Tess Hannaford 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.
About Tess Hannaford
Tess met her husband Bob 36 years ago while standing in line for Registration at the Atlanta College of Art. They became fast friends and now have been married for 33 years.
Together, they started their Lifestyle journey just playing with their friends and then realized there was an entire Lifestyle of other couples that were in open relationships. This was an eye-opener for them and they started hosting parties at their home in New Orleans until they outgrew their house and they started off-premise monthly parties at a local hotel.
Eventually, these parties grew into a national convention (Naughty in N’awlins) which just celebrated its 21st anniversary. Their signature event has grown to include over 2,600 people, making it the largest Lifestyle convention in the world.
Tess has travelled the world and created group trips to Amsterdam, Thailand, Belize, Galapagos Islands, and Machu Pichu. Tess’ companies have had hundreds of parties, including over 46 hotel takeover events as well as 18 full ship charters.
Below are her answers to our questionnaire.
What do you think is the biggest challenge going from being a monogamous couple to a swinging couple?
Learning to be open and honest with your feelings. Women have been trained that it is bad to explore our sexuality, while it is ok for a man to do it. Learning to free your mind of this mentality and opening up to new experiences can be hard. But once you do, it is amazing.
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?
The most common question is when strange single men that call our office line to ask about my personal experiences… Of which I tell them that I do not talk about my personal life with strangers over the phone. But it all really depends on the questions they ask. I am always open and honest with anyone that sincerely has questions. I want them to know that their questions and feelings are valid, and it is ok to explore.
What advice do you have for women who are just dipping their toes into the Lifestyle?
Take it one day, one interaction at a time. Don’t let an unpleasant experience define your life. Try something once, and if you don’t like it, don’t do it again. But if you do like it… enjoy!
When you first entered the Lifestyle, what's the best advice you were given?
We were never really given advice, nor did we know there was a Lifestyle. We were just playing with our friends. It all just felt so natural to us.
How has the Lifestyle has improved your life?
We have met the most amazing people in the world, and we have deepened our relationship immensely.
As an influential woman in the Lifestyle, what makes people gravitate to you or what makes you a leader?
This is a tough one… I’m not really sure what draws people to me; hopefully, it is my honesty, my happiness, and my sincere wish that everyone experiences their lives to the fullest. And my smile… that is what everyone tells me!
In what ways have you been able to educate either those in the Lifestyle or those wanting to get in the Lifestyle?
We have been lucky to be able to produce events with many classes to help educate people about all aspects of the Lifestyle. From dealing with jealousy, learning to communicate, to teaching people about their bodies, how they work, how to pleasure your partner, to exploring all aspects of sexuality. The more people learn about themselves, the more they can enrich their relationships and help others as well. We have seen people come to our events very shy and introverted to blossoming onto the sexual beings we are all meant to be.
What’s the most common misperception the general public has about women in the Lifestyle?
The biggest misperception is that the women are pushed into the Lifestyle by their partners... That it could not be the woman’s idea. In our relationship, I was the one that suggested opening our relationship to other partners.
How would you describe the sexual evolution of you and other women in the Lifestyle?
The women in the Lifestyle are more free and open than ever before. Today, women are more open to adventure and living their lives to the fullest.
If you’ve come out to your family and friends, what was that like and how do you feel now?
It was freeing for sure, and it is wonderful to not have to hide who I am. Our family is very supportive; when I came out to my parents, it made us closer, and while they do not understand everything, they know that we are happy, and that is the most important thing.
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 don’t feel that there should be a stigma if a woman is bisexual or not… they are who they are. If people feel there is, then we need to change that thinking.
The consensus in this Lifestyle is that women should be bisexual and that men shouldn’t be bisexual. There has been a stigma about that, and we are doing what we can to let people enjoy their lives as they want. This is why we have bisexual meet & greets and playrooms for both bisexual men and women.
We are all humans here — individuals with our own wants and needs. Our personal sexual orientation should not be a means of discrimination nor how we are defined.
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?”
It really should be about exploring your feelings and sexuality and learning more about yourselves and exploring it together. I always recommend that people are open and honest, but they need to respect their partner’s feelings.
This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of ASN Lifestyle Magazine.