Period-tracking apps are not for women
November 13, 2018 11:53 AM   Subscribe

The golden age of menstrual surveillance is great for men, marketers, and medical companies.

Karen Levy's Idaho Law Review article "Intimate Surveillance" is available here.
posted by Hypatia (72 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I want to read this, but the main link does not work?
posted by Adridne at 11:59 AM on November 13, 2018


[fixed link]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 12:00 PM on November 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I started using Glow and got so grossed out by it that I switched to Clue, further proving the point of the article/that I am the product. I know I'm the product. I also get a lot out of charts of when I'm going to have 36 hours of misery. It's still too pink, but it does improve my life. I'm in an age range at which Anything Could Happen and I want Very Little to Happen, so data is beautiful.
posted by wellred at 12:02 PM on November 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


Period-tracking apps are not for women

I mean, no. They're for people who menstruate. They're never going to be useful to all women, and they are useful for some people who are not women, and there are obviously going to be limits about how much you can get out of it. It's still just an app. I am a person with a uterus, and I use Clue, and it has helped me in a huge way with managing debilitating pain and some really, uh, interesting impact of hormones on my mental health.

I think there are some huge potential issues here with privacy and a lot of these apps are technically pretty garbage, but this story is so weirdly obsessed with proving there's no value from using these kinds of apps based on edge cases and people who want very specific functionality (or lack thereof). I want all these apps to be better, but this article is weirdly intent on establishing that there's no real use case for tracking this data aside from corporate greed, when this is probably the one "quantified life" arena that has substantially improved my daily monthly life.
posted by Sequence at 12:09 PM on November 13, 2018 [35 favorites]


Othogonally,a [male] friend was expected to take a survey about what a Men's Health informal curriculum should cover and the friend asked for the opinions of his friends. I [a female friend] suggested "periods, conception, and the difference between medical and surgical abortion."

Men, by and large, don't know how women's bodies work, how conception happens, what happens when it doesn't and what happens when a pregnancy fails in its early stages. Men really really really need to understand sex as procreation and understand modern men's sexual health to be as much about conception as it is about orgasms.

This article just underscores how little men get it.
posted by crush at 12:11 PM on November 13, 2018 [84 favorites]


*squints* I... am I wrong, or is "Natural Cycles the app as birth control!" just the rhythm method gussied up with a pretty touch-screen?

Because I'm the first of two rhythm method babies, me, and I have some concerns about anyone selling that shit as a primary method of birth control. I'm aghast anyone would allow an app to market itself that way.
posted by sciatrix at 12:14 PM on November 13, 2018 [21 favorites]


The fact that per the article many intelligent women seem to have trusted a sort of...rhythm method app because it was an app suggests that no one is getting adequate sex ed, and no one is sufficiently skeptical of marketing. Something like that would not possibly fly if everyone had comprehensive sexual education rather than getting a big chunk of sex ed from quasi-commercial internet content.
posted by Frowner at 12:15 PM on November 13, 2018 [34 favorites]


The fact that per the article many intelligent women seem to have trusted a sort of...rhythm method app because it was an app suggests that no one is getting adequate sex ed, and no one is sufficiently skeptical of marketing.

Yes, and that maybe it should have been regulated like a medical device or app by the FDA?
posted by Hypatia at 12:17 PM on November 13, 2018 [12 favorites]


holy shit and this thing is/was $80/year for a cheapass thermometer and a calendar

wtf
posted by sciatrix at 12:18 PM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


In 2015, Glow would remind women who were trying to become pregnant and entering a fertile window to wear nice underwear that day, and it would also remind their partners to bring home some flowers.

Do they have a cutesy cloud icon for "hyperventilating right now"?
posted by cage and aquarium at 12:19 PM on November 13, 2018 [23 favorites]


Back in the day I dabbled with taking my temperature and tracking ovulation, and the best tools I found were super low-tech boards associated with books like 'Taking Charge of Your Fertility.' Platforms to track fertility existed for a long time outside Silicon Valley.

This is a good article. The only good period tracker is Clue, and I get a ton out of it, but it still can't cope with pregnancy at all.
posted by nerdfish at 12:19 PM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


Ugh. I have no need of one now (thanks, hormonal IUD!), but when I did I could never find one that wasn't all about BABIES. I just wanted a simple version of the check marks I made on my calendar back in the stone ages, with some notifications and year-averaging type stuff. Nope, all babies and flowers and you're a goddess and chocolate and wine time and wink wink innuendo.
posted by lovecrafty at 12:20 PM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was four months into a tense relationship with a much-hyped Swedish “digital contraceptive”, a smartphone app called Natural Cycles. I had spent my 20s on the pill, but hated not knowing whether my emotional state was down to artificial hormones or not. My boyfriend and I had been together for eight months, and I was desperately seeking something new, something that wouldn’t make me feel so anxious.
CONDOMS

THE ANSWER YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS CONDOMS

oh but that might have made the boyfriend complain at the horror of having to take equal responsibility for the partnership's birth control

god fucking dammit this fucking app

posted by sciatrix at 12:22 PM on November 13, 2018 [86 favorites]


Natural Cycles is not just the rhythm method - it advises using a form of the Fertility Awareness Method and a mix of physiological signs (cervical mucus, waking temperature, and other physical symptoms) that are associated with rising progesterone and therefore potential fertility. It works! Check out the book Taking Charge of your Fertility. It’s fascinating how little is taught about women’s reproductive systems. FAM is effective birth control, if used wisely (IE, if you have sex on a fertile day and are trying to prevent, you need to use a condom).

