Women's body fluids become valuable sources of knowledge
Researchers from KTH and Uppsala University have developed innovative technology for analysing cervical and vaginal mucus. This will help increase individual comprehension and facilitate better discussions on the experiences of menstruating individuals.
Currently, various technologies are available for analyzing menstrual cycles and fertility, including digital contraceptives for pregnancy prevention. However, a common limitation of these technologies is their assumption of a regular 28-day menstrual cycle, which overlooks irregular cycles, disorders, or those approaching menopause.
Additionally, these tools are often grounded in societal norms and an idealized perception of the reproductive human body, the researchers behind the new mucus analysis technology warn.
Moreover, temperature-based ovulation tracking may yield unreliable results, as factors like illness, hangovers, or irregular sleep patterns can influence the outcomes. Many existing techniques are also designed exclusively for women, placing a heavier responsibility and emotional burden on them.
“These technologies have their flaws, but they remain useful and vital to many women as they help understand their cycles. What is needed is more research in this area in order to make these technologies accessible for everyone,” says Nadia Campo Woytuk, doctoral student at KTH and one of the people behind the new mucus technology.
Woytuk explains that the texture, colour, and electrical conductivity of cervical mucus have the potential to enhance our understanding of fertility and the menstrual cycle, as demonstrated by this new technology. Better knowledge about ovulation and menstruation is not only about the chance or risk of pregnancy; it also contributes to improving the well-being and daily lives of menstruating individuals.
“We are interested in ‘demedicalizing’ people’s interactions with their own body fluids, trusting their tactile senses with the support of digital sensors," says Woytuk.
Over the course of six months, the researchers have developed the material, design, and a prototype capable of sensing cervical mucus. They have explored four different concepts, one of which has been transformed into a wearable prototype.
The fluids important biomarkers
Existing technologies already use various parameters, including body temperature, hormone levels, CO2 in breath, and heart rate, to predict menstrual cycle phases, including ovulation and the onset of menstruation. These technologies come in the form of smartwatches, bracelets, earbuds, and rings attached to the body. However, the researchers caution that presenting collected data primarily through screens risks creating a disconnect between the individual and their body and the technology that measures it.
"Feminist researchers have long advocated for a focus on the tangible, fluid, and messy aspects of the body, such as menstrual blood or cervical mucus. These fluids serve as essential biomarkers for understanding the menstrual cycle, yet they have been neglected in research due to societal perceptions of them as repulsive or unclean. Through this work, we aim to challenge this taboo and reframe women's bodily fluids as valuable sources of knowledge," states Woytuk.
The scientific paper behind the mucus technology won the Best Pictorial award at the 2023 ACM Designing Interactive Systems Conference (DIS 2023).
Text: Peter Ardell
For more information, contact Nadia Campo Woytuk at email@example.com.