“Education is so important because healthcare is letting women down,” she says. Chidi Cohen thinks that our abbreviated medical visits inhibit open communication between doctors and patients. “And healthcare is not universal in the US, so who you get to see and what’s available to you depends on your socioeconomic situation. If we can’t get people healthcare, we need to get them education so they can get the best from what they’re going to encounter.”
On May 21 this year, in response to anti-abortion regulations in 13 states, Loom joined six other female-led companies (Sustain, THINX, Dame, Cora, Clara Collection and Fur) to run a full-page ad in The New York Times proclaiming a woman’s right to choose, and the business community’s responsibility to support that right. “With the rollback of access, it was important to get ahead of it and make people understand that abortion is healthcare. It’s a human rights issue,” says Chidi Cohen. “As a black queer person, I really feel that the personal is political.” Within its scope of offerings, Loom provides abortion support groups and connects women with abortion doulas. “We see it as part of the reproductive continuum, so it felt right to put the business in front of this issue. The reason that it’s even an issue is that there’s so little respect for women, and a deep desire to control and restrict women.”
Chidi Cohen is vigilant about shifting semantics as well, rejecting common nomenclature like “natural birth,” with its implication of a superior childbearing route, and “PMS,” with its historical denigration of a woman at the whim of her hormones. “We’re moving away from paternal terms,” she says, as Nima, her darkly marbled Manx cat, jumps onto the desk. Chidi Cohen caresses him without breaking the flow of her thoughts: that new terminology, new ways of speaking about rote subjects help her open up new ways of thinking. “Health education requires a lot more poetry in terms of looseness with language,” she says.
Loom classes introduce a new vocabulary (an example that she insists upon: “feeling luteal”—a reference to the post-ovulation phase of a woman’s cycle—replaces “PMSing”). The space also fosters a frank, conversation-based style of instruction that comes easily to Chidi Cohen and galvanizes her participants. “People self-select when they decide to be in a class as adults,” she points out. No one is there who doesn’t want to be there, who isn’t hoping to be inspired to participate in discussions. “My job as an educator is really to help create a container in the room where everyone feels the conversation is guided,” she says. Chidi Cohen freely shares personal stories to let her students know “that I’m human and going through my own experience,” talking about her own body, sex and her partnership with her husband, lawyer Jordy Cohen.
Her upbringing, split between South Africa and the United States, was guided by parents who were both clinicians—her father an endocrinologist, her mother a nurse. It was a household that encouraged “talking about the body and talking about fluids,” she says. Perhaps not coincidentally, she found out from her father that her grandmother and great-grandmother in Nigeria were both midwives.
For the sex class at Loom, Chidi Cohen rounds out her discussions with prompts. In the beginning: What’s a single word to describe how you feel about sex? And by the conclusion, when things have grown more comfortably provocative: What’s one thing you think you’re really good at when it comes to sex? In between, she instills what she calls “an antidote to hot sex-partner performance.” This is not Cosmo. This is not about 10 tricks that will drive your lover wild. This is a class “about helping people understand that their primary sexual relationship is with themselves,” says Chidi Cohen, ignoring Nima as he nuzzles her neck from the desktop. “How can you know yourself better? How can you feel more anchored in what turns you on and what doesn’t?”
Much of it comes from modeling the behavior for students, she says, which means discussing how she takes pleasure for herself. A student once asked if masturbating on her stomach was abnormal, to which Chidi Cohen replied reassuringly that she’d also done it, and then others in the class concurred. She went on to explain that many women begin masturbating that way in order to put pressure on their vestibular bulbs, which rub against the clitoris—the clitoris being not just the hooded, pea-size glans, as many believe, but a much larger, wishbone-shaped network of erectile tissue that extends deep into the vagina. Desire, meet edification.