Written by Abby Adamo
Today we discuss the end of the forty-year run of Our Bodies, Ourselves and what it means for the next generation of women who will grow up without this book updated and in circulation. But first: a story. During my first year of middle school I got a call on my pink razr cell phone from my best friend, asking if I knew what masturbation was because people were starting to talk about it and she was too embarrassed to ask anyone else. I told her, truthfully, that I was at a bakery with my mom and so I couldn’t talk at the moment but would get back to her when I got home. I knew what masturbation was, obviously, it’s just that my mom was around, which would be, you know, awkward. I got home and flipped my parents’ massive, leather-bound dictionary to “ma-” and texted my friend, “um it’s like stimulation of your own genital organs commonly resulting in orgasm and achieved by manual contact, or whatever.” We were both products of the Texas sexual education system and were growing up in a post-internet, pre-smartphone era, when all web history was saved on our family computers. Needless to say, we could have greatly benefited from the guidance of Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book often referred to as the women’s sexual health bible. Fortunately, a search through the health and sexuality section of Barnes and Noble two years later brought us the gospel.
Our Bodies, Ourselves is an important publication for the very reason that it covers more than the basics of our anatomy. It discusses masturbation, sexuality, abortion, postpartum depression, and other things that are often considered taboo topics of conversation. The nonprofit organization of the same name, which is responsible for printing updated editions of the text, has announced that after four decades, they will be ceasing to publish new editions. Their decision, as NPR reported, is not to abandon their readers or the next generation of young female learners, but “to scale down and collaborate with other groups doing feminist advocacy, instead of updating their published content.” The nonprofit has been struggling financially for years and can’t afford to keep updating their work, but will continue to offer the final 2011 edition in paperback and on Kindle. This decision comes at a time when many young people turn first to the internet with their more embarrassing questions, which can be fine because, as NPR noted, “there are numerous trustworthy websites that teach about women’s health, reproductive options and sexual identity—and some of the stigma around wanting that information has faded.” That said, those websites can get buried beneath the fluff, and the experience of weeding through Cosmo articles and Yahoo Answers pages to get to any trustworthy, informative content can be confusing and disheartening for a young woman learning about her body. Regardless of where OBO goes from here though, they did unparalleled work in opening up a dialogue about female sexuality and encouraging women to take an active role in their sexual health.