Brandy knew she wanted out of her marriage.
She’d married young, at age 20, and signed up for the Air Force, leaving her small town in southern Georgia for tours overseas in Germany and placements across the country. After the birth of her second child, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and retired from the military at 30 years old.
“We had to move home,” Brandy says, “My husband really resented that, and we were already on the road to divorce. Our sex life was never very good, and he was uncomfortable talking about [sex] or doing it.”
So Brandy turned to the website Ashley Madison, where married people looking to have discreet affairs can connect with one another. (The site gained notoriety in 2015 after a data breach revealed users’ personal information.) An affair would boost her own happiness and sexual satisfaction, she rationalized, thus keeping her family together. Brandy, who asked that MarieClaire.com refer to her by her middle name, sought out men from nearby towns, refusing anyone who lived in the same small town she did. They’d meet regularly, often checking into hotels and taking turns paying for the rooms. She’d stay only a few hours—never the night.
She turned to Ashley Madison as a way to fulfil her sexual needs without hurting her significant other.
Alicia Walker, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at Missouri State University, recently authored a study that found that many women who use Ashley Madison share Brandy’s motivations. For her research, published last week in the Journal of Sexuality and Culture and first reported on MarieClaire.com, Walker surveyed people who had affairs through the Ashley Madison site and found that women reported increased life satisfaction at a higher rate than cheating men did.
And the affairs did make Brandy happy...for a time. Cheating allowed her to stay in her marriage longer, which she says was a priority for her, and it gave her the sexual connection she craved. Brandy estimates she had five different rather satisfying affairs over the course of two years.
“Females having affairs are more likely to be happy than men,” reports Walker. “It’s the ‘monogamy malaise.’ Existing research shows the longer women are in a sexual relationship, the more their desire drops over time, and they become less and less interested in having sex with their primary partner. However, if they take on a new partner, their sexual desire returns to its previous high level.”
Jean, too, was unhappy in her three-year relationship. Her partner suffered from mental health issues, and Jean saw him through different doctors, medication changes, and self-commitment to a psychiatric facility. She stood by him as he withdrew from prescribed opiates.
But even as he made progress, Jean realized she wanted a separation; she also wanted to delay doing so until her boyfriend was more stable. The last year of their relationship had “zero intimacy” Jean says, and she was unhappy. So she turned to Ashley Madison as a way to fulfil her sexual needs without hurting her significant other (who never found out, she claims).
“The whole ordeal is not something I post on highway billboards,” Jean says, asking that MarieClaire.com use her nickname instead of her full name. “But I'm not necessarily ashamed either.” For Jean, the affair made her happier, it provided a coping mechanism that led to no harm and positive results. “The moral objections are subjective,” she maintains.