Ashley Madison has been featured extensively in the news because of its unusual tag line: "Life Is Short. Have An Affair." Not unexpectedly then, there are a large number of people using the site (5.2 million according to their index page as of January 2010). But is this because its so easy to sign up - with no profile needed other than answering a few questions - or is it because most of its users are fake? Read on to find out.
"There are many single people on Ashley Madison that wish to meet attached people for various reasons. If you are single and wish to meet an attached person, you're probably going to have to try a little harder. Single people don't have as much to risk. We suggest that you remain patient and keep trying."
Like most dating sites, anyone can sign up for free and peruse local members. What was different (and a bit disturbing) was that I was presented with six "specially selected" members in my area after having signed up - but none of the members could be found again in my town after I chose to skip sending them a wink. As well, people showed up in my search results that were well outside my 'within 20 mile' radius that I specified.
The layout and feel is different than any dating site I've encountered, and it lends itself to chatting as well as looking at other profiles at the same time. All members have the option of posting photos, but for obvious reasons most pages you'll encounter will have a badge in place of a photo that says, "please respect my discretionary requirements".
Can free members initiate chats or emails? No. But can they receive them? I tried to find this information both by searching the internet, searching Ashley Madison and by hanging out on the site for a few hours to see if anyone instant messaged me. No one did. Perhaps one of you has had more experience with the site and knows the answer to this question, but in my case, I honestly don't know.
I was able to speak with a few members however to ask them if they were legit, and of the few I spoke with, all were real people who were genuinely looking for a hookup or something casual and low-key. One gentleman told me that he'd had great luck using the system to find partners, while two others told me they hadn't heard a word from anyone other than me.
Separate from the unusual nature of the site - which promotes adultery, cheating and/or deceit between long term partners - Ashley Madison also offers several very unique features and benefits:
- The choice of relationship type the user is looking for is more varied that most dating sites, with options such as "whatever excites me," and "cyber affair";
- Both a user's weight and body type are required information when signing up;
- Users don't have to fill out a profile when signing up, other than to answer a handful of drop down demographic questions.
The most interesting of the bunch is the "Affair Guarantee", where users can apply to get a refund for their three month subscription (1000 credits, which is $249 CDN/$199 USD) if they fulfill a long list of criteria, including:
- Create a full profile, upload a photo of yourself, and leave your profile visible at all times during your first 3 months;
- Send a "qualifying" priority mail message to at least 20 different members each month (winks don't count);
- Send at least five Ashley Gifts a month;
- Participate in live chat for a minimum of 60 minutes a month using the Ashley Madison website; and
- Follow their Terms and Conditions as well as the Affair Guarantee Program Rules.
If after the three months the user still hasn't met someone in person to have an affair, the user can then apply to get their $249 USD plus taxes refunded to them, but "requests must be made within 30 days of Program expiration."
Anyone can sign up for free, but it'll take buying some credits to really do anything with the site. $49 CDN gets you the Introductory Package with 100 credits, $149 CDN earns 500 credits and Elite status, and $249 CDN for 1000 credits is the Affair Guarantee Package. Credits can be used for a number of things, and different actions cost different numbers of credits:
- 5 credits to contact a member initially, but every message sent to that person after the first contact is free;
- 30 credits for 30 minutes of instant messaging, or 60 credits for 60 minutes of instant messaging; and
- 20, 30 and 50 credit Ashley Gifts.
The site accepts credits cards, PayPal, Interac money transfer, mail, courier or Western Union as payment.
The Bottom Line
Well laid out and easy to use, Ashley Madison has a clean interface that makes it easy to connect with people if you purchase a membership. Discretion of its members privacy is obvious (and warranted), so don't be surprised if you have to contact people individually to see pictures of them. With its high number of members and ease of use, I'd recommend the site to anyone who is willing to take a bit of time and look around to see how many other paid users are on the site, as well as how many are active users (i.e. logged in in the past month) are in your area before paying the requisite fees. At the same time, there are reports from several readers that the site doesn't deliver on their promises (see reviews below), and that most of the female members are fake. I wasn't able to test all of the features, and I didn't talk to a lot of people who had success with the site, so as always with dating sites, buyer beware. (See: Dating Site Fine Print for more details).
Disclosure: The company did not provide free access to this service for review purposes. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.