Introduction to the 2005 edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves"

cover of the 2005 edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves"

Welcome to “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the classic book about women’s health and sexuality that is written by women, for women. Since its first newsprint version in 1970, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” has been created and revised by women speaking from our own research and experiences about our bodies, health, and medical care.

This edition reflects the work of more than four hundred women — and quite a few men — who share both personal stories and health information based on the latest scientific evidence. The result is a new “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” rewritten for today’s realities.

Changing times, continuing need

Much has changed since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the group that became the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective first started to meet. Abortion is now legal (though threatened), and birth control options have increased; the AIDS epidemic has made safer sex a subject of public discussion; and lesbian and gay couples have the right to marry, at least in Massachusetts. Many groups, including an active movement of women with breast cancer, have drawn new attention to environmental factors in disease and to the politics of research funding. More health care providers are women now, and doctors and medical researchers of both sexes tend to be more sensitive to and knowledgeable about women’s concerns than doctors of an earlier generation. Information on women’s health is widely available.

But the need for a book like “Our Bodies, Ourselves” remains. Too much medical care still focuses on the expensive “solutions” of drugs and surgery, rather than on preventive or management strategies such as good food and exercise, a clean environment, and safe working conditions. Too often, women’s life experiences, from childbirth to menopause, are seen as diseases to be treated rather than natural, healthy processes that sometimes have problems. And too many of us still don’t have the knowledge and resources to participate effectively in maintaining our health.

Self-help and beyond

This book offers individual women the tools to take care of ourselves, from eating well and becoming more physically active to learning how to cope better with stress. It provides helpful, clear information about substance abuse, heart disease, eating disorders, and many other conditions that women confront. A new chapter, “Navigating the Health Care System,” provides practical advice for getting the best care possible.

Yet “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is about more than self-help. Many aspects of our health, from workplace safety to sexual violence, are often beyond an individual’s control. Therefore, this book addresses the political, economic and social factors that affect our health and medical care: the industrial plants spewing pollution, the fast-food giants pushing junk food, the pharmaceutical companies unethically promoting drugs, and government dismantling our social safety net. We can change these conditions only by working together, sharing our stories with other women and advocating for policies and programs that protect the health of our families, our communities, and the world.

More on the web

With this edition, the print version of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is for the first time accompanied by a website that provides more detailed and updated information, longer resource lists, and links to other helpful sites. This new feature was developed to respond to the rapidly changing world of women’s health.

Throughout the book, readers will see references to the companion website, which can be found at To find the material referenced, type the title of the website material, or the corresponding number code, into the “Search” box. For example, if you read the sentence, “For more information, see ’Women and Alcohol Use’ on the companion website (W6),” you may type in either Women and Alcohol Use or W6. You can also select a particular chapter to see all of its website content.

You will also come across many references to the “Resources,” comprehensive lists of trustworthy organizations, books, and other materials related to the many topics covered in this book. You can find the top ten resources for each chapter at the back of the book. Longer lists, including web links, are posted on the companion website.

Many women’s voices

Despite some changes, this edition retains one of the distinctive traits of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”: the use of real women’s voices. These first-person stories, set off in italicized passages throughout the text, have been collected from conversations, letters, and e-mail messages that spanned the globe.

Diverse voices are also embodied in the all-embracing “we” of this book. When the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective first wrote about “our bodies,” the “we” reflected the white, mostly middle-class, well-educated background of many of its founding members. But as more diverse women have helped revise the book and it has grown to include a greater variety of experiences, the “we” has grown to include a greater variety of experiences.

Making changes together

No matter who we are, we often need both information and support to make healthy changes. If we are trying to get more exercise, for example, inviting a friend to share a morning walk may make it more fun. Similarly, if we are feeling overwhelmed as new mothers, we may want to join a play group with other families in the neighborhood. The same principle extends to issues beyond our individual well-being: by working together, we can bring about change and improved health of our communities.

This new edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” serves as a first step on such paths, offering information, stories, and resources so that we can take of ourselves – and one another.

Heather Stephenson, managing editor
For the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective
July 2004, Boston