. I poured that energy into exercise. I resigned myself to basically having a non-sexual life, but I also wondered whether I should divorce her.

That lasted for many years. But once you’ve walked into the candy story and tasted the candy, it’s hard not to keep going back.

I got back on Ashley Madison. But I decided I didn’t want to risk hurting my wife again so I committed myself to doing it right. I got a burner phone prepaid with cash. I did everything on my phone. One thing I do worry about with the leak is my credit card information getting out there. I used a card my wife doesn’t know about, but didn’t take the extra step of using a prepaid card.

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The problem for a lot of people on Ashley Madison is that their core sexual desires vary from their spouse. It’s an embarrassing thing for a man to go to his wife and say, “I want to tie you up” or “I want to watch you have sex with another man.” You can't say that to the mother of your kids.

The dark side of sites like Ashley Madison is the fun that actually happens. There are books that could be written about the untold stories that most cheaters can't share with anybody. There are women on there who are happy in their marriages, but looking for stuff they can't get at home. I met a woman who said she’d never given a man a blowjob. It was her fantasy. She said her husband would call her a freak. I made her fantasy come true.

I hate to say that I’m good at it, but I am. I’ve had sex with about 60 women I met on the site — I made a spreadsheet of them once. There’s been various types of affairs. I had one that was just very hollow — good but meaningless sex that leaves you feeling used. You get the ones where you’re committed to somebody, where you become boyfriend and girlfriend, and you’re always trying to figure out how to meet for lunch. When it’s more than just physical, it lasts longer but at some point it gets old. Some of the affairs have been more like friends with benefits, no strings attached. Sometimes I don’t even know their real name.

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One time a wife asked if her husband could watch. A lot of women want to be restrained. One woman’s fantasy was to have sex while she was blindfolded in a hotel and for me to leave without her ever even seeing me. I never thought I would go down that path. Some of the stuff isn’t even believable.

A very common thing you see on profiles is, “I have a wonderful house, a wonderful life. I don’t want to change what I have. I just want something else.” You meet people who are great in bed, but you laugh together about how you could never live together. They can’t provide you the same thing as your spouse.

We all have issues. For some people it’s drugs or alcohol. This is my drug of choice. Sometimes I walk around the grocery store and wonder who is a cheater.

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About six months ago, I decided again to try and pull myself away. You start to wonder if you’re some kind of prostitute. It’s almost too easy to have affairs. Part of me wishes I never had.

I don’t know why I keep doing it. You think maybe you’ll stop tomorrow. I think I’m avoiding the issues I have. For me, the guilt is now gone. You become numb.

The last time my wife and I had sex was two years ago. Now I don’t know if I could. I don't like that I’m out there cheating. But here’s the crazy part: Our marriage is actually better. There’s no stress about sex.

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This story has been edited for length and clarity.