This Period-Tracking Method Will Protect Your Privacy Better Than an App

Tracking your period by hand doesn't leave a digital paper trail. Here's how to get started.

Shelby Brown Editor II
Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
5 min read
Person uses a calendar to track cycle by hand with birth control and menstrual products nearby

Tracking your cycle by hand keeps your data away from digital prying eyes.

Isabel Pavia/Getty Images

In response to the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, many people have taken to social media to encourage users to delete their period-tracking apps, citing digital privacy risks.

Period-tracking apps are a helpful way for people who menstruate to track their cycles. And they might do that for a number of reasons. Folks monitor their cycle in order to get pregnant, to avoid getting pregnant, to keep tabs on symptoms of medical conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis, or just to be able to tell their doctor the first day of their last period when asked.  

The downside of these apps is that they hold on to a lot of personal health information that could be used against the folks using the software. Data privacy concerns about period-tracking apps aren't anything new, but now the consequences of a leak of your private period data are higher, in an already highly surveilled post-Roe world.

If you still want to track your period but want to avoid apps, what are your options? If you don't want to ditch apps altogether, there are more privacy-friendly period tracking apps, like Euki. The sexual health app says it doesn't collect or store any of your data in a cloud

The other option is to track your menstrual cycle with pen and paper. It might feel old-fashioned, but it's the most secure method. Here's how to monitor your cycle by hand:

Get a calendar 

Any type of calendar will do. You can even buy a blank notebook and draw out your own calendar. I prefer a full-size notebook planner that's blank, so I can manually fill in the days and months. A larger planner also gives you more space to write extra notes like symptoms and birth control information. 

Hand circling a date on a calendar in red ink

Once you have a calendar, you can log your current cycle or add previous cycle information for a more detailed record. 

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If you want to use your phone, your device's default calendar app offers the most privacy versus a third-party calendar app. On the other hand, depending on how much you use your phone's calendar app, adding cycle tracking information might make things a bit cluttered. 

Log previous cycles if possible

Before I deleted my period-tracking app, I took screenshots of as much past data as I could, like cycle trend overviews and past months I'd logged. This gave me a more stable place to start when I began tracking by hand. 

If you don't have that information available, don't worry, you can simply start logging when your upcoming period begins. 

What to write in your log

You can keep your calendar as basic or as detailed as you like, but more information can be helpful to learn more about your personal health, as well as provide talking points for you and your doctor at wellness checkups. 

Here are a few things that are useful to note: 

Of course, you'll want to mark the first day of your period, but you'll also want to mark each day that you bleed. In addition, try to note how heavy your flow is each day, what color the blood is and if you notice any clots. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, average menstrual bleeding lasts between two to seven days, so tracking how many days you typically bleed is important. This extra detail can help you understand what to expect every month, as well as detect abnormalities that you can share with your physician. From the first day of one period to the first day of your next period is one menstrual cycle. Cycles can vary from person to person, but on average a cycle can last between 21 and 40 days.

Emotional symptoms
A lot happens to your hormones every cycle, which can have an impact on your moods. According to the UNC School of Medicine, a person can experience irritability, depression, anxiety and mood swings. These emotional shifts can also happen before your period, which can be used as an indicator that the new cycle is about to begin. This is most commonly referred to as Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS. Some people experience more severe emotional disturbances known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. 

It can be helpful to rank your feelings on a scale of 1-10 to more easily spot patterns, as well as inconsistencies. 

PMS noted on a calendar

If you experience premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, make a note of what you feel and the severity in your calendar. 

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Physical symptoms
Your cycle also affects your physical well-being in addition to your mood. These happenings are also important to write down. According to WebMD, hormone changes can cause physical symptoms like cramping, breast tenderness, acne breakouts, bloating, lower back pain, constipation or diarrhea, and more. 

Again, keeping track of your physical symptoms and ranking the severity on a scale can help you better understand what's normal for you and what's not.

Whether it's prescribed, over-the-counter or birth control, it's useful to note in your log any medication you take. Medication (or missing a dose of medication) can impact your cycle, as well as your physical and emotional state. 

If you take a birth control regimen designed to prevent your period for a time, it's still important to watch for bleeding and spotting. If you miss a dose of birth control, it's also worth writing down. In addition, using medications like Plan B or the abortion pill would also be important to include in your log. 

A pile of ovulation tests

Whether you're trying to get pregnant or not, keeping track of when you ovulate can make a big difference. Most drug stores sell ovulation tests to help you find out. 

Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

In a menstrual cycle, ovulation is when an egg is released from the ovary, travels down the fallopian tube and remains for up to 24 hours for potential fertilization. According to the Mayo Clinic, in an average 28-day cycle, ovulation can occur 14 days before your next period, or six to seven days after your current period ends. This can vary, however. 

Ovulation can be marked by a slight rise in the basal body temperature, changes to cervical mucus or vaginal discharge, as well as breast tenderness, bloating, light cramping and more. If you're unsure, you can also purchase at-home ovulation kits from the store. These kits are designed to detect hormone surges. If you get a positive test, ovulation should occur about 36 hours after. Your ovulation window is generally your highest chance of conception. 

Sexual activity
In addition to monitoring your ovulation, tracking your sexual activity can help you plan for a pregnancy, or better avoid one. In addition, you can note whether sex was protected, as well as your last screening results for sexually transmitted diseases. Knowing when you're ovulating can also help with planning sexual activity. 

Putting it all together

Your calendar or log will be unique to you -- your lifestyle, eating habits, stress levels, cycle length, medication and more. Remember, it's about what works best for you. 

Here's an example calendar based on an average 28-day cycle: 

Example chart of tracking a cycle

This is an example of cycling tracking based on a 28-day cycle. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.