There’s a whole wave of “femtech” companies that are looking to help people with uteruses avoid pregnancy, get pregnant, track their pregnancies, and even breastfeed. You could, if you wanted to, jump from app to app for every single step of the process. There are cycle tracking apps, pregnancy tracking apps — even app-connected breast pumps! It's a whole new world out there for people who want to keep track of and learn from the cycles and processes their bodies go through.
But before we get into the tech, it should be noted that people with uteruses have been tracking their cycles for hundreds of years. Before there was the Pill; before there were diaphragms; before there were even condoms, people with uteruses were tracking their cycles in order to both not get pregnant and get pregnant. The difference between now and then is that now we have these apps that make it simpler to track our cycles, give us more health-related info than a calendar could even dream of — and potentially misuse our data.
While many of these apps and services are “free,” they have to make money somehow. And just like Facebook and Instagram and other “free” online services, they often make that money by collecting and selling your data to advertisers. If you're OK with ads targeting you to buy chocolate when you're having your period, then no worries! But if you're not as into the idea of corporations owning entire "shadow profiles" of you that outline everything about your life — and using that info to sell you stuff — then it pays to be a little more cautious about who you give your data to.
But Lux Alptraum, sex and tech columnist for OneZero, says that the burden of making sure companies aren't misusing our data or being cavalier about security shouldn't fall on users, even though it currently does.
"So many of these privacy policies and terms of service (TOS) are set up to be impenetrable and to be so long that you can't read them all," Alptraum tells Bustle. "We're in a situation where companies are able to get out of basic decency and monetize our private data or use our private data in a way that we're not comfortable with, because they can give us a TOS that we don't have time to read and that would take an advanced legal degree to understand."
Alptraum points out that gaps in security and privacy "aren't necessarily malicious" and could be due to engineers who don't have the skills to make products secure or to companies collecting (hopefully anonymized) data in order to make a product better.
“I definitely don’t want people to avoid these products wholesale," Alptraum says. "But I think that we as a culture need to have a broader conversation about the way that tech is enabling our privacy breeches. And the fact that there is a massive gap between the expectations that users have about what we consider privacy and the expectations that companies have.”
Even with taking privacy concerns into consideration, it's undeniable that advances in technology have made a lot of life's tricky problems (like not getting pregnant or feeding your baby if you do) a lot easier to handle. With that in mind, here are six femtech products that can bring through cycle tracking all the way to postnatal sex.
1. Tracking Your Cycle: Clue
There are a lot of menstrual cycle trackers out there, each with their own particular style, target market, and goal. And while some exist to help you get pregnant and some to avoid pregnancy, you can really use any of them for both purposes.
Choosing a menstrual tracking app can be about stylistic choices, but it can also be about privacy, because menstrual apps are particularly notorious for collecting and selling people’s data, sometimes without their knowledge or consent. But the feminist privacy group Chupadados investigated the most popular menstrual tracking apps on iPhone and Android. They found that Clue was the best when it comes to protecting user data. The app allows users to use their app without creating an account, which means all data can be stored solely on the person’s phone. And when they do share data — with user permission — they only share it with research institutions that are looking to improve healthcare for people who get periods.
2. Sex: Eva II by Dame
One part of the process of getting pregnant that too often gets left out of the conversation is sex. People talk a lot about period trackers and pregnancy apps, and leave out the actual act that gets most of us pregnant.
That’s why Eva II by Dame is on this list. Eva is a sex toy that sits inside the labia, over the clitoris, and can be worn without straps or hands (at least for many people’s bodies) during partnered or solo sex.
3. Ovulation: Ava
If you want to track your ovulation a little more closely, check out Ava, a new wearable that collects data about your skin temperature, resting pulse rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability ratio, perfusion, movement, and sleep in order to determine your five most fertile days of the month. They’ve even conducted a peer-reviewed study that found that the combination of these five data points is more effective than temperature or cycle tracking alone at predicting fertility.
And when it comes to privacy, not only does Ava have a Q&A section that answers privacy questions in plain English instead of legalese, but they also encrypt and anonymize data. Even better? They explicitly say “The data will not be used for anything else and will never be provided to third parties.” You can’t get better than that.
4. Kegels: Yarlap
Kegels are the exercises people do to strengthen their pelvic floor. A lot of people do them when they're pregnant to get those muscles prepped for childbirth and post-childbirth. And a lot of people do them after childbirth in order to help with urinary incontinence and improve post-baby sex.
If you're looking to work out your pelvic floor muscles, check out Yarlap. While other exercisers make you squeeze on your own, Yarlap uses electric stimulators to do it for you. Bustle writer Suzannah Weiss tested the Yarlap and found that it was not only effective, but actually kind of enjoyable! (Also, it's FDA-approved, so don't get too freaked out by the electric part.)
5. Breastfeeding: Willow
As pretty much any new working mom can tell you, breast pumping is complicated. But one new pump, Willow, is changing the game for working moms who can afford their new tech.
Unlike traditional pumps — which come with a bunch of tubes and parts and require a lot of privacy to use — Willow can be worn inside your bra, one on each boob. One new mom who recently had her first child tells Bustle that she was going to pump during a video conference call, just because she could. And while that’s a cheeky move, for sure, she also talked about the perception in her office that new moms taking time to pump in a separate room where somehow working less than everyone else. Willow makes it possible for her to pump in her office, while doing her work, and therefore avoiding the judgement of her peers and bosses.
Another new mom tells Bustle that her favorite part about Willow is that it allows her to pump in the car on the way to work. She also pumps while walking to yoga, which takes multitasking to a whole new level.
When it comes to privacy, Willow anonymizes data, but they do participate in third-party behavioral advertising. However, they also give users a pretty clear way to opt out on their privacy information page. Just, as usual, do your own research and make your decision based on your comfort level.
6. Postnatal Sex: Ohnut
A lot of people have pain with sex after having a baby — and most everyone experiences some kind of change. If deep penetration is an issue for you after you have a baby, one thing to check out is Ohnut. This sex aid is a series of four stackable, squishy rings that can be worn on a penis (biological or otherwise) and help control the depth of penetration. Couples can choose to start with all four and then reduce the number as they get back into the swing of penetrative sex. And because it’s not technology-connected at all, no concerns about privacy and data mining!
And, of course, you can absolutely do all of this without any tech at all. We've been doing that for the vast majority of time that humans have existed, after all! But why not have a little technological fun (and ease) where you can?