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Ashley Madison and women: How many are really out there?

As Ashley Madison continues to fight hackers, the adultery site is waging a separate battle to prove it really has women using its service.

Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid Life Media said in a statement on Monday that its site has continued to grow since a breach that saw hackers publish private information about its more than 37 million members. However, it quickly followed that news with a rebuke aimed at a report that Ashley Madison is a male-dominated platform nearly devoid of women.

“Some journalists have turned the focus of the criminal act against Ashley Madison inside out, attacking us instead of the hackers,” the company wrote in its statement. “Last week, a reporter who claimed to analyze the stolen data made incorrect assumptions about the meaning of fields contained in the leaked data. This reporter concluded that the number of active female members on Ashley Madison could be calculated based on those assumptions. That conclusion was wrong.”

The company added that nearly 88,000 women had signed up for Ashley Madison in the last week.

On Aug. 26, gadget-news site Gizmodo published a blog post written by editor-in-chief Annalee Newitz that examined the makeup of Ashley Madison’s userbase and how users actually engaged with the site. Newitz found that while the leaked Ashley Madison database shows 5.5 million female profiles, “there’s a good chance that about 12,000 of the profiles out of millions belonged to actual, real women who were active users of Ashley Madison.”

Newitz explained in detail how so many of Ashley Madison’s accounts could be fake, saying that she found disparities in e-mails and IP addresses. Still, Newitz acknowledged that the “fake” accounts she had discovered numbered only in the “tens of thousands,” potentially leaving millions of legitimate female accounts. However, later, Newitz analyzed activity on the site, and found that approximately 1,500 women had actually checked their Ashley Madison messages, compared to over 20 million men. What’s more, Newitz said, just 2,409 women used the Ashley Madison chat platform.

“Overall, the picture is grim indeed,” Newitz wrote. “Out of 5.5 million female accounts, roughly 0% had ever shown any kind of activity at all, after the day they were created. The men’s accounts tell a story of lively engagement with the site, with over 20 million men hopefully looking at their inboxes, and over 10 million of them initiating chats. The women’s accounts show so little activity that they might as well not be there.”

The report, which as of this writing has notched nearly 2 million pageviews, caught the attention of news outlets and celebrities, alike. Comedian Bill Maher took to his weekly HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher to poke fun at the statistics. Social media sites were abuzz with users arguing that the statistics reveal what is really happening on Ashley Madison.

Not surprisingly, Ashley Madison bristled at those claims. The site has built its business on the idea that two adults may easily find each other for discreet relationships. If men seeking women are a main driver for Ashley Madison’s growth and men determine that few women are actually on the site, it may not be long before the service enters a free fall.

Anxious to head off any possible decline in usage, the site’s parent company on Monday offered its most in-depth information yet on how women use its site.

“Last week alone, women sent more than 2.8 million messages within our platform,” Avid Life said in its statement. “Furthermore, in the first half of this year the ratio of male members who paid to communicate with women on our service versus the number of female members who actively used their account (female members are not required to pay to communicate with men on Ashley Madison) was 1.2 to 1.”

The company provided another key statistic: 70% of its revenue is derived from members making “repeat purchases.” That data point, it says, proves it has “happy customers.”

Still, questions remain. Avid Life has yet to detail exactly how Newitz’s interpretation of the data was wrong. Meanwhile, Newitz has acknowledged that there are “possible explanations for these data discrepancies.” It’s also possible that her interpretation of the information was indeed incorrect, as Avid Life argues.

Avid Life Media declined to comment beyond its initial statement.

In its earlier statement, however, Avid Life offered a simple solution for users to determine whether it’s truly running a site frequented by women: try out Ashley Madison.

“We invite everyone to visit our website or our app and make up their own mind,” the company said.