In the era of the Quantified Self, self-tracking apps exist for just about everything, including for women to keep track of their menstrual cycle. So-called period-tracker apps catalogue everything from a woman’s moods, cravings and PMS symptoms, to the duration and quality of her flow, to when to take her pill and change her tampon, to when she’s at peak ovulation.
There are dozens of free options for women to choose from, e.g., Period Tracker Lite, Kindara and Clue. I, however, recently decided to pay $1.99 for My FLO Tracker, an app developed by the same woman, Alisa Vitti, who wrote the book, Woman Code. I became aware of the book at a full-moon breathwork ceremony where we were learning about how to sync our cycles to the moon. (What can I say? I’m a walking cliché.)
Men, you probably already know this, but women are literally a different person every day of the month. Our hormones cycle approximately every 28 days (or in my case, every 23 days because God hates me) with four distinct hormonal transitions throughout the month. Men experience a daily (diurnal) hormone cycle that, without getting too complicated, essentially means you wake up with loads of testosterone that slowly decreases as the day goes on and resets the next day. You lucky fucking bastards.
Vitti’s mission is “healthcare for women, by women,” and her program of diet and lifestyle changes promise to “put your period symptoms and conditions into remission.” Likening my period to a cancer was an idea I could get behind — as was leveraging my ever-changing hormones to my advantage, instead of being a victim of them. And so, I downloaded the app, entered the first day of my last period, the length of my cycle and checked out some of the info about what’s up with my hormones depending on where in my cycle I was: Should I do yoga or run? Eat sweet potatoes or protein? Am I in the mood for rough sex or snuggle time?
And wait just a second… what’s this?
An option to “SYNC MY PARTNER”? I had to know what these emails said about me. What period secrets were being leaked outside the Red Tent. I didn’t have a partner so I asked a guy I’d only been dating for two months if I could sign him up. “I feel like we’re moving a little too fast,” he joked, not joking. But he submitted to my request because I threatened to withhold sex unless he obliged. The intro email arrived 30 minutes later. It read:
Women are mysterious creatures, but yours would like to let you in on a few secrets that can help you both thrive in your relationship all. month. long.
She has begun using My FLO, an app that allows her to track the four phases of her monthly cycle and feel great throughout. She has signed you up to receive updates when she moves to a new phase so that you can know where she is hormonally and how to love her best (heads up: she moves to a new phase of her cycle roughly once each week). These updates will include:
Her body on hormones
What you should plan to do together
What kind of sex works best
Best time of day to have sex
And other insider tips about your woman that most partners go their whole lives without understanding!
We are all driven by our hormones. Knowing how they impact you and how to care for them is a key to a healthy life. Understanding how they affect your partner allows you to not only avoid common and often unnecessary relationship pitfalls, but more importantly gives you a predictable map to plan how to engage your partner so that you win every week with your woman, giving her just what she wants when she wants it.
“This seems like a really bad idea,” he said.
“I think it’s cool!” I responded, naively.
“I think it’s going to destroy us,” he warned, shaking his head.
Probably for that reason, a month went by, and I didn’t hear a peep out of John regarding My FLO.
“Are you getting the emails?” I asked him one night.
“Yes,” he said before trying to change the subject.
“What do they say?” I persisted.
“Nothing? They can’t say nothing. Tell me!”
“No,” he offered, turning on the TV.
“This is bullshit — they’re about me!” I was getting angry. “Why won’t you tell me?”
“Because they’re a fucking minefield, Bridget,” he explained. “It’s a trap.”
“Just please forward them to me.” I was begging.
“Fine,” he said. “But don’t be expecting a hot-air balloon ride every month.”
“What the — ?”
“ — Just don’t.”
The first thing that struck me was how long the emails were were. Week One started around 500 words. Week Three ran about 1,400. As the intro email promised, the information is broken into six sections:
- Her Body on Hormones
- Date Night
- Fertility Factor
- Heart to Heart
- Best Time of Day to Have Sex.
It’s a lot to digest — not to mention crazy to think you can apply a generic template to a woman and her moods. But most of all, it was a journey. Below I’ve included excerpts from the three emails John received, along with my reaction to some of the suggestions, John’s commentary and stories from a month trying to survive a period app that was only trying to tear us apart.
