Jackie is one of ASN Lifestyle Magazine's Most Influential Women of the Lifestyle. All women featured in this series were chosen by the swinger community and ASN readers. Meet these women: who they are, and how they are recognized as leaders, influencers, and contributors within the Lifestyle community.
Jackie Melfi is in an open relationship with her husband, John. They are the creators of the award-winning swingers' Lifestyle blog Openlove101.com and the driving force behind colette, an exclusive upscale swingers' club with multiple locations in the USA (coletteclubs.com). Jackie is also the author of, "Swingers' Lifestyle The Questions You Are Afraid To Ask." Jackie and John have been featured on a variety of radio shows, articles, and TV interviews including ABC News Nightline special report “Getting ‘Naughty in N’Awlins’: Inside a New Orleans Swingers Convention.” Together, they coach couples on the Lifestyle and blog weekly on the topic. Visit openlove101.com to sign up for their FREE newsletter and get updates on their videos, articles, seminars, and books.
What do you think is the biggest challenge going from being a monogamous couple to a swinging couple?
I know for me, I’d spent my entire adult life mimicking relationships around what I had been taught, and what I’d been taught was a traditional monogamous platform. Breaking free from those confining guidelines was difficult. As much as I was ready for change, as much as I wanted to welcome consensual non-monogamy into my life, the lessons of my youth ran deep.
Being told I was free to explore my sexuality was foreign territory. It’s one thing to talk about freedom, quite another to be dropped off in the wilds and told, “okay, your free, have at it.” I had no map, no compass, and most importantly no trust in me. For the first time in my life, I had been given the gift of complete freedom and total responsibility, of my choices, yet I had never felt more lost.
When John told me to trust him, this was when my brain struggled. My trust issue wasn’t so much about me not trusting what John was going to do, but about what I was going to be doing. Could I really trust John to be okay with me exploring sex with others? Was I going to trust myself? Could I trust in the validity of this new relationship model? Could I trust in the love we had for each other? Could I trust the freedom? With patience and love and steely determination, I kept inching my way forward. I was determined to carve out a life I felt comfortable living, even if it meant I would come face to face with discomfort in the process.
What's the most common question you receive from people when they ask you about your personal practices within the Lifestyle? What is your response?
How John and I play separately. Most people are curious about how we “allow” the separate play? How do we keep from being jealous?
We began our relationship playing separately. When I was first introduced to the Lifestyle by John, I had trust issues (see above) I wasn’t sure how I would respond to being in a room with both my boyfriend (John at the time) and another man. I needed to see how I would process the concept of being with someone other than my partner. I also wanted the protection of distance. I didn’t want to face John if somehow the “swinging” fell apart. I didn’t trust the process, cause I didn’t know the process. I was flying blind. This separate play gave me protection in my mind. This separate play also gave me time to process John’s play. Again, this was new territory for me; I had no idea how I was going to react to John playing with others. I needed the privacy to see how I would respond. I needed time to work up to joint play. This separate play also gave me a chance to see how receptive John was to my playing. Which, of course, he was. This was yet another way for me to gauge the trust of the process. If I went on a date, and John was supportive, it added another layer of trust in my mind. Once I felt secure in my actions, I was able to take the next step into playing together.
The jealousy issue was a process. Like anything new we try in life, there is a degree of learning. When we were young, learning to tie our shoes was an arduous task; today, we slip on our Nikes without even being conscious of our movements. Jealousy in a relationship was new to me. The first time I came face to face with jealousy, I had to learn how to voice what was happening. I had to put down my fear in order to articulate what was happening within. Each time, I had to expose my vulnerability of fear to John, was a window into my growth. The more I exposed my fear (jealousy), the more I disabled its power. Each conversation we had was filled with love, compassion, and a united front in how to tackle the issue at hand. We were a team, and we would continue to work together for the good of the relationship, whatever that looked like at any given time. In the beginning, I struggled with jealousy, but just like learning to tie my shoes, I kept practicing.
What advice do you have for women who are just dipping their toes into the Lifestyle?
Keep dipping! Look, we’re doing something that, for most of us, goes counter to what we’ve been taught our entire life. We are powerful, strong, and incredibly sexual beings. We’ve just been kept in the dark about what we have to offer ourselves as well as others.
The longer I’m involved in consensual non-monogamy (CNM), the more I believe this isn’t a lifestyle, but who we are innately, but that’s a different question. For those women new to the “Lifestyle,” I say reach out to other women. Women who have been in CNM relationships for years. Talk to them. Ask them. I know for me, I’ve gained a sense of self I never knew existed within. I’ve learned how to speak up for myself. I’ve learned to say yes to life more, and to build a level of trust with others, I’d only heard about. I am living my best life, and I have my open relationship to thank for the woman I am today.
When you first entered the Lifestyle, what's the best advice you were given?
To take my time. Swinging wasn’t some race — it was an internal growth process. I needed time to put down firm roots and to make sure I’d learned from each lesson I’d faced. Being in an open relationship is highly personal; just because a process worked for others didn’t automatically mean it was going to work for my partner and me.
How has the Lifestyle has improved your life?
It has permitted me to be me. I spent so many years trying to conform. I wanted the white picket fence and the kids and the dog and the loving husband. I wanted security and progress. Yet deep within the recesses of my mind, wanted freedom. I didn’t want the restraints of monogamy. The only problem was, I didn’t know monogamy could be the problem. I simply nestled into self-degradation. The problem must be me.
