The Ashley Madison Documentary is SHOCKING!

We honestly had no intention of talking about Ashly Madison again, but a new documentary came out and we just couldn't resist watching!

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Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this accidental Part 2 episode, somehow about Ashley Madison again. This wasn’t intentional, but this is our life now. So, hi, I’m Courtney. I’m here with my spouse, Royce, as always. And together, we are the Ace Couple.

Courtney: Now, last week, we released an episode about a salacious headline about “Ashley Madison users can still be faithful in other areas of their life.” And when we first saw that headline, we thought it was goofy, we thought it was silly, thought it was kind of interesting. And also, we had previously just barely waded into the concept of cheating, so we thought we had more to discuss about just the very nature of what cheating is and how it could mean different things to different people. So we thought, “What the heck, let’s do an episode and comment on this article in the process.”

Courtney: But, truth be told, we recorded that episode weeks ago, when we first saw the headline. And little did we know that before we would even come to publish that episode, Netflix would release a three-part docuseries about Ashley Madison. So, buckle up. This one was a wild ride. Where do we even start with this? Because it was a lot.

Royce: Well, the three-part docuseries — I believe each episode was about an hour, maybe a little under. It kind of started with the founding of the company, which was in the early 2000s. 2002, I think. It was mentioned that they were a non-traditional dating site in a time period when dating sites were still kind of new, or at least not mainstream.

Courtney: “Kind of”? In the early 2000s? Super new.

Royce: And it involves a few different people, who came on to talk, who worked with the company in a variety of situations, from someone who was there in the beginning and was pretty involved with the upper staff to people who are in customer service. And so you get a view of what was going on inside the company as it went from being relatively obscure, to getting a new CEO, to being all over the news, to having a big marketing budget that was putting a lot of advertisements, to the big data breach that happened in the mid-teens — I think it was 2015.

Courtney: Yeah, 2015. And I didn’t know about this big data breach — at least, not much about it. But I didn’t know what to expect from the documentary when we first clicked onto it. And of course, now, it makes perfect sense why the last few weeks, I’ve been seeing multiple scandalous headlines about Ashley Madison. Because I’m sure they knew this documentary was coming out, and I’m sure they wanted to pad the media with their own words and their own statistics and quotes from their own CEO as much as possible. So that checks out.

Courtney: But honestly, we were just going onto Netflix to watch The Disastrous Life of Saiki K., and all of a sudden, it’s like, boom, brand new today: Ashley Madison documentary. So we quickly reverse course, change of plans, drop everything. We were just talking about this company.

Courtney: And, truth be told, not not knowing what the focus was going into it, just seeing “Ashley Madison documentary” and making the split second decision to watch it, I was kind of hoping that we would get, like, a nuanced understanding of the kind of person who would sign up for these sites. Because I am fully aware that I do have a concept of what cheating means to me. I do know and understand that cheating can mean a variety of things to different people. I don’t think my brain is capable of desiring to cheat on a partner. I just genuinely do not. But I know that that’s obviously not everyone’s experience. Some people do cheat on their partners. And, as someone who has been betrayed in past relationships, I know the side of the hurt, and I know the side of confusion and misunderstanding. But I don’t understand the mental space someone would be in to sign up for a site like this, to intentionally do something that they know is outside of the agreed-upon boundaries of their relationship. So I know that that is probably a bias I have.

Courtney: And I always — I try to be fair. I try so hard to think, “Well, this is not an experience you understand. If you got to know someone at a personal level, there is probably something very empathetic about this person.” But right now it’s a theoretical concept in my head of someone that I know is hurting someone. So I didn’t want to be given, like, a pass to clearly forgive people who are intentionally cheating on their partners. Because, as we said in our last episode, there is a betrayal to it. And there are other options, like polyamory and open relationships, that are very well communicated, very accepted, can be a wonderful relationship structure for some people. So I always say, “Why? Why do you have to put yourself in a situation where you are betraying a partner of yours when you know this is something that will hurt them?”

Courtney: So I didn’t want a full pass, but I did want a better understanding of this kind of person. I always try to approach things from a place of curiosity, and I want to understand the wide diversity of human experiences better. But that was not necessarily what I got from this. If anything, I just have even more of a loathing [laughing] for the company itself. And I think I’m more inclined to see at least a certain percentage of their clientele as victims — still making a choice that is harming someone they love, but also victims of a corporation.

Courtney: So, first of all, in the documentary, they opened with a lot of the early branding, the early advertisements for Ashley Madison. And it was super clear to me from the jump that their target demographic is men. I think their target demographic has always been men — straight men in particular, it seems. But removed from the context of how scummy the company was, some of these ads were kind of funny. Like, I had never heard the “I’m looking for someone other than my wife” song, which is literally just men singing that line over and over again while scrolling through pictures of beautiful women in, like, New Orleans-style masquerade masks. [laughs]

Courtney: But then you start seeing… There were a couple of quotes from, you know, a guy who was an Ashley Madison user, or even quotes from people who were employees early on at the company, that were sort of parroting the same talking points that we have critiqued heavily in the past, like, “For most people, marriage is really hard,” and “If you were in an unhappy marriage, what would you do?” And I still, like… That kind of goes back to like the marital hatred concept that we’ve talked about that used to be a staple of sitcoms with a married couple — how they just secretly resent each other or grow to resent each other over time. And one of their early slogans was even, “When monogamy becomes monotony.” And I guess, for me, I just really feel like if you are the kind of person where marriage is difficult, you seem to be personally put out by being in this kind of relationship, why are you in this kind of relationship? If monogamy is monotony to you, if this is a pain point and making your life worse, why are you in this kind of relationship? There are alternatives.

Royce: This is true. I think the answer to that is that most people don’t actually see those alternatives as viable. I also think… We’ve talked before about how, in a lot of struggling relationships, how sex can have all of these other things piled onto it because of stress, difficulties, not enough time, things like that. It ends up becoming the one central activity to get a lot of varied needs that, at least earlier on in the relationship, were coming from more varied sources, more interactions, more activity.

Royce: And the idea that your relationship has become monotonous and you immediately jump to flirting or sex or romance or whatever it is with another person, that makes me think that you don’t actually know of alternatives to get what you’re looking for.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: And we did see something like that with one person who was a user of Ashley Madison for a while, for a period of time, who was focused pretty heavily in this documentary, where he, at one point, said, “I don’t know why I’m doing this.”

Courtney: Oh my gosh, we are so gonna talk about him. I found him fascinating. And he had so many thoughts going in my head. So we — oh, I can’t wait to talk about him. [laughs] But, yes, you’re right. And I think part of the problem is that people don’t know that there are alternatives. And we hear about that even in queer culture, even when we’re not talking about non-monogamy, but just like, do people know it’s an option to not be heterosexual? We talk about that with allonormativity, where a lot of Aces, a lot of Aros will grow up thinking — even if they’re in a relatively queer-friendly setting, and even if they know, “Well, I could be gay, I could be bi” — a lot of them don’t know that you can opt out of sexual attraction altogether. A lot of them think, “This is what everyone experiences. It’s something we need to be human.” But that is why there needs to be more education and there needs to be more just general representation for different relationship structures.

