Sex. For many college students, the subject is unavoidable, and yet there still remains a sense of stigma shrouding the topic. Finding answers to our sexual health questions can be a daunting task with differing advice and misinformation littered across the internet.
With this context in mind, a recently launched platform based in Boston aims to offer solutions to this struggle. Called Our Bodies Ourselves Today, this new online platform endeavors to revolutionize sex education, streamlining the research process and answering even the most “taboo” questions.
The concept of the platform originates from a book first published in 1970, “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which provided essential sexual health information to young girls and women in an era prior to the convenience of the Internet. Saniya Ghanoui, program director of Our Bodies Ourselves Today, recounted her introduction to the text, which occurred around the age of 12.
“Like many people across the country and the world really, I first encountered the book when I was … a tween, as they would say. It was part of my education of my body and my reproduction growing up,” Ghanoui said. “That was really how I learned about my body. And it was such an informative book for me to have that and to be able to learn about my body and understand it in a way that was clear [and] engaging.”
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” had multiple updates and new editions but was ultimately retired in 2018, according to Ghanoui. With a lack of new editions since 2011, Amy Agigian, now the executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves Today, proposed a solution: a platform dedicated to the education of sexual health catered toward to digital era.
“Amy Agigian, who’s a professor of sociology at Suffolk University, she went to the board of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ and said: ‘What if we paired up and created this new website called Our Bodies Ourselves Today?’ And that is the birth of this new platform,” Ghanoui said. “So Our Bodies Ourselves Today is technically kind of a separate entity from the books. But we work very closely and in wonderful collaboration with the original founders and the board.”
With everything from sexuality to heart health, Our Bodies Ourselves Today has resources for various sexual health questions and concerns, certified by a team of over 100 experts. One of the benefits of this online platform is that information is constantly being updated to ensure that its users receive an accurate and holistic sexual education.
Ghanoui elaborated on the advantages of shifting their educational platform from published books to online.
“Unlike a book, we can edit, we can update, we can keep it going. And that is one important aspect of the mission of Our Bodies Ourselves Today, to provide up-to-date, accurate information,” Ghanoui said. “[The platform] can serve as this resource hub for folks who have questions about their body, their sexuality or any aspect of their health.”
In the era of social media, where many young people are exposed to information through platforms such as Instagram and Tik Tok, it can be difficult to differentiate fact from fiction.
Instead of sifting through numerous sources on the Internet to find answers about sexual health, Our Bodies Ourselves Today provides its users with accessible and trustworthy information that is compiled into one platform. This accessibility, as Ghanoui underscored, is central to the platform’s mission.
“We are now encountering … the problem of what I like to call ‘too much information,’” Ghanoui said. “The example I give is, if you Google, let’s say, ‘abortion clinic,’ it’s difficult to tell what is the difference between a crisis pregnancy center, which is not an abortion clinic, versus an actual abortion clinic that provides health care. … It is very difficult to know what is accurate information you are receiving, what is myths or disinformation, and what [you can] trust when you conduct this Google search. … That’s where Our Bodies Ourselves Today comes into play.”
While providing reliable sexual health information is an important aspect of the platform’s purpose, Our Bodies Ourselves Today’s mission statement presents another overarching goal: facilitating social change.
According to its website, the platform’s team aims to “challenge the attitudes, policies, and laws that impede access to bodily autonomy, reproductive justice, and quality health care,” a goal that is arguably more critical than ever as the United States enters a post-Roe v. Wadeera. Ghanoui underscored that awareness of social issues is an integral aspect of our sexual health education, as they contribute to our development and understanding.
“Part of understanding one's own body and having access to bodily autonomy isn't just, what I would call, ‘biological information’ … it's also important to know how other factors impact one's health,” said Ghanoui. “It’s really important for us that we have these conversations and really illuminate how in order for one to have a holistic, happy life, we have to tackle the systemic issues that are rooted in misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, all of these things contribute to one's health, and how they are able to thrive in life.”
Therefore, instead of shying away from these issues, Our Bodies Ourselves Today tackles them directly, keeping their readers updated on systemic injustices in both American healthcare and politics.
“We look at education as a social justice tool,” said Ghanoui. “And so our mission [is to be] an educational resource but also to continue to fight for reproductive rights access. These are part of who we are and what we are doing, in addition to the health care resources that are on the site.”
From the existence of student organizations like the Tufts Sex Health Reps to the recently installed sex health vending machine in the Mayer Campus Center, it is clear that sexual education and awareness is an important aspect of campus culture at Tufts. Ghanoui emphasized her gratitude for this sense of sexual health awareness among the Gen Z demographic, as their efforts allow Our Bodies Ourselves Today’s mission to become a reality.
“I think it is important how active young people are. And when I say young people, I mean the 18 to 22 year old age, those who are in undergraduate programs across the country. They are recognizing the importance of their voice,” Ghanoui said. “They’re recognizing and using their power to make change. And I just think that is fantastic.”
Our Bodies Ourselves Today welcomes reader input and suggestions, especially from young people, as it imbues the site with a sense of vitality and community.
For those who feel passionate about sexual health education, Ghanoui encouraged reaching out and getting involved, whether that is through volunteering or an internship at the organization.
“We love working with students,” said Ghanoui. “We actually currently have two Tufts interns on our team … and we're always looking to grow our subject area experts, what we call content experts. So if folks are interested in that, they can apply or reach out to me, and we [could] potentially have a conversation [to get you involved].”