Sincerely, your hardcore atheist, believer-in-women’s-bodies, temperature-taking friendo
posted by samthemander at 12:22 PM on November 13, 2018 [18 favorites]


Whose sex ed do we want? The one that says there is no "safe" day in the month and that's that, or the one that says there are some days in which you are much more likely to become pregnant? We actually need to know how things WORK, not be blanket scaremongered.

My body's gonna do what it's gonna do and I only trust what I can see and feel for anything that has consequences. But everyone gets to choose their own path.
posted by wellred at 12:23 PM on November 13, 2018 [10 favorites]


I first came across Levy's article for a grad school paper on gendered technology (mine focused on wearable smart rings). Did you know that there are major gender differences in wearable smart rings? Well there are! Because the men's rings are about controlling the world around you like a goddamn Nintendo PowerGlove (opening doors, paying for things), and the women's rings are about letting the world control you (by having other people contact you by making your ring buzz, because you can't have your phone out because that's rude, and your pockets aren't big enough for a phone so it's in your purse, and god forbid people aren't able to get your attention from thousands of miles away. You can't contact them back though. It's a one-way street. But it will collect information on your exercise patterns to help you lose weight.)
posted by Hypatia at 12:23 PM on November 13, 2018 [46 favorites]


Also what does the sex peach mean? Is it explained in the app? Or does the sex peach mean whatever you want it to mean?
posted by Hypatia at 12:25 PM on November 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


It works!

literally billions of catholics worldwide would suggest otherwise
posted by poffin boffin at 12:26 PM on November 13, 2018 [47 favorites]


is "Natural Cycles the app as birth control!" just the rhythm method gussied up with a pretty touch-screen?

Its manufacturers will tell you: no! It is advanced and scientific! We know so much more than in the rhythm methods days! This app uses algorithms! (And you don’t need to worry your own pretty little head about what is actually happening in the mysterious black box of your body, because ~algorithms~.)

This is partially true, in that there are ways to prevent pregnancy/get pregnant with fertility awareness methods that are a lot more sophisticated and reliable than the old-style rhythm method, which is just counting. But it’s also not practically true, because Natural Cycles uses one metric to calculate fertility and presents it as a selling point that you don’t need to do or observe or think about think anything else. This... does not work so well.
posted by Catseye at 12:27 PM on November 13, 2018 [9 favorites]


I guess I’d say that Natural Cycles is to birth control, as a weather app is to an umbrella. Natural Cycles doesn’t prevent conception, just like a weather app doesn’t prevent you from getting rain on your suede boots - it tells you when you need to take precaution, and when you don’t.
posted by samthemander at 12:27 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Poffin Boffin, I was once you! I promise I also used to think that the concept was ridiculous, had an IUD for 10 years, etc. however now that I’ve learned to understand how my body works, then it’s fine. It’s not for everyone and not as simple as the pill/IUD, but it works if you follow your body’s fertility signs.
posted by samthemander at 12:29 PM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


I use OvuView and like it. I don't sync it to their servers, it doesn't have ads - maybe I paid for it at some point? It lets me pick what color it is and doesn't pretend like we're friends. But my cycle is pretty regular and I'm almost always aware of when I'm ovulating, so I'm not a tough customer.
posted by potrzebie at 12:30 PM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


Whose sex ed do we want? The one that says there is no "safe" day in the month and that's that, or the one that says there are some days in which you are much more likely to become pregnant? We actually need to know how things WORK, not be blanket scaremongered.

My body's gonna do what it's gonna do and I only trust what I can see and feel for anything that has consequences. But everyone gets to choose their own path.


Some of us, like the woman in the article I linked, have bodies that don't bend so neatly in line with the neat predictability of apps and methods like this. Selling these as reliable birth control methods for everyone sets women like her--and like many of the women in my family--up for disaster. Barrier methods actually work at about the same level of effectiveness no matter what kind of body you have. The same thing cannot be said of methods like this, and encouraging women to rely on them without massive caveats and warnings is downright criminal negligence.

