PARIS — Advertisements from Gleeden, which presents itself as “the first extramarital dating site designed by women,” are quite astounding. “Being faithful to two men is like being doubly faithful,” says one. “Try it, crunch it, savor it,” says another, picturing a young woman who is about to eat no fewer than eight apples

“It satisfies a need,” says Ravy Truchot, co-founder of Gleeden. “It does not create it.” The company has launched a campaign asking its members to testify about their experiences, and three people agreed to tell their stories on condition of anonymity.

“I saw an advertising campaign that made me smile," says 40-year-old Julie, who joined Gleeden a year and a half ago. “The tone was funny, chill,” adds Sarah, 30, who has been a member for a year. “I signed up to chat with the boys. I wasn’t sure I would take the plunge.”

It was a TV report that convinced Patrick, 50, to sign up three years ago. The motivations for these three users are disparate. Patrick's marriage has gradually deteriorated. “I don't really have a relationship with my wife,” he says. “Daily life is not painful, but it’s very routine. It’s not possible to be with someone for a lifetime and pretend it can always be like the first day.” He says he still lives with his wife of 25 years to protect his teenage daughter from experiencing a divorce.

Sarah has actually been in a relationship for five years and says she feels very happy. “I am sexually and emotionally fulfilled,” she says. “I feel much love for my husband. Infidelity has nothing to do with him, but with me. I need to experience the first moments we had again and again.”

Julie, who after 10 years and two children, sees herself with her husband until death. “We have built everything together,” she says. But since the birth of her children, she hasn’t worked and has felt that something is missing. “I was bored, and I had a lack of self-esteem. Gleeden came at the right time.”

An infidelity boom?

After just three years in business, Gleeden boasts a whopping 1.8 million members, 800,000 of them in France. In comparison, the Ashley Madison online dating service counts 22 million members — 400,000 of them in France — and was established in October 2012.

According to a 2010 Ipsos survey commissioned by Gleeden, some 37% of the 500 French people interviewed “have or might have cheated.”

Gleeden ad near Paris' Moulin Rouge — Photo: Gleeden Facebook page

“Scientific studies show that monogamy is not part of human nature,” Christoph Kraemer, of Ashley Madison, says bluntly.

But such data should be regarded with a certain amount of caution. “I am very surprised by the numbers,” says Charlotte Van, lecturer at the University of Caen Basse-Normandie and author of The Four Faces of Infidelity in France. “With their campaigns, these sites create uncertainty and instill doubts. One may wonder if women register just to discover if their husband is on there.” Some others are singles and have registered to find a long-term partner, she says.

Family loyalty, in fact, remains an extremely important value for French citizens. A 2008 survey on the topic showed 84% considered loyalty “very important to a successful marriage,” compared with 72% in 1981.

In total, 15% of women and 27% of men report having had two parallel sexual relationships “at least once” in their lives. And of course, it’s possible respondents underreported. Still, that the extramarital sex still remains illicit and undisclosed is a sign that is far from becoming the norm.

After sexual liberation, the triumph of cohabitation, and the explosion of divorce, this strong resistance seems paradoxical. In bourgeois marriages, fidelity was required from women to ensure that children had a known ancestry. But today, it has become proof of love. 

“Expectations between couples are enormous,” says sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann. It is a place of mutual comfort in a world where competition and stress rule. “The family unit is a safe haven during times of crisis,” Van adds.

In parallel, infidelity is also changing. Traditionally, at least in perception, men were more likely to commit adultery than women, and it was motivated by sexual satisfaction. “Its forms are diversifying, and its meaning is getting more complicated,” Van says. “Especially since women are much more involved.”

Little by little, the sexual mores and attitudes of women are becoming more similar to men's. They are more likely now to find way of satisfying their own desires, and less likely to close their eyes when inequality surfaces.

“Sexuality is no longer a prohibition or a taboo,” Kaufmann says. It tends to be perceived as an instrument of pleasure or a hobby like any other, he says. This perception seems disconnected from feelings, even for women. 

French sociologist François de Singly presents another hypothesis. “There is a contradiction in the reasoning of today’s couples,” he says. “People want to be fully loved but refuse at the same time to be totally dependent on the other person. Everyone wants to prove that he can exist by himself. They want their freedom, their secret garden. Transient infidelity can fulfill this role.

“Gleeden is precisely defined by its users as ‘their favorite secret garden.’”