By Violet Phillips
Our Bodies, Ourselves was written by The Boston Women’s Health Collective in 1970, with the goal of promoting women and girl’s health, reproductive rights, and sexuality. The knowledge presented was radical for its day, illuminating topics as varied as masturbation and abortion.
To quote the Los Angeles Times, “Forty years ago, a copy of “OBOS” on the shelf signified you were a certain type of woman — curious, and unashamed of it. In control. You were not the high school junior who was clueless about sex and pregnancy and missed six months of classes due to “mono.”
Three years after Our Bodies was published, abortion in America became legal with the passing of Roe Vs Wade. Sex education programs in classrooms had been gaining in traction in schools since the 1960s. However, controversy about girl’s bodies and who controls them has continued to be a topic of debate and public discourse.
Even in 2020, there is still growing pressure for women to get plastic surgery and sexual images shown on media pressure teenagers to engage in certain behaviors. While there have been many systemic changes, teenage girls’ vulnerability to STDs, ongoing pressure to have sex at a young age, and unrealistic beauty standards haven’t changed enough. Society continues to evolve, but when it comes to recognizing individual’s personal choices there is still room to be more inclusive.
Early versions of Our Bodies, Ouselves did not include information about transgender identities, environmental concerns, or mental health advice. However, the writers have since expanded their knowledge. In 2020, Our Bodies, Ourselves launched a website. Today, they give well-researched advice, on health, sexuality, and wellness for women, girls and also transgender people.
Throughout the years, The Boston Women’s Collective has inspired health care policies, research on women’s health, feminist activism, feminist studies, health care, and health activism. Prior to the publication of this seminal piece of literature, in many parts of the world, sexuality as well as reproductive rights had many negative associations.
I have grown up in an era of increased knowledge. Gone are the early-day doctors who focused on women’s reproductive value, and used “hysteria” as a diagnosis, which minimized women’s emotional wellbeing and invalidated women’s experiences. My grandmother nearly died from a botched illegal abortion in the early 60s. The original copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves in my bookcase was inherited from her. Because of the work of the Boston Women’s Collective, I am privileged to enjoy a more positive outlook than many women from my grandmother’s age.
Access to the internet in 2021 connects us at unprecedented levels. One recent novel titled, Conversations Between Friends published in 2017, by Sally Rooney, discusses the topic of endometriosis. The main character gets diagnosed at 21 years old. The disease is often undiagnosed and rarely mentioned in the media, even though it’s been known to have serious effects on mental health, and even on education. Endometriosis is addressed on the new Our Bodies Ourselves website.
Despite a prolific and sometimes superficial “wellness culture” that includes dubiously helpful information, there is a forty-year-plus history of Our Bodies Ourselves which gives people verified information that is dedicated to addressing topics as wide-ranging as motherhood, health, reproductive-control, and emotional well-being. That is a good thing!
 https://www.thedailybeast.com/our-bodies-ourselves-turns-40-why-the-womens-sexual-health-book-still-matters. Our bodies, ourselves’ turns 40: why the women’s sexual health book still matters.” Jessica bennettt. Daily beast. September 30, 2011. Online. Accessed January 9,2021.
 https://www.history.com/topics/womens-rights/roe-v-wade#:~:text=Sources-,Roe%20v.,procedure%20across%20the%20United%20States.&text=Wade%2C%20abortion%20had%20been%20illegal,since%20the%20late%2019th%20century. Accessed January 11, 2021.
 https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/da/67/da67fd5d-631d-438a-85e8-a446d90fd1e3/20170209_sexed_d04_1.pdf. Planned Parenthood accessed January, 11, 2021
 The legacy of Our bodies, O
urselves– and how one book can change your entire life.” Laura lambert. Brightly. Online. Accessed January 9, 2021.
 The female problem: how male bias In medical trials ruined women’s health.” Gabrielle Jackson. The guardian. November 13, 2019. Online. Accessed January 8, 2021.
 https://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book-excerpts/health-article/endometriosis/. Accessed January 11, 2021
Meet our newest intern, English major Violet Phillips from Mills College, Oakland, CA. Read more about Violet on our Internship page. We look forward to her ongoing reports from the MOM Library, posted here throughout the next few months.