Your body's going to do what it's going to do, and maybe your body is predictable enough to take your chances reliably. That is not true for everyone's body.
posted by sciatrix at 12:30 PM on November 13, 2018 [43 favorites]


it's literally how i accidentally got pregnant the first time but go off i guess
posted by poffin boffin at 12:31 PM on November 13, 2018 [43 favorites]


it's like PCOS doesn't affect one woman in ten or something, clearly that's not something worth warning potential customers about or anything
posted by sciatrix at 12:32 PM on November 13, 2018 [24 favorites]


Although I know a few people who had Oops babies using the Rhythm Method, and I wouldn’t do it myself, I understand why it appeals to some people. A whole lot of people have terrible reactions to birth control. Latex allergies are pretty common, and as a vagina-haver who has PIV sex, I don’t really like how condoms feel, either. Almost none of our options here are all-good with no drawbacks. So I kinda wish folks would be more open-minded about other people’s health decisions (that don’t harm anyone).

Myself, I like the Lisa Frank pink cloud aesthetic of these apps, but I realize that is my own personal taste, and I think there should be apps that are more “neutral,” seeing as not all women like “girly” things, and not all people who menstruate are women.
posted by shalom at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2018 [8 favorites]


Oh no sciatrix I'm saying the opposite about myself. I don't trust the app as birth control. But for some people it does work, and I am worried that we aren't taught about how cycles work, just told that You Are Always Fertile full stop.
posted by wellred at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


and when you don’t

AH HA HA HA HAHAHAHAHAHAHA....

When you don't is every single day that you aren't actively trying for a baby. Full stop.

These things are great for folks who are trying to have a baby and want to know what days are more likely for things to work. They are TERRIBLE for anyone who wants to avoid being pregnant.

Signed,

Happy mom to a great kid who shouldn't exist, according to this theory.
posted by anastasiav at 12:33 PM on November 13, 2018 [14 favorites]


ctrl+F "spot on"

Yeah ok, the article doesn't mention Planned Parenthood's app Spot On, which is great. It's not pinkwashed, it doesn't act like my uterus is a rare and beautiful garden for planting a baby flower in, and it lets me use the poop emoji to track period shits. (Which was really useful in cluing me into the fact that my IUD, while I loved many things about it, was not effective at curtailing the butt symptoms of my endometriosis, causing me to have a Conversation with my doctor about my options and now being a much happier person.) Plus it's made by Planned Parenthood! We like them!

I can't recommend it highly enough.
posted by phunniemee at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2018 [80 favorites]


Sciatrix - Agreed. But as someone who spent 32 years knowing basically nothing about how my body worked, finally learning about it was so empowering. I find it difficult that something I find so personally empowering and effective (when implemented correctly) is so strongly associated with shit science.

It’s not perfect and not for everyone. if you need a foolproof method, then by all means choose a different method - I certainly did for years. But it’s not all BS either, so I’ll at least put in a good word for it. (I’m clearly too invested in this thread so I’ll take a step back for a few hours - carry on!)
posted by samthemander at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I mean, I'm totally with you on studying how cycles work, although frankly my sex education priorities honestly do hew more towards safety (emotional and physical) and things like "admitting to students that the clitoris exists when educating about vulval anatomy." If you want to have that data and you don't care who might be collecting it to market to you, go nuts. But I'm very, very specifically furious at this app because it deliberately markets itself as a method of birth control, and eliding that is not going to make me be any more biting about the way that it sets up surprisingly large swathes of women to confidently put themselves at risk of pregnancy without more reliable forms of protection, thinking they don't need to do any more to keep themselves safe.
posted by sciatrix at 12:36 PM on November 13, 2018 [8 favorites]


I use the very bare bones Spot On app (by Planned Parenthood). No flowers or smiley clouds (the main icon seems to be an expressionless brontosaurus, oddly, as well as swimming fleets of tampons and pads) and very little pink except to indicate the days one is menstruating; it's mostly blue and red. The big seller for me is that fertility tracking is not automatic, but rather opt-in--it's a trigger for someone who has gone through infertility and pregnancy loss and now, in perimenopause, doesn't need painful reminders that that ship has sailed.

It's a little clunky, but it helps me track things that need to be tracked so I have data to show my health care professionals when I'm trying to convince them that super short, heavy cycles are affecting my quality of life. It also tells me when my period is likely to start.

I'm hoping because it's from PP that it's less nefarious than others. Even so, this morning I received a notice that my Spot On info would all be uploaded to iCloud and I could opt out by going into Settings on my phone. Why opt-out? I'm disappointed in you, Spot On. But honestly at this point I'm exhausted and I'm just going to keep using it while I curse the patriarchy.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2018 [10 favorites]


Some of us, like the woman in the article I linked, have bodies that don't bend so neatly in line with the neat predictability of apps and methods like this

I would distinguish here between methods and apps. There are indeed fertility awareness methods which don’t depend on people having reliable cycles (I have used them!), but any app promising to do all the calculations and thinking for you - as Natural Cycles does - is probably not in that category.
posted by Catseye at 12:38 PM on November 13, 2018


I just scrolled through iPeriod, and I've been tracking my cycle since 2009. I don't really care about fertility, but I get menstrual migraines. This app notifies me two days before I'm supposed to get my period so I carry my migraine pills with me. I also use it to plan vacations around my period.