Courtney: One word you said, Royce, that stood out to me was “a viable alternative.” And I think the landscape of media representation right now for things like open relationships, for things like polyamory — there aren’t a lot of really solid examples of, like, long-term, happy, healthy relationships like that.

Royce: There are also legal complications.

Courtney: There are also legal complications, yes. And that’s kind of… I think we have talked about or will talk about, depending on the order these come out… We talked about Heartbreak High again recently and how there was, like, a threesome situation in that, and it was a very kind of morally questionable situation where it comes to consent. But it occurred to me that most of the threesome scenes that I have seen recently in media are, like, teenagers. And that does kind of lead me to worry about sort of the same thing we see from Ace representation. If it’s mostly teenagers, there’s always sort of a plausible deniability that acephobes will use — like, “Oh, they’re too young,” or “They’ll grow out of it.” But I really want to see more long-term, healthy, fully-established adult relationships, too.

Courtney: I think a lot of, like, relationship dramas tend to focus on the start of a relationship or the messy breakup of a relationship or both — how it starts, and then there’s a messy breakup. But I think that really does a disservice to people seeing what options could be out there for them. Because I personally know people in their 30s, 40s, 50s who have long held polyamorous relationships, have had a very healthy open relationship for a prolonged period of time, and are very happy with that, and that’s the kind of thing I don’t actually see in media. So I have no doubts that, especially in the early 2000s, the mid 2000s, the early 2010s, that there were people who just did not think that this could be an option to them. So I want to leave space for that.

Courtney: That said, there was a lot of compulsory sexuality ingrained in just sort of the mindset of not only the employees of this company but the people who were signing on as users. At one point a user said, “Let’s face it, we’re sexual beings, and some of us will always find a way to have multiple partners.”

Courtney: And then there was the marketing guy, Evan Back. He was definitely, like, the most interesting character on screen to see and hear talk, and…

Royce: He was very prominently featured. He was at the company for a long time. He was the person that I mentioned that interacted with the sort of higher-ups in the company the most.

Courtney: Mhm. And he seems like a really fun guy, but he also said so many questionable things [laughs]. And he’s definitely got, like, marketer mind which we could critique all day long, because capitalism. But this guy, like, he would say, “Oh, when people would ask ‘Who’s your biggest competitor?’ I’d say the Bible.” [laughs] Which, it’s like, yeah, alright, if you’re going against the predominantly, like, Christian culture we’re in where adultery is a sin, I can see where that’s come from. But then he’d also be like, “We put the ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional,’” and it’s like, alright, so you know that your users are in dysfunctional relationships, and you are feeding that on purpose. [laughs]

Courtney: But I thought it was fascinating because he also said that he had never once used a computer before he was offered this job. So he just, like, knew one of the founders or something, and they’re like, “You’re one of the best salespeople we know. We want you on board.” And he’s like, “I’ve never even touched a computer.” [laughs]

Royce: And of course, in true sales fashion, he was like, “Yeah, of course I know how to use a computer.” And then he went and learned behind the scenes.

Courtney: But, yeah, the marketing… Because then it would show, like, recreations of him going into the CEO’s office, and the CEO would have job placard on the door called “Minister of Affairs.” And they’d say things like, “The perfect affair is not just meeting someone, but meeting someone and not getting discovered.” And their whole idea was, “Well, if married people have affairs with other married people, then they both equally have something to lose if this comes to light, and therefore they’re going to stay discreet.” And so that was the logic of getting this set up.

Courtney: But then they did start introducing a small handful of Ashley Madison users. And this was really, really fascinating to me, because I’m inclined to care more about individual people than I am a company. Honestly, fuck the company. [laughs] But the individual people are interesting to me. And they did kind of show a little bit of a variety of types of people that use this, and that was kind of what I was hoping to see.

Courtney: But the guy you mentioned… Oh, let’s get into him first. He was saying, right from the get go, “I didn’t want to get divorced. I didn’t want to replace my wife. I’m not a sugar daddy.” And it kind of showed what making a profile was like and, through his eyes, what things he’d be selecting. And some of the profile things I found icky, and some of them I found interesting. You could apparently, like, narrow down and search for height and weight and age. I mean, a lot more modern dating sites do age ranges, so that’s not as strange and foreign to me. But they were also saying you could narrow it down by skin color.

Royce: That’s pretty standard on dating sites.

Courtney: Is it? Really?

Royce: Or at least it used to be.

Courtney: I mean, I guess I was literally only on OkCupid, but I don’t remember searching for skin color, or if there was, I would have ignored it. That seems so icky to me. But they had a big array of, like, kinks that you could say that you were interested in, and that, I think, is interesting for kinky people.

Royce: Well, that just reinforces what the site was there for.

Courtney: Well, and this particular guy did not seem to be particularly interested in kinks, but the way he talked… He would say things like, “I had imagined my life being exciting, but I wasn’t excited anymore,” and “I didn’t want to leave my family, but I wanted something exciting in my life.” And so, if you take that at face value, the answer to that is not necessarily “have an affair.” But he was talking about the advertisements and how the advertising appealed to him, and he straight up said, “‘Life is short.’ They got that right. Life is short! So maybe they have the ‘Have an affair’ part right too. They seemed like they had all the answers.”

Courtney: And, like, that right there… Maybe this is a broad, sweeping generalization, but I feel justified in saying that if anyone is trying to sell you on the idea that they have all the answers, they are scamming you. And that had me wondering, right then and there, before we even got super far into the documentary, how many people are sold on the idea of affairs — either by society or by for-profit companies like this — when other forms of excitement might actually suffice for them. Because this guy’s basically — he was basically saying, “I’m just bored. I didn’t necessarily want to have an affair, but this company seemed like they had all the answers. They seemed like this would help my problem.”

Royce: And that’s something that I was trying to get at earlier when I was talking about the nature of affairs, is that if someone feels that they need something, that something is missing, that they don’t have that spark or that excitement — well, if they’re in a relationship, they’ve already been through the romantic phase of a relationship, they’ve been through the excitement of meeting a new person, they’ve had sex. They know that these things in the past have done something good for them, have been exciting. And instead of trying to find new things that are exciting, they’re like, “Well, I’m gonna chase the thing that I already know works.”

