Doing away with the necessity of marking euphemisms on a calendar, period-tracking apps like Clue, M Calendar and Period Tracker have gained popularity (and some notoriety) over the last few years, with women relying on technology to keep track of their next menstrual cycle.
Apart from a calendar predicting period dates, several of these apps enable users to feed in information related to the period cycle, like temperature, weight, symptoms like cramps, mood fluctuations, body aches, breast tenderness, and bloating. Apps like M Calendar and Period Tracker also mark out ovulation dates and “fertile days” – usually characterised by shades of pink.
Apps like Clue allow users to add more tags for a detailed analysis of the data fed in, in order to understand their bodies and cycles. As an added advantage, the app advertises itself as offering a pink-free experience.
Most women who have tried these period-tracking apps say they use them to remember when to stock up on sanitary pads or tampons, plan road trips, or to decide the best time to try for a baby.
“I’m too lazy to note down and calculate dates in a notebook, so my periods usually sneaked up on me,” said 34-year-old Priya Kapoor, who used Period Tracker until recently.
“I usually don’t get cramps or body aches, so it was mostly the unpredictability that made me download a tracker app,” she added. “It gives a heads up about when I’m likely to get my period. It’s helpful especially when you’re planning a vacation and don’t want your dates to clash.”
Kapoor used Period Tracker’s calendar feature, but soon shifted to an app called Hormone Horoscope, which she said gave her a better understanding of her cycle and her body.
“The app tells you how your hormone/estrogen levels are changing and how it affects your body.” she said. For Kapoor, the observations have proved to be mostly accurate, with slight discrepancies.
Fiza Jha, 22, began using Period Tracker once she became sexually active, and wanted to keep track of her period dates.
“I moved to Clue recently on my sister’s recommendation,” said Jha. “It’s a lot more professional than other apps. Their interface is smoother and cleaner, but I’m new to it so it still confuses me – the calendar feels tricky to me and the many tags and colours can get a little complicated.”
Often, the extra features are simply a reminder of how little most women are taught about their own bodies.
“I don’t know how to fill in details like whether my cervical mucus is sticky or egg white,” said a bemused Renuka Sharma, a 19-year-old student of Delhi University. “I don’t know how to measure its firmness or position. Some of those features are completely useless for me. But I like that I can always get a fair idea about when I’m going to get my period and it is so easy to just feed in information on the app. I always have it with me.”
For those trying to get pregnant, menstrual and fertility apps have helped them understand the rhythms of their ovulation cycle.
“I have always been sort of irresponsible about noting down dates,” said Sunayna Ganapathy, 29. “All my life I have been in the habit of noting down practically everything in a diary, but funnily enough, I never bothered to note my dates down. But now that I’m trying to get pregnant, I need to understand my own cycle and this app is coming in handy.”
The rising popularity of fertility apps are not credited to women alone though. Recent news reports have found fertility apps that allow men to track their female colleagues’, friends’ or girlfriends’ cycles. According to a report, men are tracking women’s menstrual cycles to “stay away from trouble” and “avoid unnecessary situations”.
A similar app called Trakher, introduces itself thus on the app store:
“This information is advantageous when planning a romantic vacation or to help explain mood swings throughout the month. This application is free to download and use. The free application comes with the baseball theme and the ability to track a menstrual cycle.”
A study published in the October 2015 issue of the Journal of The American Board of Family Medicine has suggested that the accuracy of fertility awareness-based apps, particularly when used as a means to avoid getting pregnant, is imperfect. According to the paper, which looked at almost 100 fertility apps, at the most, apps offer a convenient way to track fertility biomarkers.
Effective or not, fertility apps have many takers among urban Indian women with smart phones and basic knowledge about their cycle. Indian women still encounter several menstrual taboos – most of them learn about their menstrual cycles in classrooms while separated from their male classmates.
Several conservative households still disallow women from participating in festival rituals, entering temples, or even touching things in the kitchen when they are menstruating. In some families, girls are relegated to a corner of the house, sometimes even outside, during their period because they are considered unclean when bleeding.
Amid the secrecy and taboos that surrounds menstruation, a large section of the Indian female population grows up with very little knowledge about reproductive health, pre-menstrual stress, period symptoms or conditions related to period health, such as endometriosis. In this context, fertility apps are introducing several women to a new awareness about their body's natural rhythms and processes. As the user base for these apps grows in India, maybe developers will see the business potential in introducing them in regional languages to appeal to a wider audience.