"Our Bodies, Ourselves": 40 Years on, Still Circling the Globe

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In 1969, 12 women shared stories of their experiences with their doctors and their knowledge of their own bodies. Within a year or so, they had put together a stapled booklet, which accomplished the early 1970s version of going viral. The group became the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, and the booklet morphed into the classic Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS), which sold millions. The book was translated or adapted for readers around the globe. So influential was OBOS that it generated not just new editions and spin-offs but even a book about the making of the book.

There are some truths about women's health that may now seem self-evident, but perhaps would not be so obvious if it were not for the ideas espoused, starting so long ago, by OBOS. They include, for example:

  • That women, as informed health consumers, are catalysts for social change
  • That health consumers have a right to know about controversies surrounding medical practices and about where consensus among medical experts may be forming
  • That women comprise the largest segment of health workers, health consumers, and health decision-makers for their families and communities, but are underrepresented in positions of influence and policy making
  • That a pathology/disease approach to normal life events (birthing, menopause, aging, death) is not an effective way in which to consider health or structure a health system

As Publishers Weekly noted, "More than a book, OBOS is a health movement."

I had nothing to do with any of the previous editions of the book, but I was delighted when the editors working on the latest revisions for the 40th anniversary edition asked me, along with many other people, for suggestions.

In turn, I asked the editors if I could invite the readers of my blog to post their ideas, and I got an enthusiastic reply. They don't promise to use all of the suggestions they receive, but they are interested in hearing them. My own emphasis is on strengthening the sections on single women (including the lists of resources), and if there is any singlism, getting rid of it.

Revisions are being made to the most recent edition, the 2005 version (the one with the pink cover). If you don't have your own copy, you can use the "Search Inside" feature on Amazon. Take a look, then if you have recommendations, e-mail them to me or post them to the comments section.

Here are some specific questions to consider:

A. Any rewrites?
Are there specific passages that could be updated or rewritten or expanded? Here's an example of something I will recommend: On p. 315, the authors say, "Those of us who choose not to have children are often judged by those around us." (I love their inclusive way of writing; they use "us" and "we" throughout.) I'll suggest that something similar be added about those who choose to stay single.

B. Any new (since 2005) books, websites, organizations to suggest?
In the back of the book, as well as online, there are great resource sections, with lists of relevant books, articles, videos, websites, and organizations. There are 32 chapters, arranged in 8 sections:

1. Taking care of ourselves
2. Relationships and sexuality
3. Sexual health
4. Reproductive choices
5. Childbearing
6. Growing older
7. Medical problems and procedures
8. Knowledge is power

The authors make a serious effort to speak to a wide range of experiences. In Chapter 12 on sexuality, for example, the resources are listed under these topics:

1. Aging and sexuality
2. Bisexuality
3. Disability and sexuality
4. General sexuality
5. Lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex nonfiction
6. Relationships
7. Religion, spirituality, and sexuality
8. Teens and sexuality
9. Transgender and transsexual

Take a look at their lists and see if you have any suggestions for additions or deletions.

C. Any personal experiences to share?
The book includes all sorts of interesting first-person quotes and stories. Some are just a sentence, others are much longer. Here's an example, from p. 198: "For me at 73, masturbation is better than a sexual relationship, as most of the time, I'm more interested in nonsexual pursuits. Sustaining a relationship with all the time and thought involved would be a nuisance." Take a look at the many different topics addressed in the book (and any others that should be addressed); if you have experiences of your own you'd be willing to contribute, please describe them.

Thanks in advance for any ideas!

Over at my Living Single blog at Psychology Today, I also discuss remakes of other classics in children's books and movies, and readers have started posting their comments about OBOS.