Courtney: Mhm. Yeah! And he even said, “I don’t think I was out for sex. I don’t know what I was out for. I guess maybe I wanted attention. I wanted something exciting.” And he even said, too — because the Ashley Madison folks — like, the employees, the higher-ups — were basically talking about the concept of, like, dead bedrooms and sexless marriages and if they aren’t having sex anymore. But this guy even said, “I wasn’t crazy horny. My wife was satisfying me.” So they had an active sexual relationship, and he admitted that. And he kind of said, like, he talked to everyone on the site in his area, and when he exhausted all the people in his area, he started reaching outside of his area. And then he used the phrase “validation from other women.” And that seemed like a level of self-awareness that he probably didn’t have in the moment. This was probably years removed from this situation.

Royce: Throughout the documentary, I got the impression that, in the years since this has happened, he’s talked to a lot of people to figure it out, which probably includes his wife. I think it includes either a friend or a pastor. This was a very religious person.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: There may have been some therapy thrown in. I think he’s probably had a lot of time to reflect before coming onto this documentary.

Courtney: And that kind of ties back to this concept that we’ve spoken about on a couple of different occasions in a couple of different ways, where a lot of people will sort of place a misguided emphasis on sex, when that may or may not actually be the thing they want. We’ve talked about that in, like, the complexities of an Ace and allo relationship, where sometimes the allosexual person just thinks they want or need sex. But even if they are with an Ace partner who is sex-neutral or sex-favorable or is willing to compromise to some degree and perhaps be sexually active more often than they would ordinarily want from their own desires, sometimes that does not actually end up satisfying said allo partner, because they have the sex but then they realize, “I don’t feel desired. I don’t feel what I feel like I should feel from you.”

Courtney: And so I think that concept of validation is something that, for the average person, takes an enormous amount of self-awareness and an enormous amount of work on oneself to know what it is that you actually want versus what it is that you actually need, how to articulate those needs and sort of parse everything out and identify where it’s all coming from. Because sex and romance are both kind of in the same boat, especially when you put them in the same basket and say that they go together. It’s sort of presented as, like, “This is everything you need out of life. This is everything you need out of a relationship.” And I think a lot of people just buy into that concept at a societal level.

Courtney: And to go back to the earlier point about the way media portraying relationships can feed into this society-wide notion, this particular user also stated that he, like, built his entire aspirations for a relationship off of the movie Big Fish. He said that this very romantic scene, this big declaration of love, was, like, what he had in mind for what a relationship should look like or how a relationship should start.

Royce: Yeah. Before mentioning that, he said something like his family never talked to him about this and never gave him any indication of what romance was going to be like, and so this was the movie that stuck in his mind.

Courtney: And I think a lot of people do that. I think a lot of people will see movies at an impressionable age and sort of map that on to their hopes for the future. And that’s why we say that queer representation is so important and Ace representation is so important: because people need to know that this is an option. They need to see it as a viable way to live a life. But even for straight people, the fantastical nature of romantic scenes in movies and rom-coms are built up to be aspirational when in practice, in real life, they might be deeply uncomfortable, they might be deeply forced. That might not actually be what would make you happy if you were experiencing it. And that’s why there just needs to be better education — not only sex education, but just interpersonal relationship education.

Courtney: And, like I said, I think anybody and everybody could fall victim to this fictional life-mapping and building your aspirations off of these sensationalized versions of what love or sex or romance or relationships look like. But I can’t help but think that a certain percentage of neurodivergent folks are going to be even more susceptible to that. Because, especially when it comes to, like, masking behaviors, I think a lot of folks who don’t just naturally or inherently understand unspoken societal rules, how to communicate with allistic people… I personally know a lot of Autistic folks — and we’ve seen Autistic folks depicted in media like this as well — who sort of learn how to mask or learn how to interact because of their favorite TV shows, their favorite movies. We saw that with Matilda — was that her name? — in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay. And so that was definitely a thought that I had while hearing him explain sort of the basis for what he wanted out of a relationship coming from a romantic scene in a movie.

Courtney: And quite frankly, I think, when I’ve been thinking about my own place on the Aromantic spectrum and talking to other folks who have also been through this detangling and self-awareness journey, I think for some Aro folks, enjoying media or having a moment in your past where you have seen something aspirational from something that is traditionally romantic, even if it’s wildly unrealistic, can sometimes be a hindrance to actually being able to suss out your own feelings or attractions or lack thereof. Because if you want to live in the movie, you want to have this, you know, happily ever after feeling, I think I, in the past, have mistaken that for romantic attraction or desiring romance, when in practice it doesn’t actually work that way. I don’t think a lot of those feelings I used to think I had actually organically came from inside me.

Courtney: But then, since I was already having all these thoughts, I thought it was kind of funny when he then said, “Yeah, Big Fish changed my life. And I was thinking about this Big Fish moment when we got married, and I was sobbing as she was walking down the aisle.” And they have his wife talking about how great it was that her husband was crying on their wedding day because she felt so loved. But then he said, “Then I did this Ashley Madison thing. I don’t know what I was looking for. It wasn’t really about the sex. I wanted validation.” But then he said his life changed again when Frozen came out. [laughs]

Royce: At this point in time, they had a young enough child that Frozen was constantly playing, as, he mentioned, a lot of new parents experienced during that time period.

Courtney: Not only just parents, but dance teachers. Hello! The number of times my students would, like, come to class dressed as Elsa, or they’d want me to play Frozen while we’re doing some of our practice work… Like, that was such a moment.

Courtney: But he and his wife, like, lip-synced to “Love is an Open Door” on just a video in their car. And they uploaded it online, and he got a lot of validation on YouTube. And he was like, “All these views, all these likes, all these comments…” He said it was better to him than winning the lottery. And after going viral online, his desire to use Ashley Madison completely went away. And he said he deleted the app at that point. And… oh my God!

Royce: Yeah. It sounds like he needed some form of excitement in his life. And not knowing where to get that, you… People tend to default to something they’ve experienced in the past that has caused that.

Courtney: And it is interesting, too, because I suppose I theoretically understand the desire for validation from others, but I’m also someone who has refused that a lot in my life, or I wasn’t granted that during my formative years, to the point where I had to sort of learn how to be happy without it. Because we talk about intersections, right? And we talk about public visibility, and we talk about real life as well as fictional representation. Like, I didn’t grow up seeing Asexual representation. I didn’t grow up seeing my very weird hyper-specific version of, like, mixed race representation. I didn’t grow up seeing the type of disability that I have represented. There were just so many things about my life… even the type of, like, poverty that I grew up in. Like, there were almost no aspects of my life that I ever saw reflected back to me. And I guess, when you live long enough that way, you kind of stop wanting it for yourself and saying, you know, “Fine, screw it, I don’t need it. I will carve my own path.”

Courtney: And so, when I talk about things like Ace representation or just general diversity in media, I don’t really want it for myself anymore. I want it for everyone else who is still in a formative phase that it could benefit. Because I feel like my ship has kind of already sailed in that regard.

