In the late 2000’s, consumers were inundated with the marketing promise, "There’s an app for that." These days, there really is — including various aspects of health and wellness.
FemTech is a term for technology-driven products, services, tools and software addressing women’s health. This subcategory of the health technology industry primarily focuses on topics of sex and reproduction, since these are some of the greatest areas of biological variance between people assigned female and male at birth.
A portmanteau of the words "female" and "technology," the word was originally coined in 2016 by entrepreneur Ida Tin, who founded the menstrual-cycle tracking app Clue. But interest in creating technology to address female biology and to educate everyday consumers began long before the mid-2010s. FemTech startups have been on the business scene as early as the 2000s, according to a 2022 report by management consulting firm McKinsey and Company.
The global FemTech industry is worth about $51 billion as of 2021, according to market research data company Statista, and that valuation is forecast to ride the telehealth wave and double by 2030. FemTech currently accounts for an estimated 3% of all digital health care funding, with plenty of room to grow: Funding for FemTech businesses soared to $2.5 billion in 2021, according to the same report.
FemTech areas of focus
While female sexual and reproductive health share many areas of overlap, there are several distinctions that merit individual focus as well. These are some of the major categories being addressed within FemTech.
Menstruation and fertility
From a chronological standpoint, many consumers may first encounter FemTech through period-tracking technology, which digitizes the age-old progress of tracking one’s menstrual cycle for health and fertility reasons. Some apps even include tools that teach users to better understand other aspects of body care, such as regular self-administered breast exams.
Mobile-based apps such as Clue and a slew of competitors keep data at the user’s fingertips instead of at the mercy of their journals, stray notebooks or other physical notation devices. Keeping tabs on "Aunt Flo" has multiple benefits: Not only can it help you identify patterns and aberrations in your monthly cycle, but consistent records can help you track and predict your most fertile times for conception — or contraceptive — purposes.
If you’re struggling with fertility, there are also apps to help you track your IVF cycles or frozen embryo transfers.
Sexual health and wellness
FemTech overlaps significantly with SexTech, another subset of health tech. SexTech apps such as Coral or Nice help people track their sex life with or without a partner, while "smart" vibrators such as the Lioness allow people to graph their orgasms.
Meanwhile, tools like Clue and Apple Health crop up in this category as well: Clue has a sex tracking feature that integrates with the period-tracking calendar, while Apple’s sex tracking function is part of the Health app built into iPhones, Apple Watches and other products.
Pregnancy and nursing
Whether for tracking how many seconds your latest contraction lasted so you can decide when to get to the hospital, or for tracking your prep list to soothe your nesting instincts, FemTech tracking tools can be a godsend for those who are pregnant and new moms. Plus, both prenatal care and delivering a baby can be extremely expensive (the latter can top out at $200,000 if you don’t have insurance) so having one more tool in your preparedness arsenal can help put your mind at ease.
Given all the sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn, the last thing most mothers want to mentally track on an hourly basis is how many ounces of milk they pumped, at what time, and how much of that the baby actually ate after throwing up once or twice.
There are hundreds of pregnancy and parental support apps in the iOS and Android digital stores, with thousands of reviews both positive and negative. There are even apps designed to support adoptive parents through the complex process of integrating a new family member.
The good and the bad
In a world that’s increasingly obsessed with "biohacking" and performance efficiency, FemTech has many positives to offer. However, there are certain data and privacy risks associated with FemTech that users should know about.
As with any digital information, your online data is only as safe as the company’s security methods, as well as how closely you guard your passwords and device access. And in a lot of cases, the convenience of having a digital data tracker is balanced out by the fact that your information is being sold for profit.
Additionally, legislative changes could also impact who has the right to access your information. For example, many Americans were concerned that the 2022 precedent set by the Supreme Court in overturning abortion legislation Roe v. Wade might allow conservative states to claim the right to access sensitive consumer data kept by FemTech apps to determine whether or not an individual had gotten an illegal abortion or not.
To circumvent these concerns, a number of groups have published guides to help consumers protect their private information while utilizing health care technology. And some companies are vocal about not selling their users’ information. But there are certain undeniable risks with going digital, especially when it comes to such a sensitive area of life.
If you do decide to try a FemTech tool, research the company and product beforehand to make sure it aligns with your personal needs. Read reviews, and educate yourself on what data it tracks and where your information goes.