This year has been the year of many things, the end of the coalition, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, the literal fall of Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters and the year MP Bill Cash managed to say the word tampon when debating the tampon tax. Yes, this year has also been the year of the period. The menstrual cycle is a part of life, it will affect 50% of the population and yet it’s constantly been considered a taboo subject. When I was at school, we hid our sanitary products up our sleeves before asking to go to the toilet and we had a code word or a hand action so we wouldn’t have to say the dreaded term in public. Now things are changing, women are talking about their periods, they are tweeting, texting, speaking out about it on talk shows, integrating it into art work and debunking the myth that the period is something that should be kept private. Technology is also helping with breaking the taboo over the monthly cycle, with the emergence of period tracker apps that work out when your period is due. There are plenty of apps available, ones that are pink and girly, with cute symbols for not so cute things such as a heavy flow, and more sophisticated apps with graphs and not as many cute symbols. They are so popular that the apps Period Tracker and Period Calendar/Tracker have been downloaded ten million times. The period tracker apps don’t just track periods, but also remind you to take your contraceptive pill, go for a breast exam, or let you record when you’ve had sex. One of the apps symbol for protected sex is a man with a tie on, which is quite odd, yet slightly endearing. They can also track things such as cramps, food cravings, emotions, weight and sleep patterns to give you a better understanding of your period.
These apps are a big deal. They may not seem it to some, but they are particularly helpful when a young woman, or even girl, starts her period for the first time. Even though periods happen to 50% of the population, it can feel like you’re on your own, particularly when you first experience it. These apps help normalise this completely normal thing that society has turned into something to be ashamed about. They help us understand what’s going on with our body, when it’s going on and helps us be prepared so there are no surprises. We lead very busy lives, and these sorts of apps help us remember things we may well have forgotten, such as to pack sanitary towels. More importantly, there are apps around that cater to different religious sects, such as an app for Orthodox Jewish women who adhere to religious family purity laws. With these apps, young girls are encouraged to think about their periods, understand what’s normal and what’s not. This could be extremely beneficial to women’s health in the long run. By putting a period tracker into an app, it further normalises that it’s just a part of life, and that it can sit right inbetween your fitness app and your daily planner.
There are two issues surrounding the apps. One of those is privacy, many apps collect the data anonymously to forward to clinical and academic studies, as well as help in improving the app, as many applications do. Many of the period tracker apps share their information with researchers, and it is all done anonymously but be aware of the terms and conditions before you sign up. Another concern is that of birth control. These applications are by no means a form of birth control. Although many apps do tell you when you are most and least likely to get pregnant during the month, many of the tracking apps have an outrageously high fail rate, with one in four women who use the app as birth control becoming pregnant over the course of the year. So please, do not use it as birth control.
With the help of these apps, as well as celebrities, artists, athletes and just normal women, we are on the way to normalising periods, and it’s about time too.