Week One: The Follicular Phase (aka The Week Right After My Period)
Let me explain something about the week right after our period ends: We are badass motherfuckers. I call it my “mogul” week because my estrogen levels are so low, I almost feel like I know what it’s like to be a dude, just cruising through life, slightly disconnected and extremely focused on work. According to My FLO, science backs me up:
“Her Body On Hormones: At this point in her cycle, where hormones are at their lowest, with [follicle-stimulating hormone] just beginning to rise, she’s most receptive to new things this week. Since her testosterone is at its lowest point, to get her energy up — think play, fun and fantasy.”
The coolest part about these emails is definitely the science stuff. It’s remarkable what women go through on a month-by-month basis. John gestures vaguely at his phone when he sees it broken down, “This explains why there’s a patriarchy. It’s all right here.”
The email goes on to suggest trying new things throughout the week and promises, “If you can do this once a month, you’ll be an A+ partner.” At first I laugh, but then I get pissed when I realize we’d only been on two dates.
“I knew this was going to be a disaster,” John grumbles.
“You make a horrible boyfriend,” I pout.
“Yeah, but I make a great husband,” he counters. Touche.
The email, though, has us covered. It advises:
“Whether you’re getting physical with rock climbing, or getting a new perspective by hot air ballooning, new activities builds intimacy, boosts oxytocin levels (the falling in love hormone) and refreshes relationships, protecting them from dating ruts.”
Ah. This explains where the hot-air balloon comment came from. “We’d need to actually go on some dates before we got in a rut,” I say.
“I told you,” he responds. “I’m not taking you hot-air ballooning, Bridget.”
The email goes on to disclose, “As it’s a dry week, not only is lube important, but focusing on her clitoral orgasm first and repeatedly is the key to getting things flowing for you to join the party.”
According to My FLO, the “Best Time of Day to Have Sex” is in the “early evening” so that you can “match her lower levels of hormones this week.” I’m not a huge fan of the “best time of day to have sex” section. You have sex when you can or when you’re in the mood — I’m not about to try to hack my sex drive. It’s an elusive, mysterious part of being a woman and ebbs and flows daily, weekly, monthly. Not to mention, it’s different for each individual woman — there are obviously some similarities in cycle moods due to hormones but to think you can write a template that works for every woman is crazy.
Week Two: Ovulation (About Two Weeks After My Last Period Started)
Per the Her Body on Hormones section, “Estrogen, testosterone and [follicle-stimulating hormone] are peaking, and she is literally a magnet for your desire this week, you will find her irresistible, and you should not resist ;)”
As for Date Night:
“Make time to be together this week. Make plans for dinner with friends, dress up and go out to a party, mix and mingle and flirt with each other from across the room. Go see a movie and sit in the back row and make out. Play footsie under the table at dinner. Send her suggestive emails/texts about how much you’re thinking about her and how much you want her and want to make her feel loved.”
I decide we should at least try one of the suggestions, so we go to an IMAX movie after visiting a science museum. It’s Friday, which means every child in L.A. has been bussed in to see King Tut. John tries to kiss me twice while I’m chewing a pretzel. I get annoyed. We attempt to play footsies and make out, but the kids behind us say, “Ewwwwww gross.” So we stop. The whole day feels awkward and forced.
The next day, John sends me a text from work.
I’m starting to see his point.
Maybe sex will work. After all, the Love-Making section vows:
“Her testosterone levels are also peaking, so she is the most naturally in the mood for sex during her whole cycle. This is the time to have intense, passionate, physical sex (however you define it and enjoy it). Think hot and passionate or whatever turns you both on and intensifies the attraction.”
Unfortunately, I’m not really in the mood. I had tried on some old dresses earlier in the day, and they didn’t fit. It sent me into a downward spiral of early stage middle-age body dysmorphia that I attempt to hide behind some work. So when John tries to get frisky, I’m not having it.
“Isn’t this your peak week or something?” he asks.
“No, I’m just focused on work,” I respond, pissed that the period tracker is ratting me out.
We end up getting into a disagreement, and he leaves because he thinks I needs space. Maybe he should have paid more attention to the Heart to Heart section: “Also be open to the fact that it’s a time that she’s going to want to have a conversation about how you’re feeling.”