Courtney: So there’s just something about, like, desiring validation from outside sources. And I know that… I mean, when you talk about social media and chasing views, chasing likes — that is a thing that a lot of people fall into at one point or another. [laughing] I’ve kind of actively sabotaged myself every time I have gotten too much visibility. So there’s also an element of seeking that kind of validation that I don’t necessarily understand anymore. With my own business, with my artwork, once I got to a level of visibility that people were, like, recognizing me on the streets or I could go to a city that isn’t even my own and get recognized, I was like, “Oh, this is too much. I’m going to stop posting things online.” [laughs] And even kind of with this podcast, once we got to a certain level of visibility, we kind of stopped posting on Twitter [laughs] and things and kind of stopped actively seeking new people. So I have, on more than one occasion, been like, “Alright, that’s enough views. We’re good there. I don’t need any more.”

Courtney: But the real lesson that I came away from in this guy’s story, for this phase of it, was that there was such a stark difference between what he was saying compared to what the salespeople at Ashley Madison were saying their clientele were and what they wanted and needed as customers. Because here, this sales guy is saying, “Oh, life is short! Why should you suffer in this loveless, sexless marriage?” And yet, here’s this Ashley Madison user being like, “No, I loved my wife. Yeah, my wife was satisfying me sexually.” He wasn’t suffering; he was just bored. [laughs] He wanted more external validation from other people, and sex was just sort of put in as a vessel for achieving said validation — which, as we also learned, [laughing] YouTube likes also satisfied that for him, I guess! I mean, maybe there’s even an element of like existential dread here or, like, having a midlife crisis — like, “Yeah, life is short, and I feel bored. I feel like I’ve fallen into the same habits.” But here we have Ashley Madison, who is selling betrayal and women to him as the answer to what I see as mostly an internal conflict and a need for self-awareness.

Courtney: But then I also found it so interesting, because all these people working for the company or advertising for the company, who seem to have this at least partially fictionalized version of who they think their customers are, saying, like, “Yeah! You know, they’re sexual beings, and they’re in loveless, sexless marriages, and…” when there’s no evidence that that’s even the case. They’re like, “Of course they’re going to cheat!” and “People are always going to cheat, and so we’re just helping them do a thing they were already going to do anyway. We’re not making cheaters.” But then they were all, like, adamant that they themselves were not cheaters, to a weirdly moral degree. [laughs]

Royce: And some of this was happening as the CEO was going around and taking interviews, was on the news, was on talk shows, that sort of thing.

Courtney: Yeah. The View. And he was even bringing his wife on as well. And they were like, “We are completely monogamous, but it’s because we have such a great relationship. And not everybody has such a great relationship as ours, so we’re just [laughing] helping the people that don’t have great relationships betray one another.”

Courtney: But then, of course, they’d ask, like, “Well, how would you feel if your spouse cheated on you?” And the CEO’s wife straight-up said, “I would be devastated if he cheated on me, but I would not blame the website he used if he did. Ashley Madison doesn’t create cheaters. It is servicing a need.”

Courtney: And then the sales guy — like, he was a gay man, so they asked him, too, like, “How would you feel if your husband cheated on you?” And his jaw kind of dropped. And it took him a second; he had a beat before he responded. And, usually, this is a very talkative guy that had an answer right away, so I don’t know if this was just an editing trick [laughs] on behalf of the documentary makers. But he was like, “I would be shocked if my husband cheated on me. We’ve been together 23 years, completely monogamous.”

Courtney: And so all these people would be asked these questions and they’d say, like, “Yeah, it would be horrible, awful, if my spouse cheated on me.” But then they’d always pivot to, like, “But it’s not the website’s fault!” And he did the same thing. He’s like, “I’d be shocked because we’re monogamous, we’ve been together so long. But Ashley Madison taught me that the cheater is not to blame.” And then he gets really, like, ehhh… doing the whole ableism where if someone has a personality disorder, they’re inherently a bad person who’s going to hurt people. He said, “Oh, when someone cheats, they’re either a narcissistic sociopath and that’s just in their nature and there’s nothing you can do, or there’s something broken in their union, there’s a problem with their relationship.” And what a thing to say, because we have not been presented with either of the two people he’s describing yet in this documentary, nor were we given anybody of this description. I don’t think they had one Ashley Madison user that was like, “Yeah, my marriage was broken.” In fact, all of them were like, “I love my marriage and I didn’t want it to end.”

Royce: Well, there were only a few people that we got in-depth conversations on.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: But I think it was definitely all over the place experience-wise. I think we’ll get into that more. I think that the biggest part of it was similar to the Christian person we saw, where this was a very reachable, very available source of excitement. They advertised it heavily. There were ads all over the internet. You could click and create a profile. And the system was gamified to bring in revenue and maintain attention or excitement.

Courtney: Well, because then they actually did feature a married couple who I don’t think started this way but started as, like, secretive Ashley Madison users. But they are now in an open relationship, and I thought it was great to see them. Because they were talking about how they have rules. They feel very secure that they’ll come home to one another. They have a lot of trust in their marriage and in their partner’s, you know, ability to follow the terms of their agreed-upon relationship structure. And… like, she was, she was a dominatrix, too. She was talking about being a dom and really liking these scenes with submissive men, and her husband was not into that at all. He was like, “I’m not into that kink. I’m not into being submissive.” But he would also say things like, “I would be lost without her.” And she’d say things like, “He’s my everything.” And so, it was great to see them! But they also don’t fit the profile that any of these salespeople thought.

Royce: She also spoke to being sort of a serial cheater in past relationships and that being something that she realized and didn’t like about herself.

Courtney: Yes. That was interesting. Because that was, like, the self-awareness journey. She is someone who started to cheat, started using Ashley Madison, and felt guilty about it because she knew she was hurting her partner.

Royce: Well, before that, in past relationships — she went through a series of relationships where she had went out and found someone —

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: — due to something not going right in that relationship. And it became a pattern that she initially began to resist. And then I think that is what brought her to be in an established open relationship with communication.

Courtney: Yeah. And it was great to hear them talk about this. Because now, the main examples we’ve been given of users on the site was someone who was really just seeking external validation from other people that did not have to be sex-based or affair-based at all, and then we have someone who came to learn that an open relationship is the best relationship structure for them and they ultimately found a very happy marriage that was built around consent. And she even said that consent was so important that the other person knows. They mentioned it’s not the intercourse itself, but the violation of everything that was sacred: the communication, the trust, the honesty. So, again, like, nothing that the marketing team and Ashley Madison seems to be saying is actually adding up with any of the clients being interviewed. Which makes me feel like at least a certain percentage of their sales wasn’t filling a need, like they said they were, but potentially manipulating emotionally vulnerable people, usually men, based on the marketing.

Royce: I think that’s entirely what it was, because when you look at their business model and the amount of money they were bringing in, the system — first of all, women signed up for free. Men would sign up and get a small amount of credits, of in-app or in-website currency, and those credits would be used to send messages. And they would give people just enough credits to send a few messages to a few people, and then they’d be cut off, and then they would have to purchase more. So you’d get in, you’d immediately get some interaction and then, before you could really get into things, you would have to spend money.

