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A graphic design. A white iPhone on the right and a pink screen-like background on the left. On the iPhone display, a big red dot saying 'Day 5' in white text and a calendar at the top. On the left, there are three blue chat bubbles with white text. The first says, 'Track my cycle' and under it, 'Don't plan to get pregnant right now'. The second bubble says, 'Trying to conceive' and under it 'Favourable days are important to me' and the third says, 'I'm pregnant' and under it, 'Want to track my condition'.
Blog RollCategoriesData and Sexuality

Does Your Period Tracking App Ask You About Your Sexuality Or Your Contraceptive Pills?

This article was originally published here.

This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Written by: Ahendrila Goswami

The act of tracking one’s menstrual cycle is an age-old process. First, there was paper, then came spreadsheets and calendars, and now, the market is flooded with period-tracking applications.

Simply put, using a period tracker application on your smartphone involves downloading one and filling in all the necessary details regarding your menstrual cycle. Then, the application automatically tracks your period cycle. Each application has its own algorithm, but at the end of the day, if you are a menstruator with a healthy, regular menstrual cycle and you can update the app from time to time with information about the same, then it should serve as the most loyal best friend to you.

I installed a period tracking application on my phone when I was 18 and started noticing soon enough, that as the days of my menstrual cycle approached, my levels of anxiety started climbing. I must mention here that I was diagnosed with PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) at around the same time and since then, regular and healthy menstruation has become a myth for me.

My menstruation has always been characterised by irregular period cycle and inconsistency, besides other issues. Although the truth of my condition was not unknown to me, I found myself hoping against hope. I was constantly distracted, logging into the app on my phone every other hour of the day and reading up endlessly on everything around periods that I could lay my eyes on. Needless to say, it didn’t help my anxiety. Instead, it left me afraid of menstruation for a long time after that. In fact, menstruators who don’t menstruate regularly due to whatever condition might undergo a similar experience.

A study conducted by the University of Washington on the most reviewed period tracking applications available on the internet such as Clue, Eve and Glow among others have shown that a large number of menstruators are not only dissatisfied with the design of these applications, but also with the inaccuracy of the information generated by these apps.

The pretty pinks and other “feminine” colours, and floral motifs that characterise the applications most definitely conform to the stereotypes of gendered colours. In fact, in the act of filling it up with the traditionally considered feminine colours, like pinks and reds, they mostly tend to miss out on representation of the spectrum of menstruators including the trans-masculine queer people, and end up confining themselves to the misconception that it is only women who bleed.

Period tracking applications can also inform you about your general reproductive health and also caution you in case of an anomaly with respect to it. As menstruators in our undergraduate years, the primary reason I saw my friends using period trackers were to keep a track of when to carry menstrual products to college or avoid the risks of pregnancy.

However, these trackers automatically assume their users to be female, and when trying to update the data about our sexual partners, very few applications, such as Clue, allow anything more than the single choice of a male. This automatically ruptures the rainbow-coloured spectrum around gender and sexuality and squeezes itself into the monochromatic hetero-norm.

Another study conducted by The Atlantic shows that period tracking applications are still not capable of taking into consideration the change in one’s lifestyle during the cycle – like, emergency contraceptive pills or events like menopause or even stress, for that matter.

The pre-requisite of any application involves a good internet connection and for the best results, a few also suggest switching to premium plans for better tracking of health and the menstrual cycle. The process of period tracking, then, becomes inevitably suited to the privileged sections of society in a country such as India, where even the basics about menstrual hygiene management are still beyond most of the menstruators. Developers have said that they are looking into these issues and trying to come up with something more intersectional and inclusive with respect to the menstruators’ health. We can only hope for the best.

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