Wedded Westporters are turning to the web for adulterous affairs at a rate that rivals perpetually philandering Washington, D.C., according to data from a dating website that helps men and women find partners for extramarital affairs.
According to the controversial website AshleyMadison.com, 5.9 percent of Westport’s 26,435 residents – more than 1,500 people – have had an active membership at some point since the site’s inception about a decade ago.
“That’s high,” said CEO and Founder Noel Biderman. “The highest (membership) rate… is Washington, D.C., where year in and year out, we see 6 to 7 percent per capita. And that doesn’t just put it in the lead, that’s head and shoulders above most other places.”
Typically, the market saturation for any community is between about 2 and 3 percent, he said, adding that “my guess is if we did a national study on cities, [Westport] would be in the top 10.”
And while Westport has a higher percentage of its population tracking down trysts on the website, it’s not the only Southwestern Connecticut community with higher than average rates. In Stamford, 4.6 percent of the population has held a membership at some point, as well as 4.2 percent in Ridgefield, 4 percent in Danbury and 3.6 percent in both Trumbull and Darien.
Lisa Ryan, a marriage counselor and infidelity specialist at Advocacy Circle in Westport said she deals with many couples coping with indiscretions somehow related to Biderman’s site.
“It’s a problem,” she said of the site. “It’s one out of maybe every 50 cases I deal with, so it’s high. Facebook is higher though.”
For the most part, the clients she’s dealt with who have used the site are men between 40 and 55, she said, adding that she “can’t think of one woman” client who’s used the site.
But that doesn’t mean infidelity in our area is limited to married men.
“Years ago, traditionally when women were more likely to stay at home, there was less opportunity for affairs,” she said. “Men were the sole breadwinners and they were traveling and working with other people, while the wife had less contact and less opportunity. But now that’s changed: I would say my practice is about 35 percent women and 65 percent men who make the big mistake.”
She paused and recalculated before correcting herself.
“Maybe even higher than 35 – closer to 40.”
According to the General Social Survey, a project of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, the percentage of Americans who feel that sex with someone other than a person’s spouse is “always wrong” has increased from 69.3 percent in 1973 to 80.8 percent in 2012. Yet the frequency of extramarital affairs seems to be growing, and much of that growth is occurring among women.
Twenty years ago, the percentage gap between men who reported being unfaithful to their wives was 9.9 percentage points higher than the rate for women. These days, the gap has narrowed to 8.2 percentage points, according to Tom Smith, who is the survey’s director.
As the percentage of women who report they’ve cheated has increased from 10 percent to close to 15 percent, the rate for men has held pretty steady around 21 percent over the past two decades, said Yanyi K. Djamba, director of Auburn University’s Center for Demographic Research.
And while it may seem strange that the rate of cheating seems to be increasing as public disapproval also rises, Djamba said it’s not that complicated to explain: Even people who commit adultery seem to feel it’s wrong.
“It’s like people who smoke,” he said. “Most or all of them believe it’s not good for their health, but they do it anyway.”
Like Ryan, Djamba cites opportunity as the prime reason. The old “once a cheater, always a cheater” mantra doesn’t always hold up, he said, since people who are morally opposed to the idea now find themselves slipping up based on an increase of opportunities.
And websites like AshleyMadison are just one more opportunity in the globally connected world.