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“The Ashley Madison Affair”: The Troubling Trend of Normalizing Infidelity

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

Trigger warning: This article has a brief mention of suicide. 

Before there was Tinder, there was Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison is a website, founded in 2001, where married people can go on and hook up with other married people. If you were a man using the site, you would pay for a certain amount of credits that you could use to talk to women. But for women, it was free to use. This website grew in popularity, with over 60 million users as of 2019. But then came a catastrophic decline following its data breach in 2015. Their data breach, wild reputation, and hidden secrets are the topic of Hulu’s newest documentary, “The Ashley Madison Affair”.

The documentary starts out with an interview with a woman describing her experience with Ashley Madison and how she discovered her husband’s infidelity. Throughout the documentary, we hear testimonies from people who used the website as the cheater as well as those who were cheated on. We even hear from a journalist who went undercover on the website to explore why women cheat but ended up cheating which led to the end of his marriage. The secrecy behind this website was part of its appeal—until 2015. 

A group of hackers called the Impact Team hacked into the company’s computer with a message stating that if they didn’t shut the website down, they would expose all users’ names, email addresses, and other personal information. After a week and no action from the company, the hackers released the account details of over 32 million users. Not only did it expose everyday people who were cheating (or experimenting), but it also exposed celebrities such as Josh Duggar (from “19 Kids and Counting”), Hunter Biden, and even politicians. After the hackers had released this information, they exposed the CEO Noel Biderman using emails between him and an 18-year-old woman he was sleeping with (even though he took pride in his monogamous marriage). The data breach resulted in Noel Biderman’s resignation, divorces, breakups, and possibly two suicides due to the embarrassment and humiliation associated with being a user of the website. The documentary dove deep into all aspects of the breach while adding a humanistic approach by involving those affected and giving viewers the full story, leaving no crumb behind. However, it made me think, is a website like Ashley Madison actually that shocking and disgusting?

With the rise of social media and technology, cheating has become easier than ever with dating apps like Tinder and Hinge. But it also complicates our society’s definition of cheating with the introduction of Only Fans. Although Ashley Madison was made and advertised specifically for infidelity, the idea of people looking to be unfaithful to their partners can be seen across the board. It makes you realize that being unfaithful to your partner isn’t as clear as a website. In any show or movie about a bachelor party, there is a stripper that the groom will let dance on her or even sleep with. That’s cheating, right? But what about Only Fans, where the line between porn and betrayal begins to blur? A recent study done on OnlyFans found that 80% of participants believed that online sexting with a creator was an act of cheating. It doesn’t always have to be sexual to betray someone when you’re in a monogamous relationship. Things like flirting or forming a deep emotional connection can also be something viewed as “unfaithful”. It makes you wonder how much we normalize cheating-like behavior such as bachelor parties, strip clubs, flirting with others, or the use of pornography. At the end of the day, all couples need to establish their boundaries and their definitions of cheating because it’s something that looks different to each person.

Lastly, “The Ashley Madison Affair” forces us to think about how we treat those who are caught being unfaithful. Did these people who betrayed their partners deserve to be outed and humiliated? Or did they deserve privacy? It poses a lot of questions when it comes to how we treat those who have hurt their loved ones. At the end of the day, this documentary reminds us that we are all human and make mistakes that we shouldn’t be defined by and encourages us to have open conversations about loyalty.

Julia Stacks

CU Boulder '25

Julia Stacks is the Director of Social Media and a contributing writer at the Her Campus Chapter at the University of Colorado at Boulder. As Director she oversees a team of content creators, creates content for various social media platforms and helps with partnerships. Outside of Her Campus, Julia is a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder. She is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Although she doesn't have any previous writing experience, she loves taking English classes and exploring her creative writing skills to strengthen her writing at Her Campus. Now, her writing focuses on topics she's passionate about such as mental health, current events and popular media. In her personal life, Julia can be found listened to true crime podcasts or watching true crime documentaries with her dog Shaye. She loves painting, reading romance books, spending time with friends and family, buying iced coffee and doing tarot readings. Julia hopes to use her writing to raise awareness about important issues which she hopes to do as a career as a victim's advocate.