Accepted Paper:

Ovulation biosensors: emerging practices of sensing and knowing  


Joann Wilkinson (Lancaster University)

Paper short abstract:

In this presentation, I examine women's practices of ovulation biosensing. I show how women come to know ovulation by engaging in reproductive scientific practices at home and by collaboratively coding the data they collect about their bodies with other women online.

Paper long abstract:

Ovulation biosensors are devices worn on, or used with the body, which can help women detect ovulation. The manufacturers of such devices claim that if women know when they ovulate, couples can arrange heterosexual intercourse during this time, and thus increase their chances of conceiving. Within the contemporary UK context, in which becoming pregnant is presented in the popular media, and in medical discourses, as more difficult for women in their 30s and 40s, manufacturers' claims are attractive for those trying to conceive. In this presentation, I show how women try to make sense of the data they produce and collect through ovulation biosensing, and how they negotiate the gap between seeing a sign on device and knowing when ovulation is taking place. The manufacturers of ovulation biosensors present this as a single step in which, on using such products, women will know when they ovulate, and from which, they will be able to make decisions about when to have reproductive heterosexual intercourse. I argue however that the transition from seeing to knowing is understood as more complex because knowledge is not static or packaged but instead done in practices. Women come to know ovulation by engaging in reproductive scientific practices at home including selecting tools, testing bodily fluids, observing changes in data and comparing and collecting samples. By collaboratively coding data with other users online, women learn about their bodies in new ways, but ovulation emerges as uncertain and unstable.

Panel A01
Biosocial forms of living: imbricating technologies, social and medical knowledge