Courtney: Mhm.

Royce: And this was compounded by the fact that they were… During this huge data breach, they were found to have been using a significant amount of fake profiles that Ashley Madison staff had filled out the bios for and automated systems that were sending those introductory messages to men from the fake profiles. So a guy would create a profile, get a few bot messages, run out of credits, and then have to charge their card to continue interacting with the site after those first few introductory messages and responses.

Courtney: Shady! Shady boots! Yeah, and this, like, pay-to-play model that they had — it seems designed for sex as opposed to emotional connections. Because if it’s so expensive just to message people, the people who were actually real humans on it are gonna want to cut the small talk and get right to meeting whenever possible. Which, I mean, again, if that’s what you’re looking for, sure, fine. But, like… [sighs] I don’t know. I don’t think that monogamy is or should be the default for all relationships, but I do think there are ethical ways to go about non-monogamy, and Ashley Madison just seems to ignore it by design. I was really livid on behalf of… what was the name of the heavily tattooed stripper? I think she was working at a strip club and was in, like, a high profile affair.

Royce: Michelle McGee.

Courtney: Michelle McGee, yeah. I never heard of her. I still don’t know pretty much anything about her, past what was in this documentary. But since she was in this high profile affair, Ashley Madison reached out to her asking to, like, I don’t know, be some kind of spokesperson or be in a commercial, do some modeling or something for them. And then it turns out, they were using her pictures as one of these, like, fake bot profiles. And so she’d have like real men come and find her in the club where she was working, thinking they’d been talking to her and thinking they had, like, started a relationship, and she had never met nor talked to these men before. And that is so disgusting.

Courtney: And, I don’t know, did they not have VPNs back then? Was this before Nord started advertising on every YouTube video ever? Because didn’t they say, like, they found all of the IP addresses from all these bot accounts went right to their headquarters?

Royce: They probably just didn’t think that the IP addresses, their own internal IP addresses, were ever going to be leaked like that. Because that’s what happened during the hack: they found that messages from all of these accounts were coming from Ashley Madison headquarters.

Courtney: But yeah, and some of these original advertisements and the sales guy talking was just so fascinating to me. Because he was clearly saying, like, “Oh, we wanted everyone to think, ‘Ashley Madison: sex,’” and that they lived by the marketing rule of “Talk good about me, talk bad about me, but please talk about me.” And it was at that moment where I was like, “Oops, we fell into the trap. We did that. We have already talked about them. We’re fueling their capitalism.” But we’re too far into it now!

Courtney: But the way this CEO was talking, too, was so fascinating. Because he was not actually interviewed, so all of these were, like, older clips of him talking. And he was talking about how having an affair is a preservation dance, and a lot of these people love their spouses and love their family, and that marriage is preserved through infidelity and can even be therapeutic. And I’m pretty sure we read a story before where someone was saying, “Cheating on my partner is self-care.” [laughs] Absolutely no, I can’t get behind that.

Courtney: But he even tried to do the split attraction thing. He tried to say, “Oh, really, love and sex are different things. These people love their family, they love their partner. But this is just sex. That’s different.” Which makes me wonder how many shady, unethical businesses like this have set back actually productive, nuanced conversations about sex and love being different things that could actually heavily benefit our Aspec community and the queer community in general. Because these were… Probably, for a long time, the more visible conversations about sex and love being two different things was doing something to do with cheating, when you know that there is something wrong, you are hurting someone. I mean, I guess, to a certain extent, the same parallel could be made for just open relationships in general, because how many people hear about unethical cheating and betrayal before they learn about the healthy and happy way to live a life with more than one partner?

Courtney: And it was just so silly. Because there was some other guy who was saying, like, “Oh, well, if you spoke to your spouse, you’d find out there’s a lot more going on with them sexually, but no one ever wants to talk about sex!” So they’re blaming sex being taboo for people in marriages not talking about sex. And yet their solution — instead of “Start talking about it and let’s remove this stigma,” their solution is… keep more secrets? Continue to not talk about it? Find someone else to have sex with that isn’t your spouse? Makes no sense to me.

Courtney: And then I realized, too, that they were charging all this money for men just to interact with a lot of bots and maybe a couple of real women here and there. The women didn’t pay anything. If you were an actual, real woman signing up to this website, you can engage with people for free. Which honestly kind of had me horrified, because then I realized, “Oh, women are the products. They aren’t customers.”

Royce: The only exception is that Ashley Madison had what… If it wasn’t illegal at the time, it has to be illegal now. They had a data deletion policy where if you had data in their system, even if it was a profile that someone else created, you had to pay them money to delete said thing. So if you were, like, an actress or something like that, and if you were a public figure, and someone created a profile using images of yours and using your name, you would have to pay Ashley Madison to have them remove it.

Courtney: Ugh.

Royce: And it showed an email chain where they… I don’t know if the time span was mentioned; maybe it was, like, a year after they implemented it. They said they made, like, over a million dollars off of data deletion fees.

Courtney: Oh my gosh, yeah.

Royce: And the twist of this is, [laughing] when the data breach came out, they never actually deleted the data, they just archived it.

Courtney: Mhm!

Royce: And so when that was leaked, all of that information was also leaked, because they still had the records on it.

Courtney: Yeah! And the sales guy said that as soon as they rolled this out, they made a couple million dollars in a short amount of time. That is so icky. But yeah, it is wild to me. Because you hear that in marketing a lot that, like, if you aren’t paying anything for a service, you’re actually the product. Like, especially for TV commercials or YouTube ads and things, like, you are what is being sold. Your attention is being sold to a company. So the moment they said women don’t pay anything to engage on this…

Courtney: And they’re marketing so heavily to men at first. But then they’d have their CEO saying, like, “Oh, of course there’s a lot of women.” And they’d be saying, like, “Yeah, there’s slightly more men than women, but it’s like 60/40 right now,” like 60% men, 40% women, which seems highly suspect. A lot of people, after they found the bots, thought that the percentage differences were way different. But they’d even say things like, “Of course there are women on the site! That’s why it’s called Ashley Madison,” [laughs] when we already had a sales guy say, like, “Oh, we used ‘Ashley Madison’ because we wanted to appeal to men, and so we used, like, the two most popular female names.” [laughs]

Courtney: But yeah, aside from their shady business practice of having people pay to delete their records and then not even deleting their records, let’s get into the things that actually caused the data breach.

Royce: Well, some aspects of the data breach are unknown because, well, for one thing, the CEO dug in his heels. And I think the marketing guy present, who was being interviewed, said that the company was playing chicken with the hackers. Because they came in one day and all of their systems were basically shut down, with messages from the hackers explaining that they got into the system and had access to everything. They ended up hiring some cybersecurity people out of Sweden to investigate it. And they worked with them for a period of time and eventually also got involved with the… I believe it was the Toronto Police Department. But the hackers, who referred to themselves as The Impact Team, gave them a deadline of when to completely shut down Ashley Madison and another company called Established Men that was a similar, not as famous, site run by the same parent company, which I believe was Avid Life Media.

