When John and Jackie Melfi invited me to be their guest at this year’s Naughty In N’awlins, an annual swingers’ convention that happens every summer in New Orleans, I was really excited and grateful. For one thing, I’d finally get to meet John and Jackie, this awesome couple who brought me on as an essayist here at OpenLove101 and have been giving me so much support and love ever since. I’d get to return to New Orleans for the first time in eight years, and if you’ve ever been, you know how magical, romantic, mysterious, and wild that city is. Plus, I freaking love swingers—it’s so much fun getting to know people who’ve managed to question societal conventions and rise above the restrictions of our sex-negative culture.
I told them I’d be delighted to attend. I’d meet tons of cool new people, eat all the soul food, listen to all the jazz, and drink all the Bloody Marys.
And then it occurred to me that I’d be a single, bisexual woman—known as a unicorn in swinger circles, due to our rarity—attending the convention alone.
Hmmm. This made me a little anxious for a few reasons. I love sex-positivity and the swinger community, but I don’t typically enjoy group play unless I have a long-standing, well-developed emotional relationship with all parties involved. It usually takes some time to get me sexually excited about anyone, and three-way chemistry between me and a couple is extraordinarily rare. What if everywhere I went, people just saw me as a piece of meat, a golden opportunity to grab a unicorn for the night? What if I had to constantly reject people, something that’s always been uncomfortable for me? Was I going to have to walk around with resting bitch face? My resting bitch face is TERRIBLE! I HAVE NATURAL RESTING FLIRTY FACE. Oh no, I thought. Everyone at this thing was gonna think I was open to having sex with them! And I’m historically the worst at saying no, because I have this complex about not letting people down.
I scrambled to see if one of my boyfriends could make the trip with me last minute. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have a little muscle on my arm, kind of like a sexy human shield. But alas, while all of them were excited about the idea, none were actually available.
Okay, I thought, cool, I’m a strong woman who knows how to set boundaries. I can handle this alone. I can say no when I want to say no. I can kindly turn down propositions. These are things in my power, even if I’ve struggled for years with feelings of guilt for rejecting people sexually. I mean, working through that guilt has led to some progress, and this could actually be a great little test of my ability to be true to my own desires.
You see, I wasn’t really afraid that anyone would try to pressure me or make me feel uncomfortable—I was afraid of the pressure I would put on myself to not let anyone down. And I don’t believe this is unique to me. Have you ever thought about attending a play party, for example, and then didn’t go because you were afraid you wouldn’t be interested in anyone and didn’t think you could stand the pressure to participate?
Here I am, 36 years old, still reminding myself that I have every right to say no, and that’s okay. I’m not doing anything wrong or letting anyone down by not compromising myself.
I gathered my strength and courage, packed my bags, focused on my excitement at whatever craziness this experience had in store for me, and headed down to NOLA.
As soon as I arrived, I started to see I never had any reason to worry. John and Jackie picked me up at the airport and took me to the most delicious vegan soul food restaurant. I had no idea such a thing existed! (I love all the animals, and I make an effort to eat plant-based food the majority of the time.) You might have picked this up from their videos, but John and Jackie are a delight to be around. Both are elegant, kind, and passionate about helping other couples have better sex and love in their lives. I was so happy that their energy in person was just as warm and open as the image they project online.
After lunch, John dropped me at my hotel for a quick break, and then we all met up again on Bourbon Street to march in the Sexual Freedom Parade.
Okay, so I LOVE THE SEXUAL FREEDOM PARADE.
John and Jackie were the King and Queen of last year’s convention, so they got to ride on a float waving and wearing crowns — so fancy! — while I flitted around like a fairy sprite trying to meet as many people and see as many things as possible. There were people from every walk of life, some in fantastical outfits, some in casual clothes, but almost everyone wore white—a cleverly subversive way to call out the cultural convention of fetishizing sexual “purity.” Lots of people held signs with messages like, “My body, my choices,” “Make love not war,” “Swingers have more fun!” and “I love my wife AND her best friend!” (See photos here: https://www.naughty-events.com/freedom-parade/).
The best part of the parade was seeing normal, vanilla people, even families with kids, on the sidewalks taking great pleasure in the sex-positive spectacle we were creating. There wasn’t a hint of judgement coming from any direction. Everyone felt free, everyone was smiling. The energy in the air was so positive and alive! I loved every second, and it was the perfect way to start a fantastic convention experience.
From there, things just got better. Every new person I met was warm and welcoming, and I never once had an issue with consent. The convention staff were outfitted with T-shirts that read “ASK FIRST” in large letters, and the theme of consent and communication was highly visible throughout the week. There were a few moments where I had to make it clear that my interest in someone was platonic only, but these were handled with grace and kindness by all parties involved. I never felt undue pressure from anyone, and I never once felt like a piece of meat. This is just not that kind of party, babies.
I met so many smart, beautiful people, like Bob and Tess, the patriarch and matriarch of Naughty Events, whose love for the swinger community is palpable in every word they speak; Taara and James of the Sex Uninterrupted podcast, who were crowned this year’s King and Queen, and who impressed me endlessly with their incredible insights on all kinds of nonmonogamy; Dragonfly, who runs PureOrgasmicLove.com and who teaches workshops that fuse spirituality and sexuality and radiates a serene self-love and love for others; and Riley Reyes, an adult film star who teaches people how to have better, braver, more adventurous sex, while being the sauciest minx around wherever she goes. Everyone I met was passionate about helping others have better sex and relationships, and everyone had put countless hours of thought into how they view the world and how they conduct their own relationships. It was a glorious atmosphere to fly through for a few days.
I’m endlessly grateful to be a part of the Openlove101 team, to John and Jackie for having me and treating me to such a wonderful visit to New Orleans, and to all of you — this gorgeous, unorthodox community that’s slowly building and finding more like-minded souls to join our movement. We were born to be free, to have as much love and sex and pleasure and joy in our lives as possible, and I feel so fortunate to have stumbled onto an entire world of people who see that and want to help create a new way of having relationships that doesn’t involve restriction or deception. Our guiding principles are compassionate, radical honesty, respect for others, always asking for consent, and loving those around us and ourselves as best we can. It doesn’t get better than that.
If you’ve never been to a Naughty event, I highly recommend you check out their upcoming schedule! You can learn more and buy tickets HERE.