It’s Thursday. Do You Know the Texture of Your Cervical Mucus?

Have you ever wanted to have a baby, but weren’t quite sure how? Never fear, Max Levchin, cofounder of PayPal and Slide, is using his expertise in processing payments and sharing photos to… climb inside your uterus. That’s right, a man best known for financial transactions and slick slideshows is ready to tell you when it’s time to get busy – and get pregnant.

Levchin’s new app, Glow (designed by a man, made for a woman), uses Big Data on ovulation and successful conception to calculate when you’re most likely to conceive. The effectiveness of the app is based largely on your ability to remember to update it correctly with information like your last period or how your ovaries feel today, which – especially when your ovaries feel crappy – is not always super easy. Adding supplemental information like the texture of your cervical mucus makes the predictions even better, so start feeling for that texture, ladies (but don’t worry, sticking your phone in your vagina for optimal mucus measurements is probably a high priority on the Glow product roadmap).

There are already several fertility tracking apps out there, but this one has the distinction of being created by a dude who’s never struggled to get pregnant. Glow can also do some other super handy stuff that’s very related to reproductive science:

the app might remind a woman on an especially fertile day that it’s a good time to wear nice underwear. Her partner might receive a notification on the same day to bring flowers home.

You know, because getting pregnant is all nice undies and flowers! There’s no emotional frustration, physical fatigue, or infertility issues involved, ever. Other benefits of Glow include that it’s not HIPAA compliant and doesn’t involve your doctor in your fertility tracking system. But at least when the well-designed app and lacy undies don’t work and you go in for medical help, you’ll have a few months of mucus records ready to discuss.

It’s nice that companies are working to bring big data to health, but we need to stay away from the notion that any app, however beautiful and usable, can provide the ultimate solution to any health issue. Bodies are not code and the things they do can’t always be compiled without expert assistance. If you’re healthy and want a little bit of fun guidance from an app (plus those underwear reminders), and a convenient way to track your cycle, Glow might be for you. If you’ve been trying and having some trouble, the app probably isn’t all it’s mucused up to be.

And hey, whenever you wonder if there’s anything good about women, maybe Glow can help remind you of one answer:

Is there anything good about women?

Keep glowing, ladies!


Kerry is a longtime skeptic and technology enthusiast, currently in recovery from too many years spent working in enterprise software. She still believes in the power of technology to do good, when used judiciously. Find her on Twitter or Google+.

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    1. “You guys”? There are quite a few people who write for this blog. So when you say “you guys”, who are you referring to?

      Additionally, this blog encourages discussion. So instead of pointing fingers and adding nothing to the discussion, why not … oh, discuss the additional problems you have with this article?

      1. Yes. I am pointing fingers. Skepchick tends to do really well with trans* inclusion so I was pretty shocked when they (yes, I’m using a collective pronoun here) slipped up on this one. How was my post not a discussion of cissexism? My problem with this article is that it doesn’t acknowledge cissexism at all, so I said so.

        As for the “complicit” thing – if this app had some horrific racism or ableism you’d expect that to be brought up in the critique. Well, maybe not *you* but hopefully you can see what I’m getting at. Until the article is edited to have at least a token of acknowledgement that the app is biased against trans people, this article is, through it’s silence, complicit in it’s cissexism.

        Assuming that a woman has a male partner is homophobic. But in the minds of most cis people, once a woman is trying to get pregnant it’s okay to assume we’re not talking about same-sex couples. But this is so wrong and cis-brained that it definitely bears mentioning. Calling out cis privilege is a good thing, right?

  1. When I was going through infertility, if I’d had an app that told me to put on sexy underwear, I’d have wanted to smash the phone. I heard that kind of thing quite enough from ‘helpful’ well-wishers.

  2. I agree that the underwear alerts are pretty tacky. However, I frequently see complaints that medicine is too male-oriented due to too many practitioners being male. Isn’t it a problem we’re still dealing with? Isn’t women’s health care insufficient because too much of what we know is about men’s health? There’s also a running theme that technology, specifically software, is dominated by men.

    This app may be tone-deaf but isn’t it worth mentioning that women’s health issues (or perhaps more precisely, health issues that heavily involve someone who can get pregnant) are making it into technology? Isn’t that better than the alternative?

    The snarky tone at Skepchick is one of my favourite things about reading these posts. But in this case I think some of what this app is trying to do is worthy. Save the snark for the underwear part, eh?

    And yeah, the mucus thing is weird, but if we’re skeptics, shouldn’t we go find out whether this is an actual medical indication that contributes to accuracy in tracking a couple’s fertility cycles? Shouldn’t we be talking about whether big data can really contribute to health care? I keep thinking about how clinical trials (an important avenue of real evidence in medicine) are primarily statistical. Big data == statistics. I think the application of big data to helping couples conceive (in addition to working with a doctor) is fantastic. Just leave out the underwear alerts. Or make them optional if you’re into that kind of thing.

    Anyway… I mean this as constructive criticism. I think there’s nuance here that deserves some discussion.


  3. Um.. having parents who teach the Catholic Natural Family Planning (unlike much in the RCC it’s science based!) and quite a time of “hands-on” experience of use with my ex-wife, all you really need to get roughly the ideal time is to do a few checks of cervical mucus and cervical dilation every day (for about a week after menstruation ends) and a bit of human biology 101. The textbook measure of “fertile” cervical mucus is that its watery, clear and stretchy. To test stretchiness, take some morning mucus between thumb and forefinger. If it stretches more than 1 cm (and is clear and watery) it’s fertile, if it clumps up, is dry or discoloured, it’s probably infertile. Also, watch out for residual sperm from the night before – it might “cloud the waters”. Regular cervical examinations can also help: a harder cervix is probably closed, while a softer, more relaxed one will allow sperm to swim up it. Get both and then bang – the fertile mucus will keep those sperm alive for up to 5 days and if ovulation occurs within that time, it’s the best chance to get pregnant.

    Oh. No one was interested. Bah.

  4. Also this: “the app might remind a woman on an especially fertile day that it’s a good time to wear nice underwear. Her partner might receive a notification on the same day to bring flowers home.”
    I had some friends who were trying to get pregnant. They didn’t bother with flowers or underwear. They just fucked non-stop every day for two months and that did it. The husband was especially cynical, taking a “for the good of the family” approach to his role in this.

  5. Just to add a clarification: I think couples with infertility problems might be benefited by fertility awareness and mucus observation, but should first and foremost contact a qualified medical professional .. testing mucus wont help with low sperm-counts and hormonal problems.

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