Week Three: Luteal Phase (The Week Leading to My Menstrual Phase)
Like I said, this is the super long email, coming in at 1,400 words. So obviously, there’s a lot to unpack here, but I can see what John means when he says these emails were a minefield. For example, from the Her Body on Hormones This Week section:
“This week has 2 distinct segments — the first 5 days are the buildup of estrogen and progesterone and her energy is up. With progesterone entering the picture, it stimulates the nesting instinct and has her focused on details. She’s interested in getting things done, attending to projects and accomplishing tasks. Be her hero this week by offering to help in any way that makes sense. Maybe put up a shelf while she organizes the closet, for example. Make your time together fun by working on things that have to get done anyway together.
“The second segment of 5 days is the time where estrogen and progesterone decrease (when there has been no conception), and when they hit their low point, it triggers menstruation to start. She should still feel good, and will need to support her energy by eating a bit more. A word about PMS — it’s not supposed to happen, if it does happen, it will occur during this second segment of 5 days, and it is caused by an imbalance of the ratio of estrogen to progesterone — too much estrogen and not enough progesterone.”
RECORD SCRATCH — EXCUSE ME WHAT???? YOU CAN’T TELL MEN PMS ISN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?!?!
I ask John to tell me how he interprets this, and he says, “PMS. Bullshit. Knew it.”
That said, even the email admits:
“If it happens, she will have physical symptoms of bloating, mood swings, acne and more, and instead of having enough progesterone to feel focused and energized to do things, she will be foggy and fatigued. The good news is, that if she’s using her MY FLO app, she’ll be learning how to eat to keep her hormones balanced and making her PMS a distant memory.”
Making her PMS a distant memory? Oh man this app is definitely setting men up to get dumped for SURE.
Personally, my PMS can sometimes register as being irritated with everyone around me no matter how thoughtful or kind they are — I just don’t want to be talked to or touched. Case in point: One night, John tries to kiss me passionately in the kitchen, and it catches me off-guard.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I just want to kiss you, you look so beautiful,” he responds.
“Stop listening to that app — it’s not always right, John!”
“I just wanted to fucking kiss you; it had nothing to do with an app!” he says, hurt.
I realize I’ve crushed his sweet little heart. Then again, maybe he didn’t make it all the way through the email’s gigantic amount of text, or at the very least the Heart to Heart section:
“This is a big one as it’s often (and unfortunately and unnecessarily) the most contentious time during the month. I want to break this down for you and give you tools to have the love FLO again. The presence of progesterone circulating in her brain is making her look for ways to improve things, complete things and take things to the next level. She wants to share with you what’s working and not working and what she wants to improve upon in various areas of her life, including her relationship with you.”
Translation: She’s going to hate her life, compare herself to all her friends who are married with kids or her single friends who have careers and ask you where this is headed.
Nonetheless, the email continues:
“When she tells you these things, this means NOW is the PERFECT time for you to come in with your master problem-solving skills! Work together to figure out what solutions make sense. Remember however, that you should not take anything that she is saying as a direct criticism of you. If she is saying, ‘I want us to do something with the yard,’ she is not saying, ‘You never help me with the yard.’”
No, she’s passive aggressively saying, “You never help me with the yard.”
It gets worse:
“However, if things aren’t working well in any area of your relationship, she will most need to express this to you at this time. It’s not because she has hormones this week that she isn’t thinking clearly and is hypercritical.”
Holy shit. Please why, pray tell, am I not “thinking clearly” and “hypercritical”?
“It’s because the changes in her hormones are allowing her to be more direct and that is a good thing. It’s a healthy, loving act in a relationship to discuss ways to make things better without it turning into a conflict.”
This makes no fucking sense. Am I direct? Or am I befuddled and not thinking clearly? And if I’m being hypercritical about my partner, I’m going to expect there will probably be a conflict.
But of course, all roads lead back to PMS being a totally imaginary affliction:
“The bad rap this week gets due to hormones is unfortunate, as PMS is a correctable hormonal imbalance.”
MEN, IT’S A TRAP. TURN AROUND. GO BACK!
Week Four: The Menstrual Phase
John and I didn’t survive the app.
Eventually, it destroyed us.
Me: I’m sorry I snapped at you, I’m just PMSing.
John: Ya know, babe, PMS isn’t supposed to happen. It’s just a correctable hormonal imbalance that you can fix.