Periods. There’s an App for That

Ahh Blood! The stuff of life!

I learned awhile back that having a vagina is like having a pet. You have to take care of it and sometimes have to clean up after it makes a mess. Even in the prime of my fertility, I constantly curse the monthly cramps, bloating, and headaches that come with  menstruation. Now I’ve dabbled in the dark artistry of female birth control and it was productive. I never got pregnant and I could depend on period coming like clockwork. My body appeared like a well oiled machine. A pill a day. A period a month. I was shocked when I found out that truth.

Recently, I decided the pill was not necessary after a long extended conversation with my doctor and a health advocate from Toronto Public Health. For Orientation at OCAD, I had the privilege to facilitate a sexual education workshop for incoming freshmen. I revisited all my best literature on the subject and began researching online more options for young men and women. I began to suspect there was something the doctors were not telling me. I heard getting pregnant was difficult but I always got that message from the wrong mouths. I did not trust those women and figured *maybe for you but I am a fertility goddess!* Boy… was I a little self absorbed.

Turns out, that getting pregnant is quite difficult! Almost miraculous really! Western Culture has put a lot of pressure on women and made the message about pregnancy quite foggy. I just think back to my high school in Hoffman Estates, Illinois where we spent half our year on STDs and the other on Abstinence. Since we never covered gay sex, the condom, or even ovulation. . . . I figured some heavy open mouth kissing was a lethal transaction where I could get hepatitis. I assumed boys were plotting to cum all over the place to impregnate us and my only line of defence was the pill.

After a class on Sex and the (Techno)Politics of Reproduction, I began thinking quite a bit about how to teach an alternative history to sexuality and sexual reproduction. The readings that we were responsible for painted a rather startling picture about how science had been indulging in a romanticization of reproductive sex that privileges sperm by creating an imbalanced perspective on the moment of conception. Specifically, Emily Martin’s “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Male-Female Roles” was an inspiration to my personal suggestion on how to empower women’s bodies with technological intervention. Additionally, Haraway’s “Fetus: The Virtual Speculum in the New World Order” was a large motivation behind my suggestion to engender knowledge through the understanding of the body as a cyborg entity.

That being said, birth control  was crucial to this discussion and in fact inspired quite a bit of writing, liberation, and sociopolitical momentum in the women’s movement. I am eternally grateful for this invention. But -and this is a big but women who are prescribed the pill are often not fully aware of what the pill does. If it is not taken regularly, (same time every day,) the pill does not adequately protect women from unintended pregnancy. According to  the Guttmacher Institute reports, two-thirds of women who use contraception consistently and correctly account for just 5 percent of unintended pregnancies. On the other hand, the 19 percent of women who use birth control inconsistently account for a whopping 43 percent of all unintended pregnancies. Yikes!

The good news is that the pill can be used indefinitely for as long as the user desires without changing a women’s capacity to become pregnant if she desires to do so. If you are at a high risk of getting pregnant the pill is still a great option if it is used regularly with an additional back up contraceptive. In the event you are in a monogamous partnership and refuse to use a backup, your best bet is an IUD. Another spark of hope is that Male Birth Control is on its way. Not only has it been invented years ago, there has been quite a bit of testing done on the long term effects of Male Contraceptives. Soon it will be both partner’s responsibilities to practice safer sex.

If you are an all natural girl and are looking for something more hands on, there is a lot of hope for you in the last couple of years. It has been proven, regardless of what method of contraceptive you use, that greater knowledge about your period is the best way to monitor fertility. Not only does it give you all the information necessary to knowing your ovulation time, (your most fertile time of the month,) it queers the egg and sperm fairytale that has been haunting sexual education books for the last century. Apps like Period Tracker Lite, Monthly Cycle, or Period Diary facilitate a reconsideration of the relationship between the womb, egg, and you.

Fact is, you are MOST likely to get pregnant in the 12-24 hours you ovulate. The average menstrual cycle is 28-32 days. While the exact timing of ovulation can vary, on average it happens between day 11 and 21 of your cycle. A brain hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH) surges, triggering the release of the egg that’s most ripe. At the same time, your cervical mucus changes to a slippery, egg-white consistency, to help sperm make their way to the egg. Women are born with about 1-2 million eggs, but only 300 to 400 will be released through ovulation. Usually just one egg is released each month. The egg travels down the fallopian tube toward the uterus, where it’s ready to be fertilized. The egg only lives about 12 to 24 hours after leaving the ovary. Sperm can live for about 3 to 5 days, so knowing you’re due to ovulate soon can help you and your partner plan sex for when you’re most likely to conceive. If fertilization does not occur, the egg dissolves after 24 hours. So it was only time before some wild women in technology came up with a way to track ovulation naturally.

Like Haraway suggests, these apps allow you to focus on the feminist conception of  reproductive freedom” (175). Like the sonogram these apps have the necessary haptic quality of new media and allow women to emotionally bond with their reproductive organs that are always internalized. These apps are queer extensions of ourselves since we can monitor, track, and predict our cycles without the heteronormative qualities of the pill, the condom, or sperm. In fact, these apps allow women to understand menstruation on their own terms. Since all of the apps use a calendar as well as a diary, women can write their own reproductive histories.

Actually, a lot of these apps reveal a different story than what your doctor is telling you! It’s quite difficult to get pregnant so if you want to it’s crucial to understand your monthly cycle. This model of understanding conception has social implications that go beyond the egg and sperm love story. Martin suggests a cybernetic model complete with feedback loops and flexible adaptation for children to learn about reproduction without hearing the sexist tropes of Rambo sperm and damsel in distress ovum. This app with its capacity to take notes, log symptoms, connect with your friends, and monitor your cycle’s personal norm avoids using unnecessary anthropomorphic tropes to understanding reproductive sex. As a class we discussed how difficult that would be to teach children! Apps like this, reveal how that model can be articulated without being too complex.

Apps like this are important because they help young women by encouraging them to learn about their own periods! Instead of creating a normative story that makes women feel inadequate, this app allows women to track their own personal healthy development. By encouraging women to develop their own stories about their periods, our culture can help make abnormal stories the new norm. Each of us can connect with our bodies through technology without having to learn about sex from stereotypes.

Works Cited

Martin, Emily The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles in Signs (April 1991), 16 (3), pg. 485-501. FACILITATED BY: Andrea Leigh Pelletier

Celia Roberts “Fluid Ecologies: Changing Hormonal Systems of Embodied Difference” in Bits of Life: Feminism at the Intersections of Media, Bioscience, and Technology pp. 45-60. Anneke Smelik and Nina Lykke (eds.). Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2008.

Haraway, Donna “Fetus: The Virtual Speculum in the New World Order” in Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan©Meets_OncoMouse™: Feminsim and Technoscience. pp.173-212. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.View in a new window

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