Our Bodies, Ourselves

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The cover of the 2005 edition, described as a "new edition for a new era."

Our Bodies, Ourselves is a book about women's health and sexuality produced by the nonprofit organization Our Bodies Ourselves (originally called the Boston Women's Health Book Collective). First published in 1971, it contains information related to many aspects of women's health and sexuality, including menopause, birth control, childbirth, sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health and general well-being.

Now in its 9th edition, and published in 26 foreign editions and braille, the current edition, published in 2011, contains 825 pages. Sales exceed 3 million copies across the world, and all profits go to various women's health projects. [1]The New York Times has called the book "America's best-selling book on all aspects of women's health" and a "feminist classic."[2] In addition, the organization has created two single-topic books. Our Bodies, Ourselves: Menopause was published in 2006,[3] and Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth in 2008.[4] The Boston Women's Health Book Collective earlier produced Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: A Book For Teens on Sex and Relationships[5] and The New Ourselves, Growing Older: Women Aging with Knowledge and Power.[6] After the release of the original Our Bodies, Ourselves, at least one other publisher produced a women's health book written for women as health consumers, namely The New Harvard Guide to Women's Health.[7]


The book arose out of a 35-cent, 136-page booklet called Women and Their Bodies, published in 1970 by the New Left publishing firm the New England Free Press, and written by twelve Boston feminist activists.

The booklet was originally intended as the basis for a women's health course, the first to be written for women by women. The health seminar that inspired the booklet was organized in 1969 by Nancy Miriam Hawley at Boston's Emmanuel College. "We weren't encouraged to ask questions, but to depend on the so-called experts," Hawley told Women's eNews. "Not having a say in our own health care frustrated and angered us. We didn't have the information we needed, so we decided to find it on our own."[8] As a result of this goal, the book contained information intended to guide women on "how to maneuver the American health care system, with subsections called 'The Power and Role of Male Doctors,' 'The Profit Motive in Health Care,'" 'Women as Health Care Workers,' and 'Hospitals.' [9]

The original writers of the book stated four main reasons for creating it. First, that personal experiences provide a valuable way to understand one's own body beyond the mere facts that experts can provide, creating an empowering learning experience. Second, this kind of learning meant that they were "better prepared to evaluate that institutions that are supposed to meet our health needs . . .". Third, the historical lack of self-knowledge about the female body "had had one major consequence - pregnancy" and through greater information, women will have more ability to make proactive choices about when to get pregnant. Fourth, information about one's body is perhaps the most essential kind of education, because "bodies are the physical bases from which we move out into the world". Without this basic information, women are alienated from their own body and necessarily on unequal footing with men. [10]

The women researched and wrote up the information themselves. Wendy Sanford wrote about abortion, Jane Pincus and Ruth Bell about pregnancy, and Paula Doress and Esther Rome about postpartum depression. The booklet sold 250,000 copies in New England without any formal advertising.[8]

As a result of their success, the women formed the non-profit Boston Women's Health Book Collective (which now goes by the name Our Bodies Ourselves) and published the first 276-page Our Bodies, Ourselves in 1973. The collective published it with the major publisher Simon & Schuster only on the condition that they would have complete editorial control and that nonprofit health centers could purchase copies at a significant discount. [11] It featured first-person stories from women, and tackled many topics then regarded as taboo. Since then, over four million copies have been sold. Simon & Schuster remains the current publisher.


The first book was a product of the feminist movement and could still be said to reflect its values. The personal experiences of women are taken into account and are quoted throughout, while the social and political context of women's health informs the content of the book. The book emphasis empowerment through information and learning, specifically, information gained through women sharing their personal narratives with each other, for "by sharing our responses we can develop a base on which to be critical of what the experts tell us". [12]

Topics such as male-to-female and female-to-male transsexualism/transgenderism are discussed in the most recent edition and considered in a nonjudgmental manner, despite the controversy to which they have been subject within the feminist movement. The writing style of the book tends toward a familiar, inclusive tone, with the authors referring to women and themselves as a collective group.