And now that it's been nearly a decade, I can tell my cycle is changing as I get older. I do get a notification when I'm ovulating, but it's just an alert that says it's green week.
posted by gladly at 12:43 PM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


Yes, Clue lets you opt out of the fertility part and focus on the rest. You can add tags, I have one for back pain (tilted uterus, funsies) and one for Weeping Day, lol.

I went from super PCOS irregular as a younger person before the age of apps, to somehow pretty regular (about a 5 day cycle length range). No one can tell me why, but I'll take it.
posted by wellred at 12:47 PM on November 13, 2018


The only good period tracker is Clue

There's a Miss Scarlet joke to be had here, but I know I'm not clever enough to make it.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:57 PM on November 13, 2018 [8 favorites]


STRONG SECOND for Planned Parenthood's Spot On.

No pink
No Gendering
no "omg babieeeees forever"

You can use it to track mood, pain, your own activity levels, your period, POOPS, nausea, sex, illness - all sorts of things that may impact cycles, or if you're lazy, you can just track SOME or none of those things

You CAN use it to track fertility but only if you wanna.
posted by FritoKAL at 1:01 PM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it's a bummer that the article, like many fertility apps, is full of boring cissexist language. As someone who menstruates (and is not a woman) and has had partners who could get me pregnant (but are not men), this is really exhausting to deal with, and it seems so unnecessary.
posted by ITheCosmos at 1:04 PM on November 13, 2018 [18 favorites]


I’ve been using MyDays on and off for many years. I believe it was the first menstrual tracking app and there are both Android and iOS versions. It is made by some German guy and it looks kind of 2007 in its graphic design but it works and their privacy policy says you never have to upload your manually input data, and if you do upload it to back it up, he will never share it with anyone.

This article points out many flaws in period tracking apps, but fails to point out that period tracking can also be an awesome boon to self-understanding and health. It feels unbalanced as a result.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:08 PM on November 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I guess I’d say that Natural Cycles is to birth control, as a weather app is to an umbrella. Natural Cycles doesn’t prevent conception, just like a weather app doesn’t prevent you from getting rain on your suede boots - it tells you when you need to take precaution, and when you don’t.

I think what people are getting at is that also like a weather forecast, it offers a prediction that has value, but ought not to be trusted unreservedly.
posted by atoxyl at 1:13 PM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't know if I would have ever actually made the switch, but I've been frustrated with my current hormonal birth control method and there's been a lot of hype about menstrual tracking apps like these. I'm in my late 30s and I'm not going to lie, I was swayed by all the Instagram influencers promoting it--I mean, we (appear to) share similar values about other health things, why wouldn't I believe you on this one? And then to read the statistic in the article that 95% of the apps are inaccurate--good lord.

I'm also leaning more and more into paranoia about our dystopian surveillance state the older I get, and menstrual tracking apps just seemed like another way to get more info to sell us more stuff. Which is why it was weirdly validating to read something like this: "The data they generate can also be shared with developers, advertisers, researchers, and data brokers. Patient Privacy Rights founder Deborah Peel told the Washington Post in 2016 that reproductive health data is uniquely valuable to marketers — knowing that someone is preparing to become a parent means knowing that someone is about to enter one of the very few life stages in which they’re likely to get “hooked on new brands.”"
posted by stellaluna at 1:14 PM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also what does the sex peach mean? Is it explained in the app? Or does the sex peach mean whatever you want it to mean?
posted by Hypatia

Butt stuff. It means butt stuff.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:15 PM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


If only I thought my data would contribute to the arrival on the market of better ways to ease cramp pain.
posted by wellred at 1:21 PM on November 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


FAM/sympto-thermal is different from the rhythm method and doesn't assume regular cycles. That's why you have to take your temperature and monitor cervical mucuous and other physiological signs every day. It is a pain, it does take some effort, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for birth control.

I haven't menstruated in 7 years due to baby-having and IUD-having, but I'm about to get my IUD yanked and I'm not entirely sure I can deal with periods again. I think I'll be downloading Spot On based on the reviews here.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:27 PM on November 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


Clue isn't pink; I've been OK with it for a couple of years. I was about to joke about its weird, heteronormative and confusing sex icons, a.k.a. What Do You Think That Tie Is Going to Accomplish:
- protected (reclining man wearing tie)
- unprotected (reclining man without tie)

...but when I googled for an image, I found that they changed them! Due to pushback about how weird and heteronormative that was! Now it's a flipflop (unprotected) and a galosh (protected), which is still confusing but now gender neutral.

(I hadn't seen that in the app because I don't use it for additional symptoms or, uh, whatever better term exists for "sex tracking.")

