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06/29/2015

iPhone App Will Track Sexual Activity and Reproduction

Apple recently announced that they will update their health app, HealthKit, to include reproductive health. Many were critical of the original app because although it can track a wide range of health indicators, such as BMI, sleep, sodium intake, number of falls, etc., it neglected reproductive health. Specifically, it is problematic that the app includes some obscure health indicators, like selenium intake, but not menstrual cycle, which affects half of the population. While there are other apps that are specifically geared toward women’s reproductive health, it is troubling that an iPhone app that comes standard with the phone would exclude something so central to women’s health as menstruation. Some believe that the omission of reproductive health from HealthKit is due to the fact that the tech world, including Apple, is dominated by men.  
The new the updated app is a huge improvement because it includes a variety of reproductive health indicators like menstruation, basal body temperature, and spotting. The broad range of reproductive health indicators helps women keep track of their reproductive health in general and specifically for women looking to prevent pregnancy and for women looking to achieve pregnancy. This is an important addition because too often reproductive health is overlooked or not considered part of “real” healthcare. The addition of the reproductive health category in HealthKit technology not only acknowledges the reproductive health issues specific to many women, but also normalizes them.
Included in the new reproductive health category of the HealthKit app is sexual activity. Users can indicate when they have sexual activity and whether they used protection each time. Like other indicators in the reproductive health category (e.g. menstruation, basal body temperature, and spotting), the ability to track sexual activity and use of protection is also important.  
One concern with the new reproductive health category, however, is that it focuses only on women. Men also have reproductive health issues, a fact that is ignored by this new app. Women and reproduction tend to be conflated, with men’s reproductive health matters being ignored, and this further app reinforces this social trend.
Another concern with the new reproductive health category is that it subsumes sexual health. Sexuality and reproduction often go hand in hand, but not always. Some individuals may be sexually active but not worried about the possibility of pregnancy (e.g. straight individuals who have been sterilized, gay and lesbian individuals). Listing sexual health under reproductive health sends the message that protection is limited to pregnancy prevention and doesn’t include barrier methods to prevent STIs. Furthermore, including sexual activity under reproductive health may discourage men from using this app given the social association between reproductive health and women.
In short, the HealthKit app continues to improve, but still raises some concerns. Hopefully, the next version will address and resolve these issues without raising new ones.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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