The site has nearly 40 million users, according to a recent analysis

Credit: Lee Jin-man/AP

Now that hackers have released records and user information for the online dating site that boasts the motto, “Life is short. Have an affair,” what exactly is Ashley Madison – and who are the millions of users that sign up for the “infidelity site?” was launched in 2001 by Toronto native Noel Biderman, a former attorney, sports agent and “self-described happily married father of two,” according to a 2009 profile in the Los Angeles Times. (The site’s name simply comes from two popular names for female babies at the time.)

It is, essentially, an online dating service with a setup and interface similar to OkCupid or, but it’s geared toward people seeking extramarital affairs, either with other married individuals or single people.

Biderman has been matter-of-fact about his site. “Some people say it promotes promiscuity,” he told the Times. “But if you don’t do it, you get behavior that’s way more harmful to society. Infidelity has been around a lot longer than Ashley Madison.”

“All I’m saying is, don’t do it in the workplace where it could result in someone losing their job, don’t go to a singles dating service and lie about your status, don’t hire a prostitute. Given that affairs are going to happen no matter what, maybe we should see Ashley Madison as a safe alternative,” he said.

The site continued to gain steam, at least until July, when hackers attacked. Internet traffic analysis site SimilarWeb estimates that the site is ranked No. 408 in the U.S., with nearly 75 million monthly visitors. (That number may be slightly skewed, with new eyes attracted by the recent controversy.)

The bulk of users (28.6 percent) are from the U.S. (the majority of that base is concentrated in New York and Los Angeles), with Brazil, Canada and Spain in distant second, third and fourth places, comprising 7.2, 5.9 and 5.7 percent of the site’s total base, respectively. Forty-five percent of the site’s traffic comes from referrals from other sites; perhaps unsurprisingly, occupying the top slot of the referral category is

In late July, statistical analysis site FiveThirtyEight estimated that Ashley Madison has had about 37 million users. (Presumably, that number has dropped since the hack.) In the Times profile, Biderman said that 70 percent of the users are men in their late 30s to early 40s. (The site’s female users skewed younger.)

But when it comes to weighing infidelity, it turns out men and women may be closer to accord than those numbers would suggest. From NPR’s interview with FiveThirtyEight’s Mona Chalabi: “When asked, have you thought about cheating, 28 percent of women say yes, compared to 41 percent of men.”