Health

Our Bodies Ourselves Today is a new spin on an old faithful

The organization — affiliated with but separate from Our Bodies Ourselves, which published the landmark 'Our Bodies, Ourselves' books — launched an online resource on reproductive health in September.

Members of the original Our Bodies Ourselves, a nonprofit, public interest organization based in Cambridge, pictured in 2018. Courtesy of She's Beautiful When She's Angry

In 1970, a nonprofit organization called Our Bodies Ourselves published a book called “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” A feminist classic, the book (and its subsequent editions) contains information on a variety of aspects of women’s health, reproductive health, and gender and sexuality. The book, called “America’s best-selling book on all aspects of women’s health” by The New York Times, encourages women to celebrate their sexuality and take charge of their reproductive rights and health.

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Fifty years later, Our Bodies Ourselves Today, an organization out of the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University, has built an online platform in the mission of the books to provide a trustworthy and inclusive resource for people seeking information about health and sexuality. 

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“Our Bodies Ourselves Today — the website — is responding to a new problem, which is that there’s almost too much information. It is very difficult to tell what is accurate, evidence-based information versus what is information funded by pharmaceutical companies or information that has some type of agenda behind it,” said Saniya Lee Ghanoui, program director at Our Bodies Ourselves Today. 

Our Bodies Ourselves Today was born in 2018 after Our Bodies Ourselves announced they were no longer creating new editions of the books. At that time, Amy Agigian, now the executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves Today and an associate professor of sociology at Suffolk, suggested creating an adjacent organization that could work to transform the books into an interactive website. They hope to carry on what the original “Our Bodies, Ourselves” books meant to people and how crucial they were to how people learned about their health and sexuality.

The site, launched in September, provides information across mediums in subject areas including contraception and abortion, gender-based violence, growing older, heart health, menstruation through menopause, mental health, pregnancy and childbirth, sexual anatomy, and sexuality. 

“If you have any question about your body, whether that’s your heart health, your menstrual cycle, you’re pregnant and you want to know what to expect during your pregnancy, you can come to Our Bodies Ourselves Today and find information that is crucial for you and that really helps build a community for you,” Ghanoui said. 

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She hopes that in the way the books remained relevant and important for 50 years (and counting), the site will carry momentum for decades to come. They are updating the site on a monthly basis, which she pointed to as one of the main advantages to having a digital platform for information rather than a print one.

“Unlike a book — once it goes to a publisher and it’s printed, you can’t really change it — we’re making sure our website is up to date. We’re starting with monthly updates with the intent to make those updates more often … keeping that website constantly moving and interactive and engaged with our audience is very important,” Ghanoui said.

Our Bodies Ourselves Today is also tackling outreach specific to abortion in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade this summer, a Supreme Court decision that allowed states to ban abortion. They are in the early stages of building a specific section of the website dedicated to abortion that would provide up to date information on abortion in each state, as well as resources like judicial bypass forms. 

“Abortion had always been crucial to Our Bodies Ourselves Today, but it really re-emphaized the need to make sure that information is front and center,” Ghanoui said.

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With a constantly changing legal and political landscape, keeping the information clear and up to date will be key, she added. 

Our Bodies Ourselves Today is also organizing the production of a podcast to detail not only the history of Our Bodies Ourselves but where they are in the current movement for reproductive health and freedom. 

“We look to conduct interviews with not only our content experts but activists in reproductive justice and folks who, across the board, align with the mission of Our Bodies Ourselves Today,” Ghanoui said. “It’s another form of storytelling and another way of getting information out to readers and users of our site.” 

Since Sept. 9, when the site launched, Ghanoui has only further realized the importance of a resource like this. Amid a rocky political landscape that includes the loss of access to rights including abortion, plus restrictions on information like banned books, getting information to people is more important than ever, she said.

“We know that information and education is power — if it wasn’t, people wouldn’t be trying to stop it,” Ghanoui said. “It’s really important that folks have access to this information. We know there are challenges right now and there will be challenges ahead and we are doing everything in our power to confront those and make sure people have access to this information that they need.”

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