Anyway, Clue is fine, ymmv.
posted by cage and aquarium at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2018 [12 favorites]


How weird, I always think of it as pink, but it’s totally red and white.
posted by wellred at 1:47 PM on November 13, 2018


An ex of mine had one of these apps and it had this weird feature of like pairing you up with another user based on similarities or something. It also had a feature to keep track of when you had sex, which also paired you up with someone else's sex streak. For a while it was like a fun competition, seeing if we could keep the streak up or beat this other person but at some point it gave her a different match with a higher number which seemed like bullshit and was enough to take away the fun of it and just highlighted the absurdity and creepiness of the app's methods.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:51 PM on November 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


An ex of mine had one of these apps and it had this weird feature of like pairing you up with another user based on similarities or something. It also had a feature to keep track of when you had sex, which also paired you up with someone else's sex streak.

what in the HELL
posted by halation at 1:59 PM on November 13, 2018 [25 favorites]


For those curious, like I was, about the actual non-anecdotal evidence supporting using these fertility-awareness based methods for contraception, I found a recent systematic review on the topic.

They found that of the FABMs with moderate quality studies available, "most FABMs have perfect use estimates similar to those of male and female condoms". However, some very large caveats: there were no high-quality studies testing effectiveness (only low and moderate quality), the typical use effectiveness is wayyy lower than perfect use (10-33 vs 1-5 pregnancies per 100 people/year), and effectiveness varied by method and some particular methods were very bad (e.g. "Persona" was horribly ineffective for both typical and perfect use).

So I'm not sure it's reasonable at this point in time to either condemn or fully rely on these methods. It seems like it's less reliable than perfect use of the pill, but the better ones, when used correctly, are in the ballpark of typical use of the pill or perfect use of condoms. As such it seems like a reasonable alternative to consider if the pill doesn't work for you for whatever reason and you are willing to take the chance that your method fails (much like condoms, which are seen as way more effective than they actually are for some reason, and don't work for everyone either).
posted by randomnity at 2:12 PM on November 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


trackers are good for knowing when you need to use supplies so as not to stain everything.

I had an iOS one that was perfectly fine for years - very simple, I marked when my period was, it said when my next one would probably be, and I put in the menstrual cup and don't have to go find stain remover.

As for the fertility stuff: that's how they make their money. The free versions are often just period trackers, and the paid versions offer advanced fertility tracking features - because people trying to have children will pay a few dollars for that.
posted by jb at 2:52 PM on November 13, 2018


I use iPeriod, and I honestly haven't noticed anything terribly offensive about it. It does tell me my "fertile window" or something like that, but that's helpful for me, because I often get a migraine during that time, and it's good to know to check my migraine med supply.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:03 PM on November 13, 2018


I'm just using fitbit's tracker in their app these days which seems to be mostly just a calendar, which is all I need. I've also had the problems with apps that want to help you get pregnant not being able to cope with pregnancy in the app. I feel like my ovaries have a hitch in their giddyup -- I reliably have a 25-day cycle on one side and 27-day on the other, but I have never found an app that can handle a regular irregularity like that. Or a normal irregularity like pregnancy.

"Natural Cycles is not just the rhythm method - it advises using a form of the Fertility Awareness Method and a mix of physiological signs (cervical mucus, waking temperature, and other physical symptoms) that are associated with rising progesterone and therefore potential fertility."

FYI the Fertility Awareness Method is the rhythm method as taught by the Catholic Church in pre-Cana classes and given in seminars in Catholic hospitals everywhere! People always say, "Oh, no, it's so much more advanced than the rhythm method that Catholics use!" but it's literally exactly what Catholics use.

IF you have quite regular periods/clear mucus signs/etc. AND you're looking to SPACE pregnancies rather than prevent them, it works okay. You end up with about one kid every five years with perfect use. A lot lot more with imperfect use! It's promoted in parts of Latin America by progressive feminist organizations, because it helps women control and space out pregnancies when condoms etc aren't reliably available or affordable, and it's fairly easily taught and just needs paper and pen (and ideally a thermometer), and it doesn't run up against religious restrictions. It works okay. But in the US, it tends to make overbroad claims for efficacy (as compared to hormonal or barrier methods), and is almost always accompanied by (religiously-based) objections to hormonal or barrier methods that tend to overstate their risks and involve a lot of fear-mongering disinformation.

When my Catholic-hospital-affiliated ob/gyn's office had one doctor start offering the Fertility Awareness Method, basically all of her Catholic patients immediately switched doctors, because we've already been told enough times how much imaginary cancer we're definitely going to get from using the pill and ain't nobody needs that nonsense.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:06 PM on November 13, 2018 [27 favorites]


Back when I had periods, I tracked for quite a while with The Cycles Page (which looks exactly the same today as it did in 2005) because it doesn't sell or share your data and it let me track headaches. I was able to establish a pattern of menstrual migraines so my doctor could put me on a continuous birth control pill, which has been great for reducing migraines and eliminating my period.

