Worries over Hacked Website for Extramarital Affairs

Ashley Madison, a well-known extramarital-dating website with over 37 million registered users, was hacked last month, resulting in the online exposure of over 33 million users’ personal information, which included their real names, addresses, email addresses, credit card transactions and nude photos. The incident garnered a lot of attention, primarily because there have been extortion cases and at least two unsubstantiated suicides. In addition, some of the website users are rich and powerful, and considered public figures. What’s worth noting is that China has over 100,000 registered users, with Shanghai having the most, at almost 9,000 users.

Humans’ extramarital activities have always followed the institution of marriage, constantly present and adding controversy. While the “stoning” used in some Arab countries — using stones to kill a woman who has committed adultery — is considered too barbaric and holds a double standard for men, extramarital affairs do violate the fidelity vow, hurt the other spouse and will ultimately cause a marriage to dissolve. Bodily injuries and killings of the offenders are also not unusual. It is understandable that people would be emotional about infidelities.

Sociologists have studied extramarital sex in depth, and seen that the behavior has had always occurred, during different periods and in different societies. The famous Kinsey study showed that 50 percent of men have had extramarital sex, while 26 percent of women have done the same; the data from England and Finland are similar.

According to a random sampling I conducted in Beijing in 1989, 6.4 percent of those surveyed admitted to extramarital affairs. A study of Chinese infidelity in 2012 showed that 13.6 percent of men and 4.2 percent of women admitted to extramarital transgressions.

The hacking of this extramarital affair website only showed the tip of the iceberg in humans’ extramarital behavior. Modern information technology and online platforms have made it easier for two strangers to connect and provided more opportunities, while others with thoughts of cheating feel as if it is more discreet and convenient to do so. Everything is done on the website, with only some real names. Even the real names are hard to recognize in a sea of people, which has allowed the cheating population to grow.

This is only one website, allegedly the largest, but how many other similar websites and mobile platforms are being used for this purpose? This incident has significantly exposed the decline of the Western marital institution. If we severely punished all extramarital affairs, some people would give up on marriage; if we tolerate extramarital affairs, then the vow of fidelity is null. The behavior will continue whether or not we tolerate it, which leaves us with no alternatives.

In my view, the best way to punish extramarital affairs is divorce, including some economic sanctions for one side during the divorce. Calls to revive old adultery laws are not as potent as reviving the laws from traditional society for the 21st century.

The author is a researcher at the Sociology Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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