Answering the questions we never dared to ask


Do you remember when you first read Our Bodies, Ourselves? I do, and I recently had the very special privilege of meeting its primary author.

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I was a guest at the journalists’ dinner at the annual joint conference of the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging, held last month in Washington, D.C. Seated next to me was Joan Ditzion, co-founder of the nonprofit organization Our Bodies, Ourselves and co-author of the groundbreaking book of that name.

Also in the Daily Planet, read Jennifer Holder on the new Our Bodies, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Childbirth.

Written in 1970 by a group of women called the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, OBOS is a source of information about health, sexuality and reproduction from a feminist and consumer perspective. The group’s founders claim proudly that the publication of OBOS helped to launch the women’s health movement.

I was so thrilled to meet Ditzion that I literally bounced up and down in my chair and shyly asked for permission to touch her. After she hugged me, Ditzion humbly remarked that “I would have never anticipated that the book would have moved through so many hands and touched the hearts, souls, and minds of so many women here and throughout the world. We really did change the way women talked and thought about our bodies, our health care needs, and our reproductive and sexual lives. The book has a life of its own, and I’m in awe of it.”

In 1973, Our Bodies, Ourselves hit bookstores with a bang. Everyone took note—men and women. I was a college coed in 1975, when the updated version was published. I remember, as clearly as it were yesterday, when my best friend Sandy Adams said with astonishment, “This book contains all the answers to the questions we’ve never dared to ask.”

Over the next year, all our college girlfriends read that book front to back. Sandy even forced her little brother Clive to read it! For many of us, before we got our hands on OBOS, our primary sources of information about our sexual health were Planned Parenthood and one another.

In 1976, OBOS was a national bestseller. “There was no other women-centered health book for ordinary consumers at the time,” reflected Ditzion. Despite the overall positive reaction, there were a few concerned parents who caused OBOS to be temporarily banned by a number of high schools and public libraries. To date, more than four million copies have been sold of the original OBOS and subsequent editions and variations—not including foreign translations and adaptations.

A few days ago, the women in my book club—from Baby Boomers to a Gen-Xer—reminisced that we all grew up with OBOS. Even the youngest member of the club called OBOS “revolutionary.”

This coming weekend, I will gleefully pass the mantle of an enlightened woman to my niece. I will give her a copy of a new resource for pregnant women and their caregivers: Our Body, Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth.

Jennifer Holder contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.