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To Track or Not to Track

By , 18, Staff Writer Originally Published: February 6, 2023 Revised: February 6, 2023

When I first got my period, I was worried about having an irregular cycle and not being able to predict when it came. Immediately, I downloaded the most popular period tracking apps, hoping I could rely on them to alert me when I needed to have extra period products handy.

But given the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, many people are newly worried that their digital period data may not be completely private or safe. Some period-tracking apps share personal data with third parties, which could have consequences, especially in our post-Roe world.

Even though some companies have reassured users that their health data will not be tracked or shared, it might still be a good idea to learn how to track your periods without using smartphones.

Even though some companies have reassured users that their health data will not be tracked or shared, it might still be a good idea to learn how to track your own periods without using smartphones.

So What Should You Know About the Menstrual Cycle?

First, the facts. Learning about your period can give you more agency and allow you to make responsible decisions regarding your health.

A menstrual cycle starts when a person gets their period. On average, a cycle is around 25 to 30 days. This can vary from person to person and from month to month. The timeline or symptoms of one person can be very different from another’s.

During the “period phase,” the uterine lining sheds, causing vaginal bleeding. This lasts approximately four to six days. Important note: a person can get pregnant at ANY time in their cycle so it’s still necessary to use a contraceptive even if you have vaginal sex during your period (and remember, condoms also prevent sexually transmitted infections).

Another important note: teens frequently have irregular periods. When I first got my period, I didn’t get it again for another three months. Following that, I experienced inconsistent periods for around two years. So, if you’ve noticed that your cycle is irregular, don’t panic! Over time, your period will likely become more regular. Of course, if something is bothering you, it’s always a good idea to get it checked out by a health care provider, as chronic irregular periods can be a sign of something else.

Now that you know some facts, what are the benefits of tracking your period?

Why Should Teens Track Their Periods?

Many choose to track their cycle to stay in tune with their body. “I believe tracking your cycle is helpful, especially noting symptoms,” says Carly, 19, of Warrenton, VA. “They help me recognize certain patterns.” Whether it be recording dates, symptoms, emotions, energy levels or more, by tracking their cycle, menstruators can be better prepared for their period to arrive.

It’s also a good idea to note any irregularities in your cycle that may need to be discussed with a health care provider. “I have an extremely irregular cycle,” says Rachel, 19, of Los Angeles. “I need to record my cycle for when I go to the gynecologist.” Other teens have symptoms they like to track. “As someone who gets very intense and painful periods, knowing when it’s about to arrive and tracking my symptoms and flow are very important to me so I can tell my doctor,” says Ava, 17, of Lawrenceville, NJ.

Some teens use certain contraceptives which cause them to get their period less often (the time can vary depending on the type used). For them, taking note of the length and dates of their periods and between periods can be valuable. “Because of the birth control I use, I only get my period every three months,” says Grayson, 17, of Dayton, NJ. “I find it very helpful to track my period since I often forget when it is due because of the large time gap between cycles.”

Going Old School

Tracking your period can be very simple. All you need is a calendar and something to write with. You could even take this as a chance to buy that cute planner from Target and track your periods from start to finish, every month! In addition to dates, you can track how heavy your “flow” (bleeding) is, symptoms, moods, energy levels and anything else you feel like taking note of. You can also color code, highlight or add stickers: whatever works best!

It’s common for period apps to take a few months to make more accurate predictions. Similarly, after a few months of tracking on your own, you’ll get a better idea of a general pattern to prepare for your period every cycle.

Additionally, even if you have irregular periods, like many teens do, it’s still worthwhile to track your cycle during your initial periods. “My period is often late so tracking gives me a time frame of when I am supposed to start so that I can be prepared,” says Tobi, 16, of Bakersfield, CA

So Should I Hit Delete Once and for All?

While you may not have to delete your period tracker app altogether, it’s a good idea to look into different apps’ privacy policies and data sharing histories. Some studies have shown that period app companies can both have misleading privacy policies and collect and/or share personal data. However, many companies are now offering new policies, including safer methods of tracking.

That being said, logging your own period data using the “old school” method is an effective way of protecting your data. “I stopped using tracking apps because of paranoia surrounding tracking and how my data is being used,” says Adrian, 18, of Pennsville, NJ. “As a trans man it’s scary for someone to have access to that sort of information.” Many other teens are also concerned about their security online.

If you’re worried about your reproductive and menstrual privacy, you can do a great job of tracking your cycle on your own! At the end of the day, it’s important to choose whatever option makes you feel secure.

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