[Cover Story]Extra-marital dating website lands in Hong Kong
Canadian infidelity website Ashley Madison eyes huge potential in Hong Kong
"Life is Short. Have an Affair."
This is the provocative slogan of AshleyMadison.com, a Canada-based dating website for people who want to cheat on their spouses – but stay married – to meet their potential partners.
Claiming 20 million registered members worldwide, the 12-year-old infidelity website was launched in Hong Kong in August, dropping its second pin on the map of Asia.
Within three months of its launch, more than 96,000 Hong Kong users have signed up for the site's "cheating game", in which men and women, regardless of their marital status and sexuality, hunt for sexual, and probably additional, relationships online.
Academics have attributed the incidence of extra-marital affairs in Hong Kong to flaws in the city's marriage system.
Prof Petula Ho Sik-ying, an associate professor in the Department of Social Work & Social Administration at Hong Kong University, said that disagreements between couples over finances were one of the common occurrences that made the system flawed.
She added that the flawed marriage system would turn couples into enemies.
According to Mr Noel Biderman, the 42-year-old founder of the extra-marital dating site, Hong Kong is currently ranked the second fastest growing region by user population out of the 34 countries and territories that Ashley Madison has reached.
A report released by California-based web information company Alexa in mid-November this year showed that the website had seen 12.6 per cent of its total visitors based in Hong Kong.
The city's divorce rate has doubled over the decade, from 14.8 per cent in 1991 to 33.6 per cent in 2011, according to the Census and Statistics Department.
That is, for every ten Hong Kong couples who got married in 2011, another three filed for divorce in the same year.
"Piz", who has recently joined the extra-marital dating site, has set his profile as a 36-year-old man married for five years.
Describing himself as a "security senior", he has moaned in the Ashley Madison's chat room that his Christian wife has come to "detest sex" and refuse to "make love with [him] for different reasons" since she was promoted to senior arts manager.
"She once said that if I loved her, then [I should not] compel her [to] do things that she [did not] like," said Piz, referring to a heart-breaking experience in which he was asked by his spouse not to "bother her".
"Women's sexual interests and preferences change across their menstrual cycles following changes in their circulating levels of hormones," said Dr Wong Wang Ivy, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Hong Kong.
She added that accumulating work-related stress was just one of the many factors affecting female hormones.
In spite of his wife's indifference to him, Piz has endeavoured to arouse her "interest" in him by building a muscular physique through strict control of diet and exercise.
"I feel sad and insulted," he said.
Instead of seeking a divorce, he is now searching for a secret lover who adores him and admires his efforts in pleasing her.
Currently, men make up 67 per cent of Ashley Madison users worldwide with an average age of 47, said Mr Biderman. As of early December, the site recorded a total number of 97,662 male users and 32, 228 registered females.
But some religious leaders are concerned the website will encourage extra-marital affairs through online dating.
Reverend Lawrence Lee, the chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, was quoted by the South China Morning Post as saying the website would be harmful to the family as a dating platform for people looking to commit adultery.
Family planning experts, on the other hand, have warned of the serious impact of infidelity on family.
"Any form of clandestine infidelity without the partner's knowledge or consent substantially undermines family integrity," said Ms Michelle Chak, a spokeswoman for the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong.
Singapore had banned Ashley Madison before its scheduled launch in the Lion City in November this year, thwarting the website's aggressive push in Asia.
But Mr Biderman, who is father of two, makes no apology for his business, which has been referred to as an adultery site by critics.
"Introducing online infidelity to Hong Kong is helping the society calibrate the level of this behaviour, time and when it takes place; whether it's on a daily basis, manual basis or a lifetime basis," he said.
Mr Biderman believes that people who have turned to "married dating services" are "dying to stay married".
"They love their children, their extended family and their economic situations. What they don't love is monogamy," he said.
Reported by Karen Lee
Edited by Celine Ge
Photo courtesy of Ashley Madison
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