Experts say reproductive surveillance could be used against you, but tracking your cycle could help minimize the odds of an unexpected pregnancy at a time when autonomous options are being stripped away.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, each passing hour brings new and even more troublesome ways this will affect bodily autonomy. You may have been quick to delete your period-tracking apps to keep your fertility information private. But, now what? With an abundance of apps available, the last few years have made it easier than ever for period-havers to both get pregnant and avoid getting pregnant. These are complicated times, though (to say the least). Period-tracking apps have become something experts are warning period-havers against. And yet, living in a post-Roe U.S. further necessitates period tracking as an extra safeguard against getting pregnant now that safe, legal abortions are banned in many states.
Until the overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24, period tracking seemed so simple. An afterthought, even. The only thing required of you each month was to log into your app of choice when your period started. Then, somewhere, somehow, a computer algorithm would process the information for you and let you know your fertile window, when you were least likely to get pregnant, and when you could expect your next period. Some apps even notify you when it might be time to take a pregnancy test. Others can help you learn to recognize signs in your own body to determine when you're ovulating.
It was like magic. And it probably almost single-handedly curbed the calendar industry.
Why do some experts suggest deleting your period-tracking apps?
The hitch now? Reproductive surveillance. Logging all that information could theoretically make it accessible to lawmakers. How soon before you get tried for murder after being accused of having an abortion, simply because you forgot to log your period and are very much not pregnant a couple of months later? Alarmist? Maybe. But that's precisely the scenario that has privacy experts worried.
"It's almost surreal that, in some states, using a period app could get you into trouble," Deven McGraw, former deputy director for health information privacy at the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, shared with Truthout. "But if an abortion is a crime, it could be accessed in building a case against you."
Why track your period at all?
The short and simple reason for period tracking is that it can help you get pregnant — and help you avoid pregnancy.
For plenty of period-havers, you know your period is coming before any app could ever warn you. The pimples. The cramps. It's all there. Some people are just that in tune with their bodies. But do you know when you're ovulating? Do you know when you're least likely to get pregnant? Without thoroughly tracking your period, losing track of those things can be easy. Whether you're trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid it, tracking your period is a great resource to use in tandem with birth control.
A visual reminder of when your period should come can also benefit you when you make a mistake. While there are still plenty of states where abortions are legal, many states have put limits on "late-term" abortions or passed "heartbeat" laws. If you have a visual cue that your period was supposed to start last week but didn't, you have ample time to get a test and, if needed, a possible abortion in your own state instead of traveling elsewhere.
How do you track your period without an app?
- Know Your Cycle Length. If it's not too late, gather as much information about your period from the app you’re using before you erase your data and delete your account. If your period has a history of fluctuating, your period tracker will already have a very good estimate of how long each cycle lasts. Know that number.
- Keep a Paper Calendar. The first day of your period is the first day of your cycle. Mark it on the calendar. If your cycle generally lasts 30 days, you can count out 30 days ahead and have a pretty solid idea of when your next period will start. You can also use the calendar to log symptoms you experience throughout your cycle.
How do you track ovulation?
While tracking your period can help you quickly notice when it's late, it can also help track your ovulation. The general rule is that most people ovulate 14 days before their next period. The Mayo Clinic offers some additional information that's useful in ovulation tracking.
- Count back 14 days from your next period and mark it on your calendar.
- Give yourself a window. Your period app probably marked five-ish days known as your "fertile window." You're still more likely to get pregnant during those days than other times.
- Buy some ovulation tests. These puppies work just like pregnancy tests but check for different hormones in your urine. During your estimated "fertile window," use the tests to confirm your calculations.
- Take your temperature every morning before getting up. Your basal body temperature (temperature when you're at rest) should be roughly the same each day. During ovulation, however, it will raise slightly.
- Know your discharge. That "gunk" on your panties? It plays a crucial part in your cycle. Knowing the difference in the look and texture of your vaginal discharge will also help you know when, exactly, you're ovulating.
- Remember, you're much less likely to get pregnant after ovulation than before.
A Final Note About Birth Control
The absolute best ways to avoid getting pregnant are still birth control and condoms. However, birth control isn't an option for everyone, and condoms break. The more steps you can take to avoid getting pregnant (if trying to conceive isn't on the agenda), the better chances you have of it not happening.
While tracking your period, pay attention to your energy levels and appetite. During menstruation, some people may want to eat more than usual, so you can better prepare for those cravings with healthy snacks by tracking your eating habits. Noting your energy levels will also help you better prepare your body for what to expect.
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