HONG KONG ― In Korea, where adultery could be prosecuted, an online website arranging extramarital affairs started operating on March 18 to gratify the urge of “some” married people to find happiness in the arms of people other than their spouses.
Noel Biderman, founder of online dating site Ashelymadison.com ― and a rather erratic sex liberalist ― believes that his website, notorious for matchmaking married people, could change Korean society, while, of course, bringing him profit.
“I have looked through the Korean market and found that more and more people are marrying late, or not marrying at all,” Biderman said in an interview with The Korea Herald. “At the same time, the rate of divorce, especially for those initiated by women, is climbing rapidly.”
Noel Biderman, CEO of Ashely Madison
“Everybody cheats and Korea is no exception. I do believe there is potential,” Biderman said.
The former sports attorney was aware of the Korean law criminalizing adultery but wasn’t bothered about it. Branding the rule as “archaic,” he believed that his site could initiate another round of debate on whether to scrap the law.
“Like it or loathe it, Ashely Madison is opening up the conversation that we should have had a long time ago,” he said. “It’s okay to be controversial because it means society is going through a change. I am just ahead of the curve. The institution of marriage is going through change.”
The very reason that the interview was in Hong Kong instead of Seoul was Biderman’s fears of public resistance.
“I am dying to see Seoul personally but the feedback was, ‘If you need a spanking, come to Korea.’” he replied when asked whether he was scared of being egged in Seoul.
When the site launched in Hong Kong, religious and ethics activists staged protests. Singapore denied its launch on its online territory, while many companies refused sponsorship or alignment.
“When Ashely Madison launched in Australia I paid a visit. The PR firm there said, ‘Okay, so do you need two bodyguards or four? Do you want ex-military or current? I panicked.”
Despite the criticism, Biderman’s company is ringing up big profits.
Ashely Madison is now operating in 36 countries with more than 24 million members and grossed $125 million last year. The website is expected to draw around 250,000 members in its first six months in operation here. It has also spawned me-too businesses.
Ashely Madison’s biggest profit generator is men, because the male customers must pay a certain amount of “credit” to initiate a conversation. In Korea, it takes 2,150 won ($2).
For women, however, everything is free.
Currently, around 80 percent of the members are men. “I find those three years into marriage the most likely. Those whose wives are pregnant, have kids and are less caring to husbands, those into their 40s and 50s, they are the major targets, not to ignore the ‘Viagra generation,’” Biderman said.
But Biderman is eager to create a new legion of users ― married women. “Monogamy is just not in our DNA. While men are visiting strip clubs, massage parlors and others, women have had less access to that but they have equal needs,” he said.
“I cannot talk anyone into cheating … I am just providing them with a platform that they could (use to) have an affair discreetly … I believe that having an affair could prevent divorce,” he said.
Ironically enough, Biderman, dubbed the King of Infidelity by the media, said he had never cheated on his wife. “Maybe in the future if I think I need a divorce I will have an affair first. But now I am happy the way I am.”
Biderman is not a member of Ashely Madison.
By Bae Ji-sook, Korea Herald correspondent