Ashley Madison Wants to Be for Kinks, But Is It?

The infamous dating service is rebranding as a judgment free zone. It won't work.

Getty Images / Carl Court

Ashley Madison is rebranding itself in hopes of attracting new users after the disastrous 2015 data breach that climaxed when hackers released thousands of users’ personal information. Once marketed to would-be philanderers, the site has both beefed up its security and made a subtle pivot. What is the new Ashley Madison? A resource for people seeking non-vanilla sexual experiences. The executives behind the service have learned to speak the language of modern sexual liberation — of kink. But the truth is that they still seem to be talking about the same thing: cheating.

James Millership, CEO of Ashley Madison’s parent company Ruby, explained the site’s fresh vision in an interview with The Irish Times: “In 2016, people are looking for much different sexual experiences,” he said. “We are a non-judgmental platform that reflects the tastes and usages of our customer base; we’ve seen partners looking for other couples, partners looking for a single partner, soft kink, all kinds of experiences.”

It’s a clever move to ditch the infidelity and capitalize on people’s sexual desires. Today, we’re more open than ever about what actually happens in the bedroom — and what could. For lots of people, that includes participating in kinky activities like BDSM or group sex. But it’s strange that Ashley Madison has lumped infidelity in with this latest array of sexual activities. Having an affair means that the cheating individual is going back on a commitment they made with their significant other. It’s not a sexual faux pas; it’s a social one. What does cheating have in common with food play? Not much, just that it’s a fantasy for a lot of people.

Ashley Madison's new homepage.

Ashley Madison

It’s not as though kinky apps don’t exist. For example, Whiplr has been dubbed the “BDSM Tinder”. In addition, people tend to put their kink interests in their OkCupid and Grindr profiles. While there might not be an exact checkbox designating status as a dominant leather top, users will often write something along their lines in the “About Me” section. Given that, it’s unclear if Ashley Madison’s newfound interest in “different sexual experiences” differentiates it at all.

The site’s tagline has gone from “Life is short. Have an affair.” to “Find your moment.” It’s smart for the company to take the focus off of cheating given the repulsiveness of that act is both what encouraged hackers and garnered so many headlines. But that doesn’t mean Ashley Madison is ready to go totally monogamous. The ads definitely imply infidelity. The fact that they feature a female actress seems intended to cloud that message, but it doesn’t. And whether or not it will attract women — the network is notoriously male — remains to be seen.

It’s pretty easy to see through Ashley Madison’s attempts to put out a new image. Maybe they really do care about helping people discover new ways to get off. But until they have something to show for it, it’s doubtful that they’ve changed all that much.