John Melfi swings. Literally. And figuratively. The nightclub owner and paraglider has been swinging for 40 years, and in the swinging business since 1997. His Colette Clubs, which he runs with his wife Jackie, are located in Dallas, Houston, Austin and New Orleans. We spoke with the Texas-based proponent of consensual non-monogamy about his private membership club, judgment, fear and shaved heads.
InsideHook: What is Colette?
John Melfi: Colette is a private membership club for open-minded couples and singles.
Most of the couples that are there — not all of them — but most are in some type of an open relationship, which used to be called “swingers.” That nomenclature has changed over the years. It’s definitely not exclusive to swingers. And the umbrella name of “swinger,” that definition is really changing. In the ’70s, I think people thought of swingers as exchanging, swapping couples, for sex. Today, it can be couples that enjoy having threesomes or just like to be around other couples when they’re having sex. It also reaches people that just like the sexy atmosphere of clubs that cater to people that are curious about the lifestyle.
When you walk in, it could just really be any upscale nightclub in the world. You wouldn’t really notice the differences until you went to the back areas. And that’s where we have play rooms available for couples that want to play. And I say “couples” — I use “couples” mostly, but singles attend as well. Many couples are looking for threesomes. It could be a guy or a girl. It really caters to everybody. Everybody can become a member, as long as they have an open mind.
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How has it changed in the last decade? It seems easier than ever to be curious and not necessarily be judged for your curiosity. But is that true?
In some ways, yes. When it comes to people’s livelihoods, no. If you are outed as a swinger, you’re probably going to lose your job. If you’re outed as bisexual or gay, or “cheating”? Probably, not sure. Morality clauses are very judgmental towards people that are in more open relationships. And I think those corporations probably look upon it as though it’s cheating, which is not cheating at all. I mean, it’s consensual non-monogamy.
Your clubs are located in Texas and Louisiana. How do you think it’s received there versus in New York or L.A.?
From a business standpoint, we are more accepted in a conservative area. They’re more willing to allow businesses to thrive without much intervention. In a place like New York or L.A., they’re very controlling governments. They want their hands in everything and they dictate whether you can do something or not because they’re concerned about your safety and welfare. You’ll find plenty of house parties in L.A. and New York City, but you won’t find very many clubs. I know of one club in L.A., one club in New York. Here in Texas, we have tons of clubs.
You’ve been doing this, both within the business and in your personal life, for quite some time. What came first: the business or the open relationship with your wife, Jackie?
We’ve been married 11 years, but we knew each other in high school. We both grew up in Wichita, Kansas. When I turned 18, I didn’t feel like I fit in and I moved to Florida. She stayed and got married and had kids. We reconnected years later. Part of the reason I left Kansas was I didn’t feel like I fit in — I already had ideas of dating and sexuality that didn’t really seem to fit with the social constructs of Wichita, Kansas. So I’ve been like this since I was 18, as far as I remember.
I’ve been in the nightclub business since 1991 — and specifically swingers clubs, or at least versions of, you know, parties at my club that cater to people that were more open minded, since 1997.
That’s a long time.
And I’m 58. So I’ve been open-minded sexually for 40 years.
You don’t look 58.
Oh, well, thank you.
Do you think these two things have anything to do with one another?
I’ve been sober for 33 years. I think that has something to do with it. And I think it also has something to do with my success in business. I’m vegan, plant-based for 12 years. I’m very active. I have a young heart. And I think being active sexually is helpful. So I think it’s a combination of all those.
So you’ve been sober the entire time you’ve worked in nightclubs?
I didn’t get into the nightclub business until I’d been sober a year and a half.
I think to the outsider, this seems odd.
I would say yes. I had a corporate job. I was in advertising with a company car and a great salary. I was moonlighting at a concert venue in Tampa, doing security in a rough concert hall. I shaved my head because my hair would get pulled. And that’s what did it — they did not want me to come to work with a shaved head.
Are you still a pilot?
What is paragliding?
It’s a soft canopy.
Like a parachute?
Yes. It’s shaped like a parachute — it’s much larger than a parachute. We launch off of a mountainside or off a cliff along the ocean. We can catch thermals or lift generators from the wind and fly high and far.
Do you see the irony of something that you’re doing is essentially like swinging in the air and you’re a swinger?
I never thought about that.
Let’s frame this for the first timer. I’m interested in this. I’m a little afraid. What do you tell me to make me feel less afraid?
If they’re coming in as a couple, they might not know if they want to have sex with other people. First they’re going to talk about whether they want to fool around with other people or not. And you can come into the club, and just explore being around open-minded people. And that can be fun. Then you talk to other couples or singles that are active in the lifestyle, listen to their journeys and experiences, and find out what they went through. Because it’s not perfect — just like any other relationship, we all have our issues and relationships. Talking to people that have been through it is really the best way to overcome your fears about it, because you will find that everybody has gone through just what you’re going through when you get there.
Single people generally go to nightclubs because they want to meet other people too. When I went, I went to hook up, but some of us go there to try to have a relationship. But it’s definitely a place to meet other people that are single. And our clubs are the same — it’s a place to go and meet people that are there to meet other people.
It seems like common sense and not too-too scary.
It’s definitely not scary, and I understand that people are afraid. Jackie was afraid the first time she went to one of our clubs. She envisioned walking in there and someone grabbing her hand, people are having an orgy and throwing her into the middle of it. But it’s not like that at all. A woman can come in dressed as sexy as she wants to dress and everyone in there will treat her with the utmost respect and consideration. It’s really a safe place to go to just be yourself.
There are plenty of couples out there looking for single men. But single men have a bad name because there are plenty of single guys out there that are used to the internet and the first thing they want to do is share a dick pic, and it’s not like that at all. It’s really important to have good manners, to be able to talk to people about things that aren’t sex, and at some point find a way to segue into sex. It’s about learning about people and seeing where it goes from there, finding out what they’re into. And then if you guys are on the same page, then you move forward.