On Our Backs
Spring 1985 cover of On Our Backs
|Editor||Susie Bright (1985–1990)|
|Categories||human sexuality, lesbian|
|Based in||San Francisco, California|
On Our Backs was the first women-run erotica magazine and the first magazine to feature lesbian erotica for a lesbian audience in the United States. (On Our Backs is also a book written by Rosita Sweetman, which looks at sexual attitudes in 1980s Ireland.)
The magazine was first published in 1984 by Debi Sundahl and Myrna Elana, with the contributions of Susie Bright, Nan Kinney, Leon Mostovoy, Honey Lee Cottrell, Dawn Lewis, Happy Hyder, Tee Corinne, Jewelle Gomez, Judith Stein, Joan Nestle, Patrick Califia, Morgan Gwenwald, Katie Niles, Noreen Scully, Sarita Johnson, and many others. Susie Bright became editor-in-chief for the next six years. Later editors included Diane Anderson-Minshall, Shar Rednour, Tristan Taormino, and Diana Cage. On Our Backs defined the look and politics of lesbian culture for the 80s, as well as playing a definitive role in the feminist sex wars of the period, taking the side of sex-positive feminism.
The title of the magazine was a satirical reference to Off Our Backs, a long-running feminist newspaper that published the work of many anti-pornography feminists during the 1980s, and which the founders of On Our Backs considered prudish about sexuality. Off Our Backs regarded the new magazine as "pseudo-feminist" and threatened legal action over the logo OOB.
In 1985, Sundahl and Kinney spun off the first in a series of precedent-making lesbian erotic videos, called Fatale Video. Distribution of the magazine in Australia began in 1986. By the late 1980s, Fatale Media was the largest producer of lesbian pornography in the world.
In 1994, the magazine experienced financial problems, and, after being bought out by a new publisher, Melissa Murphy (who released only one issue), disappeared from the market until 1998. H.A.F. Publishing then owned the magazine. The original creators moved on to other projects.
In 1996, a photography book based on the pioneering work of On Our Back's artists called Nothing but the Girl was published by Cassell Press, edited by Susie Bright and Jill Posener.
End of publication and availability online
H.A.F.'s publication of On Our Backs, and its sister publication, Girlfriends, both ceased publication in March 2006 after being bought out by the publishers of Velvetpark Magazine. However, the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University digitized its archives, allowing anyone to read every issue of On Our Backs with subscription access, but the center does have a free demo version available.
- Bernard, Riese. "NSFW Sunday: What Does a Lesbian Sex Magazine Look Like?". Autostraddle. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
- Patrick Califia, "Raising Cane", Out, August 1999, Vol. 8, No. 2, p. 32
- Martha Cornog, Timothy Perper, "For sex education, see librarian: a guide to issues and resources", Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996, ISBN 0-313-29022-9, p.97
- Josh Sides, "Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco", Oxford University Press US, 2009, ISBN 0-19-537781-8, p.219
- Jill Julius Matthews, "Sex in public: Australian sexual cultures", Allen & Unwin, 1997, ISBN 1-86448-049-1, pp.121-122
- Marketplace finds lesbians an attractive, but elusive, niche, SF Chronicle, September 7, 2006
- Rebecca Whisnant, Christine Stark, "Not for sale: feminists resisting prostitution and pornography", Spinifex Press, 2004, ISBN 1-876756-49-7, pp. 287–288
- Bonnie Zimmerman, "Lesbian histories and cultures: an encyclopedia", Encyclopedia of lesbian and gay histories and cultures, vol.1, Taylor & Francis, 2000, ISBN 0-8153-1920-7, p. 582
- Digitized archive of On Our Backs at Reveal Digital (starting with issue 1, Summer 1984)