Why lust at first site is big bucks
He's a married businessman in his late 30s. His secretary has knocked off for the day and he has time to kill before an hour-long commute back home. He moves his mouse to the favourites menu and selects an unmarked folder. When the URL pops up, it offers him these choices: "erotic chat/email/phone fantasies"; "discreet relationship"; "one-on-one sex"; "group sex (three or more)" or "alternative activities".
Soon he's browsing through profiles of women who, like him, are attached – and looking for an adulterous encounter.
Extramarital dating websites like "the world's largest sex and swinging site" AdultFriendFinder.com, which offers the options described above, are bigger business than ever. This week, its owner, FriendFinder Networks Inc commenced marketing for a $220m (€151.55m) flotation on the New York Stock Exchange. FriendFinder Networks has 245 million members using sites which include SeniorFriendFinder.com and BigChurch.com (a religion-oriented singles website). In December, one of AdultFriendFinder.com's rivals, the innocuously-named AshleyMadison.com, offered philanderer-in-chief Tiger Woods $5m (€3.44m) to become their public face. Never before have love-cheats been so well served.
In Britain, the most popular equivalent is IllicitEncounters.co.uk, which counts 415,000 members nationwide. In Berkshire, an area popular with commuters, and thus spending significant portions of their week away, some 24,000 people regularly log on. This is three per cent of the county's total population, and the area most regularly using the site. The average age of its users, from both sexes (it claims a 60-40 male-female split) is between 36 and 39. Like AdultFriendFinder.com, it makes its money through subscriptions. Wives log on for free while husbands pay £119 (€133) a month.
The brains behind such operations are predictably unrepentant. "While we might make it logistically easier to have an affair, there's still an element of guilt involved," insists IllicitEncounters.com's Rosie Freeman-Jones. "I don't think it makes it any easier emotionally." Full emotional agony is included but you won't be able to do is plead that your affair "just happened". Freeman-Jones says 60 per cent of users have already had marriage counselling (ahem) and prefer the site to Facebook because it cannot be accessed by partners. Unless, of course, they are among the 300 suspicious husbands and wives a week who try YouSpy, a programme that monitors your spouse's email and internet activity. The traditional torments of the married-and-looking haven't changed – they've just moved online.