The period industry has gradually begun to realise the untapped potential that technology has in transforming the way women experience menstruation. While so many things about our day-to-day lives would look barely recognisable to people even 50 years ago, innovations in menstrual health have been stagnant since the 60s and 70s, when the contraceptive pill and self-adhesive pads seemed to herald a revolution.
It’s only in the last five years that women have been able to take advantage of technology for their menstrual health. With new period-tracking apps popping up on a regular basis, advanced menstrual products making their way into the mainstream and a wealth of new pain relief options, it’s clear that the future of comfortable, stress-free and hygienic menstruation is through technology.
Even if you’re still a pen and paper person at heart, there’s no denying that apps have revolutionised our lives. With the touch of a finger, we can organise our diaries, access our bank accounts, make a purchase and even learn a new language.
In the last five years, our app obsession has finally been utilised by the menstrual care industry and medical professionals, who’ve developed a number of popular period-tracking apps. With these inventions, the days where women would inconspicuously mark their wall calendars or diaries in order to prepare for their time of the month will soon be a distant memory.
Being notified in advance of your incoming period is the biggest draw of using a period tracker, but these apps are good for more than just avoiding that dreaded midnight tampon run. Many of these apps include other health-related categories that you can track alongside your period.
By gauging other aspects of your health – including tiredness, mood swings, tenderness and temperature – these apps not only help to keep track of your body’s natural responses throughout your menstrual cycle, but can also help in matters such as fertility.
Having all of this information at hand reduces the anxiety of being ‘caught out’ by your period, and allows women to make more informed decisions about their health. As Clue CEO Ida Tin puts it, these apps give women “awareness of the unique patterns in their bodies and cycles”.
By identifying your mood swings as a symptom of PMS rather than just a ‘bad day’, the guilt that so many women admit to feeling at this time of the month can be lessened. By being more aware of your body’s cycle, you can prepare for it better, improving both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Considering the stigma that still exists surrounding women’s hormones during menstruation, using technology in this way can be validating. Young girls especially have reported that period-tracking apps are helping to demystify and normalise periods amongst their friendship groups. Rather than feeling embarrassment or shame, they feel empowered that a piece of technology has been designed specifically for their bodies, and offers tangible proof of what they’re experiencing.
With their ease of use, range of functions and reminders concerning both physical and mental health, it will soon be hard to imagine a time before we could track menstrual cycles digitally.
While we may not be able to politely ask Alexa to pause a period in time for our holiday, smart technology is beginning to intersect with menstrual products. From the world of home entertainment systems, we’re now seeing all manner of internet-connected health products, including some interesting applications to menstrual health.
Some of us may have an antiquated image of what menstruation was like for women just a few generations ago. In actual fact, disposable menstrual products were first invented in 1888, and tampons have been on the market since 1929. In other words, our great-great-grandmothers were using much the same products as we do.
So-called ’smart tampons’ are still in their infancy, but this technology already has the potential to benefit women’s health in the long run. Using a Bluetooth applicator, smart tampons wirelessly connect to your phone, and send you regular reminders to change your product.
However, some brands are already experimenting with technology that could detect the early signs of medical problems, including ovarian cancer. Bioengineers are even in the early stages of developing a smart tampon designed to dissolve inside the vagina, as a delivery mechanism for anti-HIV medication.
Though we may have years to wait before smart tampons become widely available in local pharmacies, the fact that this technology is being developed and targeted to benefit women’s health is already a positive step forward in an industry that has long neglected medical research targeted at women.
A Pain-Free Future
For many women, it seems almost impossible that a period can be completely pain-free, even with the aid of some sort of painkillers. For those with more severe cramps or higher sensitivity to the side effects of medication, the most popular alternative pain relief methods have been natural remedies such as hot water bottles and herbal tea.
According to some, TENS machines may hold the answer. Traditionally used by health professionals to ease symptoms of arthritis and sports injuries (amongst other ailments), they are starting to gain popularity as an alternative, drug-free option for pain relief during menstruation.
Though this technology has been available for decades, it is only in recent years that companies have begun to take advantage of this gap in the period pain-relief market. Companies such as Livia now specifically market their TENS product to women as a method of pain relief during menstruation.
While some users have reported that their menstrual cramps subsided in minutes after turning on the device, it is important to note that every woman’s body is different, and a TENS machine may not be the holy grail of pain relief for everyone. However, the fact that this technology is helping some people to combat menstrual cramps is a tremendous improvement.
Period cramps (or dysmenorrhoea) cause millions of women some sort of discomfort, ranging from manageable to severe enough that it heavily interferes with their daily activities (as is the case with 5-10% of women). To have a viable and long-term pain relief option available that does not necessitate taking hormone drugs gives women far more freedom during their menstrual cycle.
Whether it’s menstrual products themselves or more effective pain relief, the common denominator regarding recent technological advances in menstrual health is the concept of freedom. Periods may be a healthy, natural occurrence, but they can still be a cause of inconvenience and discomfort. This is especially true of our increasingly busy society, where hibernating for days at a time every month is not the most realistic solution.
By utilising technology, women can feel more informed about their bodily functions and plan accordingly for any issues they may experience, be they psychological or physical. With some of these inventions even providing medical insights, it is clear that technology is the key to a future where women have more control and choices regarding their menstrual cycle.
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