If I have to start tracking again, I'll go back to the Cycles page or an app that for sure doesn't sell or share my data.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:20 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


What I don’t understand about menstruation tech is why it’s not more widely known that hormonal IUDs can effectively disappear periods for some people. In fact, when I went to get mine replaced recently, I learned they had introduced “lighter” versions that still let you menstruate, apparently because people were not comfortable with not having periods! Still trying to wrap my head around that one. Now, I know IUDs are not right for everyone, but I imagine there are millions of people out there who are not aware that with a quick trip to the gynecologist, periods could be a concern of the past. And I know IUDs are expensive if insurance doesn’t cover them, but so are pads and tampons. It’s almost like there’s an industry built up around menstruation that wants as many people going through it as possible.
posted by mantecol at 3:28 PM on November 13, 2018 [7 favorites]


So I'm not sure it's reasonable at this point in time to either condemn or fully rely on these methods.

I have been told that the "failure" rate of condoms includes "failure to put one one," as in, "well, our normal method is condoms but we didn't use one that night" - that's considered a usage failure, just like torn/broken condom, jelly that wasn't applied properly, skipped pill, etc.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:39 PM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


Depo-provers and the implant can also stop your periods entirely for months/years, and this is presented as a negative side-effect a weirdly surprising amount of the time. This is genuinely how I got told about it by a doctor: it’s probably the most reliable contraceptive out there [it’s something like 99.98% for perfect and typical use], it lasts for three years, you don’t have to remember anything or do anything except make an appointment to have it replaced at the end of that, but, some women do find it stops their periods entirely. That’s not a ‘but’! That’s another bonus!

I like FAM as an approach and will probably continue to fall back on it whenever I hit another phase of just being fed up to death with needles and medical procedures, but I really don’t think it makes good bedfellows with tech given the number of apps that pitch simple, hassle-free, reliable FAM. You can either have simple and hassle-free or you can have pretty reliable, you really can’t have both no matter how many promises the app makes. (Although it probably does get easier if you’ve been doing it for years and it’s habit and you aren’t dealing with anything in your life that can mess with your cycle, but even then - if you’re not tracking basically everything, you don’t have all the information you need).
posted by Catseye at 3:46 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


I like period trackers, but I also like comedically desperately want another baby, so it is more helpful to me probably than someone who isn’t.
posted by corb at 3:54 PM on November 13, 2018


It sounds counterintuitive but my system really fucking hates being told what to do and trying to end my period w the pill just made it freak the fuck out. So something that purported to try to end it would be super scary to me. But I think I’m an exception to the rule.

That being said I do think it’s a good old fashioned mix of paternalism and capitalism that’s keeping that idea from getting super mainstream like it should be.

I also really like Clue bc the app is very up front that your body isn’t a clock and the app is only there to help figure out what’s going on right now today using the info you provide. It’s not magic or a horoscope or a clock.
posted by bleep at 4:06 PM on November 13, 2018


I’m very leery of any app that my insurance company could possibly get data from. I figure that insurance companies are evil, and any data you give them, they can and probably will use against you. No period tracking apps for me.
posted by Anne Neville at 4:07 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


An ex of mine had one of these apps and it had this weird feature of like pairing you up with another user based on similarities or something.

Lol what

It also had a feature to keep track of when you had sex, which also paired you up with someone else's sex streak.

Wait WHAT

For a while it was like a fun competition, seeing if we could keep the streak up or beat this other person but at some point it gave her a different match with a higher number which seemed like bullshit

What is the name of this insane app for bracketology
posted by schadenfrau at 4:26 PM on November 13, 2018 [10 favorites]


Jumping back in late - not having grown up Catholic, I may have spoken about something incorrectly - I had always been told that the rhythm method was entirely based around the idea of “you ovulate in day 14” and that’s-that. Which would fail for many, many women (myself included!). So maybe FAM and the rhythm method are the same, and I just didn’t know?

At any rate - I definitely agree that choosing a birth control method SHOULD ask you to think carefully and be educated about how it works - hell, my IUD required two in-person doctor visits, and it was dead easy. FAM is wayyyy more complicated and error prone (but also comes with other benefits - no hormones, no devices, etc). I’d hate for a woman to think she’s practicing safe sex and end up pregnant unintentionally because she hadn’t gotten enough education about either the prevention method or the available options - it would be a huge shame. As someone who quit the pill in college because it cost too much (what an idiot I was...) I’m painfully aware of the risks. I just also get excited when I see FAM getting somewhat normalized, because it taught me so much about my body! I should maybe practice more caution though.
posted by samthemander at 5:39 PM on November 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I also got a lot out of learning about fertility awareness, specifically from 'Taking Charge of Your Fertility.' I've been off hormonal birth control for years and years after I figured out my previously well-tolerated Implanon implant was causing hair loss (!!), and I honestly just never summoned the courage to get an IUD.