Royce: Now, no one actually knows who the members of The Impact Team are, or if it was a team, or if it was an individual, or if it was someone who may have previously known or interacted with the company. One of the cybersecurity specialists started seeing a trail of, maybe it was a past contractor that had worked with them. Either that or a past contractor had, you know, somehow leaked credentials in some way.

Courtney: Some people, at a certain point, were even suspecting the CEO himself.

Royce: Right, as a big publicity stunt. But then a bunch of information about the CEO got leaked, and some of the internal communications were showing that the hacking group was specifically calling out the CEO or targeting him in some ways.

Royce: But the company made a lot of mistakes. And if you’ve ever been in a software company, those mistakes won’t be surprising, because maintenance doesn’t make money, and security is often a form of maintenance. So when your company has more things on the backlog to go accomplish than you have the resources for, you end up sitting in meetings with, oftentimes, executives or marketing people and you say, “Okay, like, what are we doing next?” And the things that make money, the things that have potentially already been sold and promised to clients — those get priority, and the maintenance tasks just get pushed further and further down the list.

Royce: Well, security was one of these tasks. They overtly lied about how secure their site was. They mentioned frequently in their marketing that, you know, they were following top-of-the-line security practices. They made up iconography on their website for, like, security awards and certifications that didn’t exist. That was all sort of a ruse. Again, when it came down to it, how the hackers gained access to their system is not entirely known. But once they got into the system, they pulled all of their active and their archival databases, and within that they found some flaws.

Royce: One thing that I saw specifically, which I can guess how this happened, was that the… well, one, the hackers had the means to get inside the archival databases, where they found plaintext of user information photos, names, email addresses. When it came to passwords, the company had switched, during its run, from using an MD5 hashing algorithm, which is known now to not be cryptographically secure. At the time when Ashley Madison was founded, depending on how up-to-date their security professionals may have been, that might have been seen as standard practice. At some point in time, they switched to bcrypt, which is something that is actually supposed to be used for securing passwords. But it seems like, as they were transitioning, they may have had both running at the same time, for a period of time, and then either never cleaned up the old MD5 hashes or never deleted the archives.

Royce: Because the hacking group found passwords hashed with MD5 that are now exploitable. Due to advances in computation speeds and security flaws found with that hashing algorithm, it’s not that big of a deal to crack passwords. And so they found now 11 million records with both email and password combinations — which, most people reuse their email and password combinations, so now you can go to all of the popular sites that people tend to use and try those combinations and gain access to other systems that people use.

Royce: By the way, I did see here, in analyzing this data dump — which was just released publicly in its entirety to shame Ashley Madison and the people that were using it — that they found that among the early passwords that they were able to crack very easily, “password” and “123456” were very common.

Royce: Oh my god.

Courtney: Of course. Those still make the list of, like, top 100 most common cracked passwords.

Courtney: Wow.

Royce: Those lists get put out every year.

Courtney: Yeah. When we were watching this part of the documentary, I mean, I already had a very low opinion of the company and most companies in general, but I was like… jaw-dropped when they were talking about just how negligent all this was. And you were just, like, giggling. You were like, “Yeah, maintenance doesn’t make money.” [laughs] None of it seemed surprising to you.

Royce: Yeah. I don’t know if this is something where non-software people just don’t understand it, or if they don’t care, or a combination. But the reason why things like this happen, the reason why we have local governments all over the states that are getting hit by ransomware, the reason why we have all of these data breaches in, like, big secondary software companies — like, think credit reporting agencies that have a lot of tech but they’re not primarily a tech company. They probably contract out a lot of their technology stuff. Software has a certain amount of maintenance that has to go into it, and security is a big part of that, because there are always flaws that are being found in older systems, or we’re getting to the point where computers are getting fast enough that things that used to be viable 10, 20 years ago when these systems were created are not viable now. And it’s the same thing as, like, America has a real-world infrastructure problem where we have a lot of bridges that are in danger of collapsing because they haven’t been maintained. We’re seeing the same thing at a faster scale in computing infrastructure.

Courtney: And as depressing as that all is, and for as much as Ashley Madison deserved it — because the claims they were making about security were false and they knew they were false — you also started giggling when the way they found out about the hack was when they all went into work one day.

Royce: And when they turned on their computers, there were just threatening hacker messages on them. That was pretty great.

Courtney: Yeah! They got viruses on all their computers. [laughs]

Royce: I couldn’t tell — they didn’t describe it well enough — if they had actually changed the public facing website or if it was just malware that was installed on all of their computers. I couldn’t tell, but it was amusing.

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: Because the thing is, like, the company was at fault here for negligence. They should have done better. Where this gets a lot worse is that all of these people who had credentials on the site have now been opened up to much larger issues, given that all of this information of theirs has been leaked — particularly when that comes to financial information, names and addresses. Again, just the security issue with emails and password combinations being leaked.

Courtney: Yeah. And it was very interesting, because, even though they suspected this Impact Team was probably one person and they seem to only target Ashley Madison and not any — well, their parent company, technically, and not anybody else, some of the comments that the alleged Impact Team made to a journalist were really interesting. Because they were making claims like, “Avid Life Media is like a drug dealer abusing addicts,” and also that they’re not surprised that they didn’t shut down because they make $100 million in fraud a year.

Courtney: So here’s the thing — because I think Ashley Madison deserved it. It’s a scummy company. They probably should have been hacked. But as much as I think most actual users were also in the wrong in their public life — or in their private life, rather, I don’t think they deserved to be shamed publicly in the way that many of them then were. So here’s kind of my question. Because, Royce, you once described to me the concept of hackers and what color hats they wear. What color hats were these hackers wearing when they did this?

Royce: This was firmly black hat. The hackers themselves probably saw themselves as doing something that they thought was morally sound, but it was illegal activity. It was intended to put pressure on an organization and to exploit it. They didn’t take monetary gain themselves, but they were doing it to shut down a company, to expose the issues that they were doing. They were causing financial harm to individuals, and, whether or not you see that as justified, that would fit that color.

Courtney: Interesting.

Royce: A white hat hacker would have gotten into Ashley Madison’s systems and then reported the security vulnerability to them so they could fix it.

Courtney: Mmm. What would a gray hat hacker have done then? I was wondering if this was like the darkest shade of gray, like almost black hat.

Royce: I had the same thought, but this is vigilantism.

Courtney: Mmm.

Royce: And I don’t think you can describe that as anything other than black hat. Like, you might agree morally with the vigilante, but that’s still what it is.

