In our culture, reproduction is often seen as women’s work. From pregnancy to childbirth through nursing a newborn child, women are often expected to take the central role in creating new life by default. Similarly, when problems of infertility arise, the focus is often slanted toward females.
But getting pregnant takes two, as Mike Huang is acutely aware. Huang is the CEO of Glow, a company which nearly two years ago launched an eponymous reproductive health app with help from big-name backer Max Levchin, a PayPal co-founder. Until today, Glow was designed exclusively to help women either avoid a pregnancy or get pregnant. The app offers women insight on good habits to practice while they’re expecting and provides support during difficult times, such as miscarriage and the postpartum period. Now, after addressing a mother’s journey to parenthood, Huang and his team are rounding out Glow with an essential new component: support for male fertility.
“Men’s reproductive health plays an equal role when a couple is trying to conceive,” Huang tells WIRED. “We believe men, just like women, can benefit from a deeper understanding.”
There’s plenty of data to suggest that the app is addressing an unmet need. According to the National Infertility Association, one in eight couples in the US struggle with infertility. And among those couples, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributing factor to infertility in 40 percent of cases, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says. Yet statistics show that men are less likely to seek medical help than women.
Making Data A Habit
Glow’s new features for men work much the same way they do for women. Male users can keep a daily log that tracks key aspects of their health. That data triggers insights related to their reproductive health. If a user confirmed that he smoked a couple of cigarettes, for instance, he might be served a message noting that fertility rate among smokers is up to 40 percent lower than among non-smokers. Nutrition is also a key component (more fish, less bacon). Each of the insights comes with a clear citation of the scientifically backed source, the company claims. Glow says its information comes from peer-reviewed journals, research organizations, and reputable science blogs.
Men will have access to forums where they can ask questions confidentially. They can also link their apps to their partners’ accounts app to view such useful information as where their partners are in their menstrual cycles. The data that partners can view about each other is clearly labeled.
After 20 months in the wild, Glow can tout some pretty impressive numbers. As of today, the company says, it has aided more than 50,000 pregnancies. If adding male users can increase that number, Glow can collect even more reproductive health data—which is Huang’s ultimate goal.
Huang thinks of Glow as a data science company, one that’s conducting the largest-ever study on reproductive health—an area the company says is in dire need of updated, quality information. A company representative pointed out that even Masters and Kinsey’s famed mid-century studies of human sexuality did not home in on fertility issues. Studies have come and gone since then, but Huang believes Glow can gather data from a much greater sample size than ever before possible via its free app. The hope is that ultimately medical researchers can use that data to gain a more comprehensive picture of human reproductive health.
Huang also hopes Glow can serve as another useful tool for encouraging people to practice healthy habits. After all, fertility and overall health tend to go hand-in-hand. “It’s harder to take action when you’re just being told, ‘Eat healthy,’ without any context,” he says. “But if the context is personalized information and an engaging experience through an app and a community, then that could have a huge impact.”