I didn’t have periods for 12 years because of my IUDs (it’s a common side effect and totally unconcerning). So when I had my last IUD removed in 2016 and my period returned, I almost felt like I’d started puberty again. I had to relearn how to deal with my period and hormonal fluctuations, read my body’s signals, and note my cycle’s new patterns.
Things had changed: My bleeding patterns, my moods, my skin, my libido. Thankfully, the debilitating cramps I experienced as a teenager were gone, as was the paper planner where I drew little red teardrops on period days in high school. But lots of new things were happening with my body, and I needed a way to make sense of them. I turned to the period tracking app Clue for help, and I’ve used it ever since.
I initially chose Clue over other period trackers because of its design. I’m allergic to pink and flowery, and I appreciated that it doesn’t feel super gendered. I liked that I could choose what was important to me to track in addition to my bleeding, and that the symptoms I don’t track won’t clutter up my screen.
I also appreciate that it’s explicitly science-based. They partner with medical professionals to make sure the info they provide is correct and in an effort to support sexual health research. In a world full of suspicious health information and period tracking apps that sell your personal health data to Facebook, I feel like I can trust Clue.
Most importantly, though, Clue helps me to be more in tune with my body and more in charge of my health. I keep track of when I bleed, of course, but I also track lots of other things that happen during the course of my cycle: mood fluctuations, skin changes, energy level, sex drive, and more.
Understanding My Whole Cycle
Being able to predict when I might start bleeding is super useful because I can make sure I have my menstrual cup with me. That alone is a great reason to track my cycle with Clue. But I experience changes in my body throughout my whole cycle — not just during my week or so of bleeding — that are helpful to document.
I track 12 symptoms, including emotions, sleep, pain, sex, productivity, and skin changes. After about 6 months, I had a major ah-ha moment: There are monthly patterns to my energy levels, my desire to be social, my ability to focus, and even how hard I work out. I already knew that I absolutely must eat all the gummy bears in the week leading up to my period, but identifying patterns in my other symptoms helped me form a fuller picture of my body, mind, and emotions throughout the month. It was a total game changer because knowing what to expect helped me accept and manage my symptoms way more effectively.
It’s Like a Crystal Ball for My Mood
During the first half of my cycle — the follicular phase when estrogen is the dominant hormone — I’m more energetic and focused, I have a higher sex drive, and I’m more likely to want to go out with friends. As much as possible, I try to plan my schedule to take advantage of my extra pep and motivation. For example, I’m launching a new business and scheduled a retreat next month during this phase of my cycle to create my vision, mission, and strategy. I know I’ll feel sharp, energized, and eager to do my best work.
Before I used Clue, I knew that some days I felt more focused and productive, but I assumed that to be unpredictable and random. Now I know that I’m much more likely to have those tough days during certain times of the month. When I can see all of this coming, I can plan to take advantage of it.
After ovulation, during the second half of my cycle – when progesterone is the dominant hormone – I tend to be moodier, sleepier, hungrier, and more foggy-headed. I’m inclined to stay in or to need more time alone. As I get closer to my period, it’s not unusual for me to fall asleep at 8 p.m. when I’m putting my kiddo to bed, so it’s helpful to know that I shouldn’t plan to connect with my sweetie or get some work done after bedtime. I also know that I often don’t have the energy to make dinner after work during this phase, so I try to plan ahead for quick and easy meals, and to carry snacks to stave off hanger and gummy bear craving attacks.
Using Clue to track my mood, pain, sleep patterns, and energy not only helps me plan my days and weeks, it also helped me recognize that I have PMDD, a disorder in which people experience sadness, fatigue, irritability, and other common PMS symptoms, but with the volume turned up to 11, so their work and relationships are significantly impacted. I was able to take the data I’d compiled on the app to my healthcare provider, get a diagnosis, and work with them to find an appropriate treatment. I may not have recognized the patterns that led to a diagnosis if I hadn’t been tracking so many aspects of my cycle. I used to be really hard on myself if I had a day where I couldn’t get much done. Now I (mostly) accept that it’s normal for my energy to be low before my period, and I don’t turn it into a story about how I’m actually just a lazy person who’s bad at living up to my obligations.
I can’t plan my whole life around my menstrual cycle, of course, but knowing what to expect helps me be proactive about planning ahead and taking the best possible care of myself. If I have a big day at work at an inopportune time in my cycle, I can’t necessarily change that, but I can say no to happy hour plans and order dinner on Caviar from the bus, so it’ll get to my door as soon as I change into my sweatpants and cozy socks.
Your Cycle’s Relationship to Overall Health
For lots of people with periods, their menstrual cycles can be an indicator of overall health. Knowing what’s normal for you can help you identify when something has gone sideways, plus you’ll have good data to share with your healthcare provider. For example, if you know that mid-cycle pain is normal for you (about 20% of ovulators experience mittelschmerz, or pain with ovulation), then you’re less likely to worry when that pain shows up. Or, if you’re suddenly spotting mid-cycle, seeing vaginal discharge that’s abnormal for you, or your breasts are feeling tender when you wouldn’t expect them to be, then you’ll be more likely to recognize something’s up and maybe see a healthcare provider.
Of course, lots of people have irregular cycles. Young people (under 20), people nearing menopause, and folks with certain illnesses may have very unpredictable periods. It can still be useful to track them, but Clue’s predictions about when the next one will start may not be accurate because the app uses an algorithm fed by your previous cycle data. Predictions can be turned off, though, and individual cycles can be excluded from the data set to make predictions more accurate.
Fertility and Pregnancy
I had an unintended pregnancy at the end of 2016, and I knew right away because I’d been tracking my usually very regular cycle with Clue. As a result, I was able to quickly get the medical care I needed. Unfortunately, I got pregnant because I was, against my own better judgment and Clue’s explicit warnings, trying to use it as a fertility awareness method of birth control — which it definitely is not and doesn’t claim to be.
Clue is also not designed to help people get pregnant. The app will predict your fertile window — the time in your cycle when you’re most likely to get pregnant — which is about five days before and 24 hours after ovulation (the days in blue on the app’s calendar are your fertile window; the date with the starburst is your predicted ovulation date). If you tell Clue that you’re using birth control, the fertile window predictions don’t show because you’re not fertile.
The most accurate methods for predicting fertile windows use a combination of basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical position. Clue can track these things but — as Clue itself cautions — it can only make predictions about the timing, which may or may not be very accurate.
I can trust everything I like about Clue because the company bases their work in solid science. There’s even a “Cycle Science” section of the app that includes articles on each of the symptoms the app can measure, and how that symptom relates to the menstrual cycle. All of these articles are written in easy-to-understand language and include citations, so I know they’re legit.
Clue is also partnering with medical researchers to help understand the menstrual cycle better. They share de-identified data from the app so that researchers have a large amount of information to work with as they try to learn more about the historically understudied menstrual cycle and its impact on total health. If you’re worried about privacy, you can even use the app without an account, which means they don’t get any of your personal identifying information.
I like knowing that I’m contributing to better health research for menstruators everywhere, while also learning and being proactive about my own health and wellbeing. Clue has definitely changed my relationship with my menstrual cycle for the better.