New research sheds light on the types of extradyadic behaviors that users of the Ashley Madison dating service tend to engage in the most. Extradyadic refers to behaviors that occur outside of a committed relationship.
The findings, which appear in The Journal of Sex Research, indicate that online-only behaviors (such as sending flirtatious messages and explicit photos) are the most frequently engaged in, while emotional affectionate behaviors are the least engaged in. The study also found that a significant number of people report that their primary partner approves of their Ashley Madison usage.
“The inspiration for the study dates back to my doctoral work on infidelity that was designed to assess what behaviors people are engaging in and the proportion of adults that demonstrate a double standard (i.e., engaging in behaviors they simultaneously judge as unfaithful),” said study author Ashley Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and director of the Sexuality and Relationship Science Lab.
“In one of the studies comprising this project, I discovered that anywhere from 10% to 45% of adults reported having participated in a behavior that they also judged as ‘unfaithful.’”
“After this study, it became clear to me that monogamy may not be an ideal option for many and that alternatives (such as consensual non-monogamy) may be a more fitting relationship structure. This was not only because of the substantial number of people that were clearly committing acts of infidelity, but the devastating consequences that are often associated (e.g., depression, guilt, distress, dissolution). Thus, I began to study adults’ attitudes, interest, and experiences related to consensual multi-person sexual activity as well as the dynamics involved in non-monogamous relationship structures.”
“Not long after kickstarting my research program, I was invited to survey Ashley Madison users for research purposes,” Thompson said. “Although Ashley Madison is traditionally viewed and marketed as a tool to facilitate infidelity and to engage in extramarital affairs, I was interested in determining what exact behaviors people participate in and how many do so with their romantic partner’s approval/permission.”
In the study, 962 men and 498 women with an average age of 49.58 years completed an anonymous online survey. The participants indicated to what extent they had engaged in 30 different extradyadic behaviors since joining Ashley Madison, such as engaging in penile-vaginal intercourse, sending sexually explicit text messages, receiving/providing close emotional support, sharing secrets, browsing through user profiles, watching a movie with someone, and having dinner with someone.
“Ashley Madison users engage in a wide range of behaviors with other users,” Thompson explained. “This includes emotional affectionate behaviors (sharing secrets, giving gifts, providing emotional support), technology/online behaviors (browsing through users, sexting), and sexual/explicit behaviors (kissing, sexual intercourse, oral sex.)”
The researchers found that technology/online behaviors were most common, followed by sexual/explicit behaviors. “Thus, although relationships established through Ashley Madison are initiated online, many of the users do (in fact) report meeting up with others and exploring their relationship face-to-face,” Thompson said.
Most of the participants indicated that their primary relationship “did not improve at all” and “did not worsen at all” as a result of their experiences on Ashley Madison.
“Ashley Madison use did not necessarily have a negative impact on one’s primary relationship (despite the commonly held belief that extradyadic behavior is disastrous for relationships),” Thompson told PsyPost. “In fact, 29% of users indicated that their primary relationship ‘somewhat improved’ or ‘improved a great deal’ as a result of their Ashley Madison use and involvement in secondary relationships.”
In addition, approximately 17% of participants reported that their primary partner had knowledge of and approved of them using Ashley Madison. “Those who had a primary partner who was aware and accepting of their Ashley Madison use were more likely to indicate that their relationship had improved in comparison to those with a nonconsenting partner,” Thompson said. “This result supports research that has documented positive outcomes stemming from consensually non-monogamous relationships and that Ashley Madison may be an ideal outlet to identify secondary partners.”
Thompson and her colleagues also found that women and older participants engaged in extradyadic behaviors more frequently than men and those younger in age.
But like all research, the study includes some limitations.
“Although this study was the first to look at consensual Ashley Madison use, a more detailed exploration into how Ashley Madison use impacts one’s primary partner is warranted,” Thompson explained. “For example, does consensual Ashley Madison use fulfill/diversify romantic and sexual needs (e.g., getting different mental/emotional/physical needs met)? Does it promote self-growth (e.g., a freedom from restrictions)? Does it offer variety (sexual, recreational, intellectual variety)? I would love to conduct qualitative work to assess how consensual Ashley Madison use improves one’s relationship.”
“Not only that, we were also unable to examine the motives behind people’s consensual and nonconsensual Ashley Madison use. In particular, do people report different motives when using Ashley Madison behind a partner’s back vs with a partner’s permission? What’s more, do these motives predict outcomes and the extent to which Ashley Madison use improves relationships?”
“These are both things I intend to look into,” Thompson said. “Stay tuned.”
The study, “Examining Variations in Participation and Outcomes of Consensual and Nonconsensual Extradyadic Behavior among Ashley Madison Users“, was authored by Ashley E. Thompson, Delaney Wilder, and Danica Kulibert.