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Life is short, don't ruin your marriage by having an affair


The tagline of adultery website Ashley Madison is ‘Life is short. Have an affair’. But the online dumping of the names of its subscribers by hackers is ruining many lives. Pictured: Noel Biderman, who founded the website.

The tagline of adultery website Ashley Madison is ‘Life is short. Have an affair’. But the online dumping of the names of its subscribers by hackers is ruining many lives. Pictured: Noel Biderman, who founded the website.

The tagline of adultery website Ashley Madison is ‘Life is short. Have an affair’. But the online dumping of the names of its subscribers by hackers is ruining many lives. Pictured: Noel Biderman, who founded the website.

The founder of the Ashley Madison website, Noel Biderman, is himself married. He says he has never had an affair. His website is, of course, based on encouraging married people to cheat. Its tagline is: "Life is short. Have an affair".

He was once asked how he would feel if he discovered his wife had been unfaithful? He said he would be "devastated".

He revealed this in an interview with the 'Jerusalem Post' last year. Biderman has also said he believes: "None of us anywhere are engineered for monogamy."

If this is so, then why hasn't Biderman had an affair? And why would he be "devastated" if his wife had an affair? Based on his own logic, and the entire underlying logic of his website, both he and his wife ought to be having affairs if monogamy is as unnatural as he claims.

As we all know, the Ashley Madison website is in the news because the names of the millions of people who subscribe to it have been made public by hackers. The result is completely predictable; mayhem.

There are reports of people committing suicide. In countries where adultery and homosexual activity are illegal and punishable by death, never mind imprisonment, lives have been placed in danger. Who knows how many couples will divorce as a result of what the hackers have done?

The 'Daily Telegraph' reports that many people "have taken to the internet forum Surviving Infidelity.com to express their shock and seek advice".

The hackers have justified their action on two grounds. The first is that Ashley Madison and all its subscribers deserve whatever they get because they are "cheating dirtbags". They also object to the fact that Ashley Madison charges its subscribers to delete information.

The Ashley Madison website is obviously appalling but what the hackers have done is also appalling. The only people who have a right to tell a spouse they are being cheated on are the friends and family of that person, that is, the people who care for them.

At the end of the day, however, the real villain in this whole business is the Ashley Madison website itself for so blatantly encouraging husbands and wives to cheat on each other. It's real tagline should be: 'Life is short. Don't ruin your marriage by having an affair'.

Let's get back to Mr Biderman's notion that monogamy isn't natural and that we are programmed to stray. If he's right and it is unnatural to stick with one married partner for life, then he is really a sort of liberator. He is freeing us from the 'repressive' customs that insist on monogamous marriage.

Instead of condemning him, we should actually hail him. The dumping of all those names by those hackers should really be an occasion to discuss whether we should start moving towards 'open relationships' and maybe even towards polyamorous ones.

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Both RTÉ and 'The Irish Times' have been giving some very non-judgmental publicity to polyamorous relationships recently. Polyamory refers to situations where more than two people are in a sexual relationship at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of all the parties to the relationship. They typically live in the same house, just as a married or cohabiting couple would.

Supporters of polyamory are now demanding legal recognition in the same way same-sex couples were, and are. We exist, they say. We love each other, they say. We sometimes have children, they say. Therefore the State ought to recognise this reality and give us the same legal rights and protections married couples and their children enjoy, they demand. How will this harm other people, they ask? Polyamory is, of course, a direct challenge to the social good of monogamy.

A 'New York Times' bestseller from a few years ago called 'Sex at Dawn' also challenges the notion that humans are naturally monogamous. It claims that norms around monogamy only developed as a result of the agricultural revolution, when men wanted to leave their farms to their offspring.

The only way to be reasonably certain that their children were really their children was to ensure that people could only have one sexual partner each.

This is a deeply cynical view and the notion that pair bonding wasn't a big feature of hunter-gatherer societies is heavily disputed.

And, actually, although monogamy is of very ancient lineage, polygamy has been a very strong rival historically speaking, and still exists in much of the world. Polygamy allows men to have more than one wife, but women to have only one husband. This still ensures that the man knows his offspring are really his because only he has sexual access to his wives.

Monogamy was a huge advance on this. As the former British Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has said: "Polygamy is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that many males never get the chance to have a wife and child."

He adds: "What makes the emergence of monogamy unusual is that it is normally the case that the values of a society are those imposed on it by the ruling class. And the ruling class in any hierarchical society stands to gain from promiscuity and polygamy, both of which multiply the chances of my genes being handed on to the next generation. From monogamy the rich and powerful lose and the poor and powerless gain. So…monogamy goes against the normal grain of social change and was a real triumph for the equal dignity of all."

Children are also big winners in monogamous societies that place a high value on fidelity. When husbands and wives stay together and do not stray, any children they have will benefit. Unless the relationship is violent or otherwise high conflict, children tend to suffer if their parents split up.

The authors of 'Sex at Dawn' say monogamy is unnatural because adultery has always existed. That's like arguing honesty is unnatural because lying has always existed.

Contradictory impulses exist in everyone. Most of the purpose of civilisation is to strengthen our pro-social impulses and curb our anti-social ones through the development of positive social norms, and one of them is monogamy.

Monogamy is so time-honoured, so proven to be of huge social benefit, that we would be fools to throw it away as a value. The fact that infidelity still appals most people is a good thing. It should stay that way, despite the best efforts of Ashley Madison and its propagandists.