THAT SAID - while I did dabble with temping and tracking, I never used it as contraception. Why? Because my cycles were all over the goddamned place. I did EVERYTHING right, but I still never seemed to ovulate in any reliable pattern, and this was when I was in my late 20s. I even went to my doctor to get an ultrasound because I was so concerned that I apparently wasn't ovulating. I've been in the same relationship for that entire time and we happily used condoms, but I wouldn't have felt safe relying on FAM as contraception.

IMHO, as a form of contraception, I have no doubt that FAM CAN be really effective, but it requires a lot of consistent work that other non-hormonal methods just don't. I find period tracking, on the other hand, to be mildly useful, and I really like the Clue app. It comes in super handy when doctors ask about my menstrual cycle (honestly, who can remember when their last period was?), and also was a great record when I was dealing with some heavy bleeding issues.

I do agree that more actual menstruators need to be involved with the design of these apps. Clue cannot deal with pregnancy at all. I don't need some huge new set of features - I just want to tell it I'm pregnant, and it would be great to get some insight into what will undoubtedly be some pretty wacky postpartum cycles.
posted by nerdfish at 10:20 PM on November 13, 2018


Yeah, so traditionally the ‘rhythm method’ would be the calendar-counting method that got formally okayed by the Vatican in the 50s - take your average cycle length, assume ovulation is about halfway through that, and avoid sex then. ‘FAM’ as distinct from rhythm method would be the more sophisticated techniques developed since where you monitor fertility patterns in that cycle rather than guessing, and ‘NFP’ would be that but if you’re a Catholic using it for Catholic reasons.

In practice there was always some blurring between what specific method was actually being referred to; ovulation-tracking methods came along not long after calendar-counting but got described as ‘rhythm method’ too. More recently the people using more detailed symptothermal techniques would go with FAM/NFP as a term specifically to distinguish between that and older styles more prone to, ahem, broad error margins. Especially if you’re Catholic and trying to pitch NFP to other Catholics, because so many of us remember our parents/grandparents etc who used the calendar-counting method and ended up with 9 kids anyway and haha nope.

Technically NFP is different again from FAM, because of some of the implementation practicalities (eg, no switching to barrier methods for fertile days) and some of the underlying ideology (you are only using it to space out your children, not prevent them, so it is definitely not contraception oh no absolutely not), but in terms of the actual method it’s the same. Although the Catholics who use it are generally the Catholics who would have large families anyway; and the idea of relying on fertility-tracking methods when you’re dealing with the stress and sleep deprivation of numerous young children plus potentially breastfeeding, all of which will make it much harder to track, is absolutely terrifying to me.

It comes in super handy when doctors ask about my menstrual cycle (honestly, who can remember when their last period was?)

One of the weirder consequences of using fertility-tracking methods when I was trying to get pregnant is that while I could answer that accurately for maybe the first time ever, I ended up lying about it anyway. (In my experience it is just easier to give a period date which is ovulation minus 14 days, than it is to deal with lengthy wrangling over gestational age when the actual difference was not that.)
posted by Catseye at 12:25 AM on November 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


Spot On does not upload your data:

Is my data safe in Spot On?

Yes! The data in Spot On is only stored locally on your phone, so you’re the only one who ever has access to it. Because of this, we do recommend exporting your data on a regular basis to avoid accidental data loss, as we cannot recover data for users.

posted by DarlingBri at 1:38 AM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


EVERYTHING is used for data, marketing, and often somehow men. Use a loyalty card at the store and buy tampons? Suddenly more coupons for tampons! Wow! Target guessed a woman was pregnant before she knew.

I totally get the issues with making things too gendered and cute and putting us in a pink-corner and privacy. But holy shit has Clue helped me so much. I have endometriosis and other severe chronic illness. Like yeah, I'm kinda annoyed that it's called "fertility window" instead of "ovulation window" or something but I'll take that small annoyance for the help it's given me. (Which, PS, the article complains about but it's a feature you can turn off and not have shown at all.)

I don't think there's anything specifically about period trackers that isn't already completely saturated in everything related to women's health and procreation and menstruation. It's fucking constant already, so why would this be an exception? Instead the article should be talking about why anything and everything coded "woman" has to deal with this bullshit instead of trying to demonize a group of apps - some worse, some better - that literally GIVE WOMEN SOME FUCKING HELP!

Sorry, not sorry. It just feels like anything women find helpful will have some sort of "the dark side about ..." scare article. Do your research. Only support apps and products that make you feel comfortable. Only give information you feel comfortable giving. Give the company feedback. But don't write an article complaining about features without even checking the damn settings or realizing you have some amount of choice here. PS: Fuck that marketing for the rhythm method app.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:35 AM on November 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


Thanks for making my day! I started using a woman cycle app years ago and, like the author, I downloaded the first app the android store suggested. Luckily, this app only gives facts, no PMS alerts, no interpretations, only facts.
Of course, it didn't work well when I stopped contraception for a while. It doesn't work when I am overly stressed and my period is late, but I don't really care. It takes a few months and it's all working again.
But I can imagine what you girls can feel when an app tells you when to wear sexy panties! That's going too far.

