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There still seems to be a combination of prudishness and ignorance around the unique, and sometimes idiosyncratic, functions of the female body — which is shocking, considering half the world is born with one.

But in recent years, mobile technology has granted me and countless others the ability to collect an unprecedented amount of information about our habits and well-being. Our phones don’t just keep us in touch with the world; they’re also diaries, confessional booths, repositories for our deepest secrets. Which is why researchers are leaping at the chance to work with the oceans of data we are generating, hoping that within them might be the answers to questions medicine has overlooked or ignored.

In March, I sat in a conference room with Jasmine McDonald, an assistant professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, and Lauren Houghton, an associate research scientist at the same school. The scientists, who are in their 30s, have been studying puberty patterns in adolescent girls, particularly how various aspects of a girl’s menstrual cycle correlate with the development of certain diseases later in life. Because McDonald and Houghton often work with girls in their teens or younger, they’ve struggled over the years with data-collection methods. They had, until recently, used paper questionnaires and calendars. But they found that their teenage subjects had hazy recollections of dates.

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Image: John Karakatsanis CC BY-SA 2.0 via commons

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