Our Bodies, Ourselves began as a pamphlet on women’s health in the early 1970s, but soon became the go-to textbook for every young (and old) person with questions about anything to do with puberty, sex, even relationships. The book has been released and updated in numerous editions over the decades, but all good things must come to an end; the non-profit responsible for OBOS has just announced that they are shifting to a volunteer-only model, which means that updates will be few and far between.
According to their press release, Our Bodies, Ourselves will continue to print with Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, using its 2011 edition, which in 2018 is still fairly accurate. The non-profit has primarily been using its website to keep people updated with breaking medical news – and that’s what everyone is about to lose out on. Though there was a a brief resurgence of interest in 2015, with big-name feminists like Gloria Steinem and Lena Dunham backing fund-raising efforts, OBOS was unable to create a fiscally sustainable business model. Paid staff will be leaving by September of this year.
Judy Norisigian is a co-founder of OBOS, and an incoming Board Chair for this new iteration of the publication. She told the Boston Globe that she has basically come out of retirement in order to support the organisation through this transition.
“You have almost 50 years of involvement with an organisation that has meant so much to women everywhere and you realise in the age of Trump and reactionary forces out there, this work is as important as ever,” said Norsigian. “We can’t let Our Bodies, Ourselves have its voice be muted.”
In an email to Lifehacker, Norsigian said even more explicitly that OBOS becoming less current felt extremely significant under the Trump administration, which has been working to curtail information about women’s health all over the world.
“This couldn’t be a worse time for OBOS to contract the important work it has been doing,” she wrote. “But with the fiscal realities OBOS faces, this new volunteer-driven model is the best OBOS can do.”
Despite having been around so long, OBOS never felt dated, though the advent of the Internet would theoretically put all the same info about your body just a few clicks away. In Norsigian’s opinion, OBOS continued fairly strong until now because it is a trusted source – and trust is not one of the world wide web’s strong suits.
“In my own experience, because there is so much MISINFORMATION all over the internet now, trusted resources like OBOS are needed more than ever,” Norsigian says. “But there is always the ongoing challenge of how best to reach a wide audience. Right now, so many people don’t realise how badly misinformed they are, so they are not necessarily looking for another source of info.”
So, where do you go if you are looking? Norsigian had some suggestions for places to turn when the volunteer-version of OBOS isn’t able to move at the same pace as it used to.
- Scarleteen, which is run by author Heather Corinna (All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book). This site bills itself as being “sex ed for the real world” and appeals to “teens and emerging adults.” There’s a regular advice column on everything from coming out as pansexual, to dealing with sexual assault scenes in media. They also have a media “crush” section for when you to check out other vetted sources.
- Writer Toni Weschler authored Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and runs a website of the same name.
- Trans Bodies, Trans Selves is a book modelled after OBOS, with a website for more frequent updates.
These are just some of Norsigian’s favourites, but OBOS also keeps a list of reliable information on topics like menstruation, body image, breast and gynecological cancers – the list goes on, because there’s so much to know and so much the group has shared over the years. And if you’d like to do more in-depth reading, Norsigian also recommends Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, Vibrator Nation by Lynn Comella, and The Managed Body: Developing Girls and Menstrual Health in the Global South by Chris Bobel.
When asked if she has fears for the future of public health, Norsigian replied honestly that she does, particularly as she believes a profit-driven culture (in medicine and beyond) is damaging to all.
“But,” she adds, “I am the kind of person who never gives up hope. Maybe OBOS might be able to revive some day on a more secure financial footing, but that would take some visionary (and generous) donors. In the meantime, collaborating with OBOS‘s trusted colleagues on a range of advocacy efforts will continue to be of value, as it always has.”