Apple's update to the Health app is actually a great step forward for sexual health tracking—and, hopefully, for the tech world’s attitude towards sex.
Image: Derek Mead
It's no secret that Apple has a fraught relationship with sex. Since the debut of the iOS App Store, the company's made every effort to keep its wares "family friendly" (read: porn free), often employing a very, very broad definition of what, exactly, constitutes porn.
But as iOS has moved more and more into the health space, Apple's had to contend with the reality that sex isn't just some seedy business it can push into the corner, but instead an integral, and unavoidable, part of healthy human life. And that's starting to change the way the company interacts with sex… at least a little bit, anyway.
Case in point: take a look at how HealthKit handles sex. Initially, the combination of health tracking app and developer tools was completely sex free, refusing to even acknowledge the existence of menstruation. After pushback from angry female users (who reminded Apple that, even though it involves a vagina, menstruation isn't some pervy thrill), the Health app was updated to sync with period tracking and fertility apps. In its current iteration, it even allows users to track their sexual activity. Yes, your HealthKit is also a HumpKit.
At first glance, the sexual activity tracking function appears to be extremely limited. As one iPhone user noted, it only integrates with period tracking and fertility apps (in spite of the fact that there are plenty of apps specifically designed to track sexual activity itself). Viewed this way, the Health app assumes that boning is purely about reproduction—whether you're trying to get pregnant, or trying to avoid it—and the only people who need to keep track of when and how and with whom they're doing the dirty are people at risk of getting pregnant.
But there's more to Apple's sexual activity tracker than just app integration. Users have the ability to manually input every time they get down and dirty (noting date, time, and whether or not protection was used), allowing users to create a calendar of when, and how, they're having sex. While this may seem like nothing more than a virtual bedpost for would-be Casanovas to etch notches into, it's actually a great step forward for sexual health tracking—and, hopefully, for the tech world's attitude towards sex.
Why would Health app users want to track their sexual activity (aside from the standard baby making or baby avoiding reasons)? Well, for starters, STIs. If your latest health check up turned up a chlamydia infection, it's helpful to have access to data that allows you to pinpoint when you may have become infected—and how many partners you may have spread that infection to.
Although the app does not currently allow users to indicate who they were having sex with (perhaps due to privacy concerns, although existing sex tracking apps like Bedpost have been navigating that issue for almost a decade), having a baseline for when an infection might have occurred is at least a good start.
On the flip side of the STI equation, people managing chronic STIs might want to keep tabs on their sexual activity as part of their strategy for keeping partners safe (something that would be even more useful when combined with a log of herpes outbreaks, for instance).
And even users in committed, monogamous relationships where there's zero risk of STI transmission can still find value to keeping tabs on their sexual activity. Just like mindfulness and nutrition and exercise and sleep, sex is an important part of life that has an impact on wellbeing and general health. If the frequency with which you're having sex is affecting your stress level, or your emotional wellbeing, or your general health and happiness, that's useful and important information to have.
As the app itself notes, "sexual activity can affect both physical and emotional health," and keeping track of when you're boning can provide a better, broader understanding of what, exactly, is affecting your health.
Apple has long viewed sex as something taboo—and when it comes to porn and sexual entertainment, that probably won't change anytime soon. But the latest iteration of Health is a step in the right direction.
And while it could certainly benefit from a bit of expansion—recognition of the possibility of multiple partners, a more nuanced reflection of what "protection" might mean for different users, ability to indicate a partner's gender, just for starters—it's still a huge step forward from a historically-sex-unfriendly company. Much as we try to deny it, sexuality is a fundamental and important part of human life. It's wonderful to see Apple finally allowing it to be truly integrated into our tech as well.