Courtney: Gotcha. And see — like, here’s the interesting thing, like, from the moral perspective. I mean, I understand hats a lot better than I understand hackers. [laughs] But I think shutting down a company that is scamming people, that is actually committing fraud and harming their client base, is one thing. Actually getting the private lives of those users, like, publicly, that is another thing. And I know there are some people out there that are going to be like, “Well, they knew what they were doing was wrong. Like, probably most of those people were, you know, cheating and betraying their spouses.” But I don’t actually agree with, like, retribution in that way when it comes to private people. But a morally corrupt business is not people.

Royce: They could have chosen to release the information differently, too. They didn’t have to release the hashed passwords. They didn’t have to release user financial information. They didn’t have to release user information whatsoever, although doing so is what allowed journalists to comb through it and uncover all of the bot accounts due to the IP addresses tied to their messages. But one thing they did release was a massive info dump of the CEO’s emails. And they could have done that, in isolation, to oust the CEO and also shed light on some of the illegal business practices without releasing user information.

Courtney: Oh, yeah, because then they also, in releasing all of the CEO’s correspondence, they found that this guy who was claiming to not be a cheater because he had such a good marriage and he was just helping people who didn’t have as good a marriage as him — he was also cheating and consistently corresponding with, like, escort services and things. [sarcastically] And who could have seen that coming? But, yeah. And the public spectacle of it all did feel wrong. Because I was, like, on the side of the hackers when they were just targeting the company, but as soon as they got private people involved, I was like, “Okay, that’s too far.” But there were apparently… like, there was an Australian call-in show to find out, live on the air, if your partner was on the website. You could give their name and email address, and then they’d look this up for you.

Royce: Yeah. I guess early on, for some people, it wasn’t easy enough to comb this information.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: There were, eventually, sites that were set up where you could just type a name in and see if you got results.

Courtney: Was that because they released it on, like, the dark web or something, and so people had to…?

Royce: There were some hoops to jump through, yeah.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: But that’s where it was originally torrented from.

Courtney: But, yeah. And, I mean, there was an older man — probably the oldest of the Ashley Madison clients that were discussed in this documentary — who ended up dying by suicide after this leak happened. And I really felt for his wife, because… She was there actually speaking, since he is no longer here to speak for himself. And I don’t know in his mindset if he was concerned that his wife was going to find out. But it turned out she already knew. She kind of already knew he had a history of cheating on her, and she had kind of made the choice that, even though it did hurt, she valued him and their marriage enough that she wasn’t really going to say anything about it. And so she just sort of lived with knowing that, without confronting him or making it a thing.

Royce: Yeah. It wasn’t clear. Because he was called in, I believe, to work.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: And they told him that his information was found in this breach and that he was basically going to be ostracized from that community, which I believe was a religious organization.

Courtney: It was a religious organization. He lost his job as a result. I think he had some sort of teaching position within the church, within a religious academic institution of some kind. And it was just really sad. Because this wife, you know, attributed this death to the cancer of shame that was eating away at him. So, she sort of knew and felt that he was ashamed of these secrets and this part of him. She was aware of it and decided not to make it a thing, which does just make me so sad for those people. Because perhaps an actual conversation could have relieved some of that secrecy and that shame, since she did know. But it seems like the major event precipitating this was losing his job and being sort of outed in this very religious community that he had done this.

Courtney: And whatever, you know, a spouse might have said or done in response to learning this information is kind of their own right or between the two of them to figure out. But I don’t think anyone should lose their job over something like this. But when there is such a big public spectacle and people are investigating others and trying to hound them like that, that’s why I felt really wrong about releasing all the private information.

Courtney: And on the religious side of things… because the Big Fish/Frozen man — what was his username? It was something goofy, like “Dirty Little Secret Man” [laughs] on Ashley Madison. So, like, “Dirty Little Secret Man” was also in a very religious family and a religious community. And so they were obviously talking about adultery as, like, Bible adultery. And this moral outrage behind just the very concept of sleeping with someone else, I think, is misplaced anger. Because in situations of cheating, the problem is not that they are having sex with someone else. The problem is the lies and the secrecy and the betrayal, if that is not how their relationship was originally established, so.

Courtney: What I found interesting, though, aside from this man who lost his job, this “Dirty Little Secret Man” and his wife… At first, when he got exposed — because now they’re, like, famous family vloggers. Like, they went viral with their Frozen lip sync, and then they just started family vlogging and were even at a convention for vloggers when the first couple people on Twitter found out that this guy was exposed during this breach. So he was like, “Oh man, the jig’s up. I gotta tell my wife.” And at first he lied to her still and said, “I just signed up for the site but I didn’t actually do anything with that profile.” But then that shame ate away at him even more. And apparently, his brother knew that there was more to the story, too, than what they were saying publicly online, because they did a whole vlog to try to get ahead of the rumors.

Courtney: And so once she found the actual truth, she said, “What was the point of finding a Christian man?” And that quote got me thinking. That was such an interesting line. Because, even though I didn’t want to make this episode about instances of Christian moral hypocrisy, in this context, that sort of parallels the theme of being sold false promises. Because in her worldview, what she was living in — this very Christian family, this Christian environment — she believed that finding someone who abided by Christian values, she wouldn’t marry an adulterer. And so not only does she now feel betrayed by her husband, but she’s like, you know, “This faith told me that this is how I need to establish a relationship to be happy and not be betrayed this way. And yet here I am, still.”

Courtney: And you could even extend that to just amatonormativity in general, and even the being sold romantic promises by fictional media. That scene from Big Fish that this man was sold, only to learn that his marriage was not going to be like Big Fish forever. [laughs] I think there’s always going to be shortcomings in any worldview that claims to sell you all the answers or the key to happiness or the key to the right kind of relationship, even just monogamy in general.

Courtney: Well, and I also found these Christian family vloggers very fascinating, because when she first found out about this, she was almost trying to, like, out-moral him by being the cool great wife who is going to forgive him and is still going to be intimate with him.

Royce: Yeah. It was a weird competitive marriage vibe where she was angry with him and was also like, “I’m going to stay in this marriage, and I’m going to do it better than you. I’m going to be the better partner.”

Courtney: Yeah! Like, “You hurt me, but look at me forgiving you anyway.”

Royce: Which, that has to be a setup for long-term resentment, right?

Courtney: It seems like it, yes. It’s almost like you’re not forgiving them out of a genuine desire to forgive, but you’re, like, forgiving them out of spite. But, yeah, I mean, by the end of this documentary, my main takeaway was this was a company of men targeting men, selling false promises of women to sleep with and the answer to happiness. And it’s really all just patriarchal, capitalistic wish-fulfillment bullshit!

