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Professor celebrates 'Our Bodies, Ourselves' 35th anniversary

Nancy Reame often runs into undergraduate women who've never heard of "Our Bodies, Ourselves." That these same women also cannot imagine fathers not being present in the delivery room tells her the iconic women's health book has changed their lives.

"This book has become so ingrained in American culture that this generation of women just takes it for granted," says Reame, a professor of nursing and a research scientist with the Reproductive Sciences Program. "This is the new normal now. This book has helped to change the way we talk about reproductive health."

Reame has been a co-author of many versions of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" for more than two decades. The book, marking its 35th anniversary with a new edition out May 3, ushered in a new feminist way of talking about contraception, childbirth and other women's health issues.

It was condemned as "obscene trash" by Jerry Falwell, and stirred controversy with suggestions that men be present for the birth of their children, and that women become familiar with their reproductive organs by examining themselves with a mirror.

Reame first got involved with the Boston Women's Health Book Collective—the organization that publishes the book—because she was one of the few women studying menstruation in the 1970s. She began working with the group on the issue of toxic shock syndrome, associated with tampon use, and has stayed involved since.

In the new edition, Reame helped write a chapter on infertility, which she says needed a fresh look.

"There are so many new issues of ethics and technology," Reame says. "Young women might take for granted that they have the ability to use reproductive technologies, but fail to consider the risks associated."

For example, Reame says researchers are reporting health problems in children conceived using in vitro fertilization, and parents might want to consider that as they decide a path to parenthood.

"In trying to translate the story of infertility to the public, we thought it was important to address prevention of infertility, not just treatment," she says. "That means understanding how good health, knowing your medical history, preventing sexually transmitted diseases, eating well, not smoking and a whole range of other issues contribute to a woman's fertility."

Reame notes that the Internet has given women access to information they couldn't have dreamed of having when "Women and Their Bodies," the precursor to "Our Bodies, Ourselves," came out in 1970. But because information on the Internet isn't always accurate, she said one goal of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" is to give women an authoritative source they can trust.

Reame specializes in research about reproductive health and technology. She has looked at issues associated with surrogate motherhood, menopause and hormone replacement therapy. Recently she has helped test the effectiveness of treatments for premenstrual syndrome and low libido in women.

In 1998, she was inducted into the prestigious Institute of Medicine and elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2001.

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