Column: Apple finally understands that a uterus is part of the human body, updates app

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never really used Apple’s built-in HealthKit app, let alone realized there was a name for that little pink heart icon. Thanks to Apple’s latest operating system update, however, roughly 50 percent of iPhone users — namely those with uteruses — might find the app a whole lot more useful.

The iOS 9 HealthKit update now includes a sex tracker. The initial media reactions to this new feature were incredulous—why on earth does Apple need to know anything about its users’ sex lives? Do we really need a machine to help us plot the trends of when we are — or aren’t — getting any?

Those who are lamenting the entry of big data into our bedrooms completely miss the point of the HealthKit update. The new feature now gives women a discreet platform to document something even more taboo than their sex lives: their periods.

The HealthKit tool has been a part of iOS for years; it allows users to monitor things as general as exercise trends or as niched as copper and selenium intake or the Peripheral Perfusion Index. It’s a wonder it took so long for Apple’s HealthKit developers to realize the key audience they were forgetting to address.

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Somewhere amid what I presume were some very heated discussions about the importance of the selenium intake monitor, Apple’s employees forgot about a much more pressing health issue that affects millions of users every month.

When only 20 percent of Apple engineers are women, it’s sadly not a surprise that developers overlooked the importance of incorporating a menstruation tracker for so long. Better late than never, the new feature finally adds some veracity to HealthKit’s promise to help you “see your whole health picture.”

Reproductive health is a major component in many women’s overall well-being. Now, with HealthKit, women can document information like when they last had sex, whether protection was used, when their last period was, what their symptoms were like and more.

This data can be used to help women predict where they are in their menstrual or ovulation cycle at any point in time, when they reach peak or minimum fertility, when their next period will start or end and what kind of symptoms they should keep an eye out for.

Having a comprehensive understanding of her body can help a woman develop a better sense of agency. Tracking components of her reproductive health can allow a woman to better plan or prevent a pregnancy, identify potential causes for concern, or simply know in advance when to stock up on feminine supplies and ice cream.

There have always been other apps available for women to chart this information, but they can be difficult to find on the app store or indiscreet once downloaded.

Who wants their friends to spot a giant, pink “Period Tracker” icon on their homescreen? By providing the feature automatically to any woman with an iPhone, Apple further eliminates embarrassing or inconvenient barriers to women knowing and understanding their own bodies.

Further, combining a menstruation tracker with a comprehensive health app juxtaposes reproductive health with a database of other pertinent information. Cycle regularity and menstrual symptom severity are affected by other health factors, such as diet, sleep, travel, exercise and stress.

When women can document reproductive health information alongside these other variables, they can better identify health behaviors that worsen or alleviate symptoms of their cycles.

If we’re to be tied to our phones, then our phones should be tied to our health. Medical researchers and engineers are learning more and more every day that our bodies are one big, comprehensive picture; using technology to treat women’s reproductive health concerns with legitimacy is a huge step in completing that picture.


Follow Hailey Dickson on Twitter.



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