Courtney: But some of the quotes to end things… I mean, after this big security breach — obviously, it was a huge scandal, the CEO got ousted and was replaced with someone else — like, the company is still going, and they claim to have over 70 million members. Who knows how many of them are real at this point. But some of the takeaways right at the end, some of the quotes — someone said, like, “Oh, I think cheating is a natural human way to just find excitement or find something else. To tolerate the life you have given yourself without destroying your foundation. It’s just a shame the couples can’t talk to each other about it.” And it’s like, my guy! If they could talk about it and did talk about it, it wouldn’t be cheating! And again, the “To tolerate the life you’ve given yourself,” it’s like, if you’re only tolerating the life you’ve given yourself, maybe that wasn’t what you wanted in the first place.

Courtney: And the last couple lines that this sales guy, Evan, mentioned. He was saying he doesn’t judge if someone is happy with their wife but still wants to fuck that 23-year-old, because sometimes he sees a young hot thing and thinks that would be fun. But this is also the guy who’s like, “I’d be shocked if my husband cheated on me!”

Courtney: And he even ended with, “Ashley Madison taught me that there will always be people who cheat. As long as men have penises, Ashley Madison will always be in business.” So that’s just another, uh, “Let’s ascribe sexuality and hypersexuality and questionable moralities upon all men.” Super cool. Which, that rings a bell, also. Wasn’t there a moment when the CEO or someone else doing marketing for them at one point — when people were so surprised to hear how many women were on the website, even though their numbers were inflated — they were like, “It’s true, women are acting more like men these days!”

Royce: Yeah, that was a line.

Courtney: Ugh, I hate that. Someday, there will be an entire discussion about the specific brand of feminism that, I think, has, at times, done more harm than good, where it’s like, “Let’s just be more like men, even when they’re morally questionable.” [laughs] I got that a lot in, like, business — like, girlboss, “Let’s be just as morally questionable as all these men who are CEOs, because if they can scam people, we can too.” [laughs] But that is for another day.

Courtney: There were two really funny moments that we had while watching this that I want to share. Because at one point — I think this was while they were talking about the concerns with the data breach other than, obviously, someone’s partner finding out that they’re on the site — but they were like, “Oh, people said what kinks and fetishes they were after, and that could be released, and people who wanted threesomes,” and all these things. And so the editor made a really goofy choice. Because they were showing all these tags and all these things that people could fill in on their account while talking about “All this information is being released now,” where they would say, like, “Oh, sub/dom, water sports, kinky, threesomes.” And then, all of a sudden, there was just a tag on screen, and the last one during this “What if this information gets out” — as if this is the worst one, this is the escalation — it just said “Cooking/Barbecuing.” And our silly Ace asses were like, [laughing] “Is that slang for something? What does it mean?”

Royce: Well, I wanted to see… There was an image in the first episode where they showed this entire array of tags on screen. And I was pretty sure it wasn’t just kinks, it was activities. It was, like, “meeting in person” and… I want to say, like, I think just, like, “sex” was in there, where you could check or uncheck that.

[Courtney laughs]

Royce: So, I feel like there were a certain amount of just in-person activities or interests that you could pick and that that was shown out of context. But we didn’t go and rewind to the first episode to try to find that.

Courtney: It was so goofy, though. Because they were like… The guy talking, the guy being interviewed at this point, was like, “Oh, most of the people who wanted threesomes were men who wanted a threesome with two women, but some of the users were men who wanted a threesome with another man and a woman.” And so, like, that was almost hinting at, like, “Oh, could you be outing someone for being bisexual or something?” Like, meanwhile the editor showing “water sports, threesome, sub/dom,” and then it ends with “Cooking and barbecuing”! [laughs] Like, God forbid someone be outed for barbecuing! And so, I’m googling, like, “barbecuing sex slang” and finding Urban Dictionary [laughs] entries for what it could possibly mean. That was so ridiculous.

Courtney: And then there was a moment — because seeing all these older, like, ads for Ashley Madison was really interesting. There was a big billboard at one point that said, “Your wife is hot, but so are ours.” And, oh my goodness. This took me right back to… I don’t even know how many years ago it was, at this point. I want to say, like, maybe 2016, 17, maybe. There was this big — horribly sexist, I thought — billboard that was displayed really prominently in Kansas City. Like, on the interstate when you’re just about to get to the skyline of KC, there was this billboard that just said in huge letters, like, “Your wife is hot,” with smaller letters that said, “You better get her A/C fixed.” And it was for, like, a local business like Bob Hamilton. And a lot of people were really ticked off by this ad. [laughs] Not even necessarily the, like, “Your wife is hot” one, but, like, “You better get her AC fixed” — it’s so assumptive that in, like, a heteropatriarchal sense, it’s up to the husband to, you know, pay for or make the call or do the handiwork to fix this. And I wasn’t the only one upset about this. Like, there were people whispering around town at the time that were really put off by it.

Courtney: And so, when I saw this billboard that was like, “Your wife is hot, but so are ours,” I was like, “Oh my god, was this also a parody of an older Ashley Madison billboard?” I had absolutely no idea. I did find, trying to Google it, that this Bob Hamilton or whatever did say, like, “Oh, I did see an old ad in a magazine at one point that said ‘Your wife is hot,’ and so I thought, ‘I’m going to use that.’” And it’s like, was that Ashley Madison? It sounds like that was Ashley Madison, actually.

Courtney: But then, there was a whole… And I don’t even think this got as much buzz, because it wasn’t as prominent of a billboard. But as soon as I saw it, I was like, “Oh my God, we’ve got billboard wars happening right here in Kansas City!” There was a billboard that was put up in a different place shortly thereafter that just said, “My wife is fine. She called Pride Mechanical.” So who do you want to bet we called when our A/C went out one summer? [laughs] I called up Pride Mechanical so fast, and I was like, “Thank you for your billboard.” [laughed] And they just laughed. They were like, “Yeah, isn’t that great? We loved it.” Especially great because I am the one of the two of us who makes calls like that [laughing] when we need to have repairs like that, so. I liked it. I thought it was good. 10 out of 10, do recommend Pride Mechanical over Bob Hamilton for anyone in the Kansas City Metro. [laughs]

Courtney: So, on that note, that will be all for our Ashley Madison saga, presumably for the near future, [laughs] if not in perpetuity. But we would love to round out this episode by giving you this week’s featured MarketplACE vendor for Aro and Ace small business owners. And today, we would love to give a huge shout-out to Isabel Scheck, where you can find many self-published books by a biromantic Asexual author and artist. And when I say many, I mean many. There are a lot of books here, so I am sure there is something for anyone. We personally purchased an art book called Ace of Arts by Isabel. Has a beautiful, like, purple, gray, white, black cover — has all the, you know, all those Ace Pride colors in there. But the book itself contains a collection of artworks with a bunch of different aspects of Asexual, Aromantic, and other Aspec identities, and there’s a lot of beautiful work on there. It’s sitting right on our shelf where we keep all of our Ace authors. As always, you can find that link to check it out for yourself in the show notes. And we will talk to you all next time. Goodbye!