The current edition uses material published in the 1984, 1992, 1998, 2005, and 2011 editions.

Chapter Topics in Book[edit]

Bodies and Identities[edit]

  1. Our Female Bodies: Sexual Anatomy, Reproduction and the Menstrual Cycle
  2. Intro to Sexual Health
  3. Body Image
  4. Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Relationships and Sexuality[edit]

  1. Relationships
  2. Social Influences on Sexuality
  3. Sexual Pleasure and Enthusiastic Consent
  4. Sexual Challenges

Sexual Health and Reproductive Choices[edit]

  1. Birth Control
  2. Safer Sex
  3. Sexually Transmitted Infections
  4. Unexpected Pregnancy
  5. Abortion


  1. Considering Parenting
  2. Pregnancy and Preparing for Birth
  3. Labor and Birth
  4. The Early Months of Parenting
  5. Miscarriage, Stillbirth and other Losses
  6. Infertility and Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Post-Reproductive Years[edit]

  1. Perimenopause and Menopause
  2. Our Later Years

Medical Problems and Navigating the Health-care System[edit]

  1. Selected Medical Problems
  2. Navigating the Health Care System

Major Forces Affecting Women's Sexuality and Reproductive Health[edit]

  1. Violence Against Women
  2. Environmental Health
  3. Politics of Women’s Health
  4. Activism in the 21st century


On July 17, 2005, New York Times columnist Alexandra Jacobs wrote an unflattering review of the new edition of OBOS, stating that she disliked the pink cover, as well as the sharper editing and new policies.[13] The editors of the book responded in an August 14 letter to the editor stating they "appreciate[d] Alexandra Jacobs' nostalgia for earlier editions," but that they were "evolv[ing] ... to stay relevant and accessible to ... [their] readers."[14]

Our Bodies, Ourselves was also listed on the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute's "50 Worst Books of the Twentieth Century".[15] The book's website saw this as newsworthy and accepted the designation gracefully, even posting the text of the review.[16]


  1. ^ Schneir, Miriam. "Boston Women's Health Book Collective." Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1994. 352. Print.
  2. ^ Back cover.
  3. ^ Pinn, The Boston Women's Health Book Collective ; with a preface by Vivian (2006). Our bodies, ourselves : menopause. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780743274876. 
  4. ^ the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, ed. (2008). Our bodies, ourselves : pregnancy and birth (1st Touchstone trade pbk. ed.). New York: Touchstone Book/Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780743274869. 
  5. ^ Bell, Ruth (1998). Changing bodies, changing lives : a book for teens on sex and relationships (Expanded 3rd ed.). New York: Times Books. ISBN 9780812929904. 
  6. ^ Doress-Worters, Paula B.; Perkis, Diana Laskin Siegal, in cooperation with the Boston Women's Health Book Collective ; illustrations by Roselaine (1994). The new ourselves, growing older : women aging with knowledge and power. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9780671872977. 
  7. ^ Carlson, Karen J.; Stephanie A Eisenstat; Terra Diane Ziporyn (2004). The New Harvard Guide to Women's Health. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674012820. 
  8. ^ a b Ginty, Molly M. (May 4, 2004). "Our Bodies, Ourselves Turns 35 Today". Womens eNews. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  9. ^ Schneir, Miriam. "Boston Women's Health Book Collective." Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1994. 352. Print.
  10. ^ Schneir, Miriam. "Boston Women's Health Book Collective." Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1994. 352. Print.
  11. ^ Schneir, Miriam. "Boston Women's Health Book Collective." Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1994. 352. Print.
  12. ^ Schneir, Miriam. "Boston Women's Health Book Collective." Feminism in Our Time: The Essential Writings, World War II to the Present. New York: Vintage, 1994. 357. Print.
  13. ^ Alexandra, Jacobs (July 17, 2005). "A Feminist Classic Gets a Makeover". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2012. 
  14. ^ OBOS editor's response
  15. ^ "The Fifty Worst (and Best) Books of the Century" (PDF). The Intercollegiate Review. Fall 1999. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Our Bodies Ourselves in the News". Ourbodiesourselves.org. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]