I am a social entrepreneur and my current project is an app for African women. I know by experience that apps for women should be conceived by women. You cannot imagine the 'cool features' my male coworkers suggest, most of them are male-oriented and lose women interest in the process.

So yeah, thanks for the great link!
posted by sophieJu at 3:21 AM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


When it did, I realized I couldn’t just go back to logging my period as normal: The app would think I’d undergone a cycle more than twice as long as usual and adjust all my averages, rendering all of its future predictions completely useless to me.

Ugh. I have no need of one now (thanks, hormonal IUD!), but when I did I could never find one that wasn't all about BABIES. I just wanted a simple version of the check marks I made on my calendar back in the stone ages, with some notifications and year-averaging type stuff. Nope, all babies and flowers and you're a goddess and chocolate and wine time and wink wink innuendo.

I'm reminded of xliff format files in my little corner of the professional universe - "XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format) is an XML-based format created to standardize the way localizable data are passed between tools during a localization process and a common format for CAT tool exchange. XLIFF was standardized by OASIS in 2002. Its current specification is v2.1[1] released on 2018-02-13, which is backwards compatible with v2.0 released on 2014-08-05.

The specification is aimed at the localization industry. It specifies elements and attributes to store content extracted from various original file formats and its corresponding translation. The goal was to abstract the localization skills from the engineering skills related to specific formats such as HTML.[2]"

It's nice because I can open XLIFF files across lots of tools. The world obviously needs an XLIFF for menstruation data.
posted by saysthis at 3:59 AM on November 14, 2018


Clue has a lengthy page in their app explaining how they safeguard your data and how they use it. You can also lock and download your data if you want. I love it. Women's health data is important for research, I don't mind helping.
posted by agregoli at 5:14 AM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


I've been through a bunch of medical stuff recently, and there were a few weeks when it felt like at every singe appointment I would get asked where I was in my menstrual cycle. It's not a thing I track - I don't care at all, I don't even have a meaningful menstrual cycle as I've been on progesterone-only birth control for more than five years and it completely suppresses my period (which is A++ as I find them profoundly dysphoric), and when I did menstruate it was usually 1-2 times a year max because of PCOS. I have never had a regular predictable cycle.

I don't remember ever receiving a womb owner's operating manual with a note in it stating that everyone I ever interact with medically will expect me to know things about my period. As far as I'm concerned, my reproductive organs are dead meat; I'd have them taken out ASAP if I believe I could have that conversation with any doctor and have them listen to my desires rather than considering my reproductive potential more important than my comfort (as a person who already exists) in my own body.

I hate feeling like a useful container that society has strong opinions about first, and a person second, but that very literally feels like the way I'd be seen if I asked for a hysterectomy at the age of 29.

Fortunately now I'll be able to say "no, I don't know where I am in my menstrual cycle because I consider menstrual tracking to be yet another tool of patriarchal control over people-with-wombs' bodies" next time I get asked, instead of just sitting there and looking mystified by the whole conversation.
posted by terretu at 5:50 AM on November 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


“The act of measurement is not neutral,” Levy wrote. “Every technology of measurement and classification legitimates certain forms of knowledge and experience, while rendering others invisible.” Sex tracking apps and their ilk “simplify highly personal and subjective experiences to commensurable data points.”

Thanks for posting, OP. I thought this was interesting. Natural Cycles is the first so-called digital contraceptive approved by the FDA in the US. It got into trouble in the UK for Facebook ads the government considered misleading, and I bet they were. But I have friends for whom virtually all types of other contraception methods, including condoms, have been problematic and at least one is weighing the use of Natural Cycles. I truly hope apps and/or tracking methods can be made easy and useful for folks. Such an app might have helped me figure out I had endometriosis a lot sooner in my life.

This is not directly related but I was at a Swedish sustainability event today and one of the professors was asked why the Swedish academic powers that be claimed in 2008 that wind power would never generate more than X amount of power, and yet, 10 years later, way more than that is being generated. The guy, in a more tactful way, blamed old men and then added in Swedish (my translation): "I have yet to meet a young, female academic who is a climate skeptic." The outnumbered women in the audience greeting his comment with laughter.

So thank you to all the women in this thread and elsewhere doing the hard work of being female researchers in aggressively male settings such as health and science. We need more of you, and that cannot happen too soon.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:43 AM on November 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


I went about 5 yrs without a period and assumed I was in weirdly early menopause. Turned out it was a very slow-moving cancer upsetting the hormones in my ovaries. One surgery later, the monthly flow returned. Honestly, I didn't miss it.. But I had to turn to a period tracker app to get a ballpark idea when my periods were coming because I was so out of practice with the signs my body had put up when I was younger.

I used a freebie called P Tracker which worked just fine for the limited information I needed. I'm pretty excited to see Spot On, though, this looks excellent. Thank you for drawing in to my attention!
posted by taterpie at 9:26 AM on November 14, 2018 [2 favorites]




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