Between Liberation and Control: Mixing Methods to Investigate How Users Experience Menstrual Cycle Tracking Applications

Lisa Stuifzand*, Rik Smit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

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Menstrual Cycle Tracking Applications (MCTAs), like other FemTech applications, are marketed as tools of empowerment. They claim to help menstruators to better understand their cycle and (re)gain control over their bodies by datafication of physical processes and mental states. However, despite technological solutionist promises, the development of such applications is shaped by discourses and knowledge situated in traditional and interlinked biomedical, neoliberal, and patriarchal power systems and archaic taboos. This study answers the research question through both quantitative and qualitative research. For the quantitative part of the research, an automated content analysis of 139 posts and 1988 comments from three different subreddits—r/Periods, r/TwoXChromosomes, and r/birthcontrol—was conducted using R and its RedditExtractoR package. The qualitative part of the study includes the execution of two focus groups with six and seven women, living in the Netherlands, between the ages of 22 and 26 in December 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research pointed out that both focus group participants and Reddit users use MCTAs to track both their menstruation and associated bodily and mental states and paradoxically experience them as both liberating and controlling. Participants primarily view menstrual cycle tracking applications (MCTAs) as liberating and empowering, as users believe these apps help them to (1) increase their menstrual literacy, (2) be more considerate of themselves during different phases of the menstrual cycle, and (3) generally regain control over their natural cycle. Participants felt controlled in two ways: (1) through the menstrual taboo that is still present in their everyday lives, and (2) through patriarchal notions of femininity and sexuality that are embedded into the design apps. Even though participants are less attentive to neoliberal and biomedical power systems, subtle nudges given by MCTAs make them incorporate these power systems into their data sense.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFemTech
Subtitle of host publicationIntersectional Interventions in Women’s Digital Health
EditorsLindsay Anne Balfour
PublisherPalgrave MacMillan
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-99-5605-0
ISBN (Print)978-981-99-5604-3
Publication statusPublished - 23-Dec-2023


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