Once I was introduced to a world where security AND freedom coexisted, I’d found my equivalent of winning the lottery. No longer did I feel like a bird with clipped wings. All of a sudden, I could soar. Not just soar but catch thermals of wind that took me higher and higher. I was permitted to trust me in all of trust's capacity. I could finally be the woman I knew was within me all along. A woman I had felt compelled to keep hidden for fear of retribution. I wanted to explore life and love and breech my limits. The world of CNM was my doorway to achieving these goals.
As an influential woman in the Lifestyle, what makes people gravitate to you or what makes you a leader?
Because I understand the struggle, and because I understand the joy, I’m not afraid of putting myself on the line. Matter of fact, if needed, I will step out of line in order to give others the courage to live their truth. Our entire business is built around, giving others the chance to be authentic. To embark on new paths, to explore new territories, to deepen their marriages and relationships. To give couples and singles the courage to structure a life that works for them. I will cry with you, and I will celebrate with you. I want couples and singles to see the beauty of this viable relationship model.
In what ways have you been able to educate either those in the Lifestyle or those wanting to get in the Lifestyle?
First of all, I don’t work alone. I have the most incredible husband, John. Together with our amazing partners and staff, we have built businesses to educate and liberate those singles and couples wanting more from their relationships. We have joined forces to create a multitude of information for those looking to explore consensual non-monogamy. Whether you are visiting one of our colette clubs, or logging into our blog site openlove101.com, or reading my book Swingers' Lifestyle: The Questions You Are Afraid to Ask, you will find John and I hard at work communicating the benefits of this Lifestyle. We conduct online courses, summits, videos, blogs, and a host of other options for those interested in learning.
What’s the most common misperception the general public has about women in the Lifestyle?
That we are not voluntary participants.
How would you describe the sexual evolution of you and other women in the Lifestyle?
I have always been sexual. For as long as I can remember, I was aware of what my body's capabilities were in the realm of pleasure. I didn’t always understand the connection, but my body did. For me, the evolution began when I stopped feeling as though I had to compare my sexual appetite with that of a man’s. You see, women weren’t supposed to be sexual; we were told we were more emotional beings. Sex was the world of men. If I was exhibiting strong sexual urges, well, society simply defined those urges as being masculine. I was never taught that MY strong sexual urges were normal female responses. I was taught to dampen my sexuality. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not preaching some patriarchal fault, because I believe as much damage was done to men’s view of sexuality as to women. But, I know for me, I never felt as though I could own my sexuality. How could I own something I was being told was inherently male? The world of CNM was responsible for changing the way I began to view myself. For the first time in my life, I was encouraged to explore all those pleasures my body knew it was capable of expressing. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by a community where my sexuality was celebrated — not vilified. I could say yes without guilt or shame attached. I could be powerful in my yes. I could own my yes (or no). No longer did I have to hide those parts of me screaming to get out. There wasn’t something wrong with me because I liked sex. There was something wrong with covering up my sexuality. My sexual liberation has made me more empathetic, more compassionate, more trusting, and more free to love without restriction.
If you’ve come out to your family and friends, what was that like and how do you feel now?
Because John owned swinger clubs when we began dating, we were in a little different boat. It wasn’t just how John lived his life; it was his livelihood. It never occurred to me NOT to say anything. I can be a huge rule follower (just ask John), but once I believe in something, I will stand firm in the belief. I told all of my family — my siblings, my mother, my kids... everyone. I don't know, maybe I’m just lucky; maybe I just have a super loving and compassionate family, but everyone listened and then showed happiness in my happiness. They were all simply happy that I was happy. I have never regretted sharing who I am with my family.
If you are not bisexual, do you feel there’s a negative stigma around you and why? What could change this for others moving forward?
I have not felt any negative stigma around me for any of my choices within the world of consensual non-monogamy.
If communication is key to success in any relationship, what advice do you have for women to bring up the topic of entering the Lifestyle without their partner feeling they just want to “sleep around” or that their partner is “not enough?”
For those bringing up the subject of consensual non-monogamy, you may be met with a barrage of questions or resistance. Not being confrontational will be your biggest asset. Remember, you have just introduced a wildly different concept into the relationship. Giving your partner the patience to process the request and answer questions calmly will help your partner see the togetherness of what you are proposing. Questions like “not enough” and “sleeping around” are questions with their roots in fear. As descendants of traditional monogamy, it can be difficult to grasp the concept of expanding a marriage without automatically assuming there are “problems in paradise.” In a traditional monogamous relationship, the option of opening the marriage to include others is NOT an option. Because it’s not an option, we have no reference on how to respond other than how we would from our traditional base.
So, as part of the conversation, recommend a particular blog, video, or podcast on the topic of CNM. Seeing that other people tried and have ended up in a great relationship might lessen his fears. Going to a club or party just to talk with other couples might also lessen the fears. Look — your fear may keep you from bringing CNM up, but it’s important to communicate and walk through the fear. Even if he’s against it, at least you’ve had a conversation.
It’s been my experience that couples with strong foundations say bringing up the conversation of swinging is typically met with curiosity instead of fear. The couple has centered the relationship around qualities like honesty, trust, love, and strong communication skills, so making the introduction of something outside the box is more of a mystery to unravel together instead of an individual threat.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of ASN Lifestyle Magazine.