A FEW DAYS AGO, when I first stumbled across the outrage surrounding the announcement of “Sweet Peach,” my first response was grounded in genuine confusion. At face-value, this company was set to offer a personalized probiotics-led protocol for healing vaginal infections and irritations. Women were to send in swabs to a lab that would then provide the basis for their treatment. But somewhere along the line one of the people involved, a man, suggested the treatment would also make vaginas smell different — better.
My mind immediately jumped to the story of how, back in the early ’70s, women’s health activist Carol Downer was arrested for treating another woman’s yeast infection with natural yogurt, in a trial known as “The Great Yogurt Conspiracy.” She was, as the authorities painted it, “practicing medicine without a license” when police caught her spooning the substance into the woman’s vagina during a self-help meeting.
I was confused that what seemed to be an effort in woman-controlled healthcare was so thoroughly misconstrued by the majority of women. It seemed to appear they had no idea of the positive effects of probiotics on vaginal health issues, as ignorant of the facts as the authorities that tried to prosecute Downer.
I then recalled how sex educator Laci Green produced a video a few months ago titled “Vagina Hacks,” in which she details making yogurt popsicles to insert in irritated and infected vaginas for natural and immediate relief. It was met with critical acclaim, so I was confused about why people were angry about the use of the current buzzwords “hacking” and “coding” to describe “Sweet Peach.” Sure, these words are irritating since they’re used so often, but they’re not the domain of men alone.
I’ll admit that I was also confused by two men appearing to be heading up this company, but not entirely perturbed. I was aggravated that they chose to describe menstruation as an “interference” for the vagina, but not all that surprised. I hear women call it worse all the time.
I was concerned to see how so very many feminist writers had failed to see the true purpose of such a product. Women have used probiotics in yogurt for years to self-treat effectively. I assumed that the furor in response to the men’s detailing of changing the smell of the vagina was a matter of misguided understanding of female biology. It’s a scientific fact that vaginas that are not healthy do not smell right. Smell is a good indicator of infection across the entirety of the body. Certainly it was clear that these men knew very little about female bodies overall, but the women reporting on and taking issue with their statements didn’t appear to know a whole lot more.
Not only that, but seeing as the majority of contemporary feminists appears to fully support women making a personal choice to shave, vajazzle, and perfume their vaginas to their hearts’ content in the name of freedom – why draw the line at probiotics that happen to make our vagina smell like a peach? Was it because it was obviously, blatantly something two men were calling for? Rather than just another one of the subtle — or not so subtle — demands of patriarchy, surely it could be seen as, at the least, a way better method of vaginal infection treatment for women than douching?
And then the hasty corrections began, because it wasn’t these two men that had started this company at all, it was self-described “ultra-feminist” Audrey Hutchinson. Sweet Peach is her passion project, one through which she hopes to provide women with “agency over their reproductive health.” Which makes way more sense than two techie guys coming up with a perfectly serviceable and well-researched protocol in order to make their girlfriends’ vaginas smell like peaches.
“I would never want to cover up someone’s vagina odor, it’s one of the most important indicators of having an infection,” Hutchinson told The Daily Dot. “It would be bad to cover that up, and live with an infection that they don’t know about.”
Hutchinson claims the coverage of Sweet Peach made her physically sick. It was prompted by a video in which the two men who were first caught on record talking about the project — Austen Heinz, CEO of Cambrian Genomics and biotech entrepreneur Gilad Gome — discussed their own take on Hutchinson’s goals at a conference. It turns out that Heinz only holds a 10% stake in the company, and Gome isn’t even involved in the project at all. Although she did not disavow Heinz for the misinterpretation he and Gome presented at the conference, Hutchinson was clear that changing the smell of vaginas was never supposed to be the primary aim. “I don’t think women’s vaginas should have to smell like peaches. If your vagina is healthy it will smell good,” Hutchinson clarified.
She was generous to those writers who had issued take-downs of her company without all of the facts, saying they were “understandably furious” and deserved an apology from Hutchinson herself. I can’t say I agree with her on this. The outrage machine could do with some considerable oiling and retuning of late, and there’s little care to fully consider and correct the damage done in the aftermath of “righteous” indignation.
Many women were upset at what they saw as male-formulated attempt to “disrupt” their bodies. This kind of defensiveness could be celebrated if it weren’t so lacking in self-awareness. For one thing, millions of women truly disrupt their bodies — and specifically their vaginal bacteria balance — when using the Pill, which was created by men. Sure, that project was funded by a woman, but it was formulated by men. Those up in arms about “changing a natural aspect of a human being because it might be more pleasant” would do well to consult their bathroom cabinet before pointing fingers.
Contrary to views expressed by Gome, our bodies are not machines or programmable software. We should be listening to, rather than trying to control, our physical selves.
The reactionary outrage that the Sweet Peach project received might actually stop the development of a product that could help countless women. In fact, according to microbiologists, healing the vaginal microbiome could be crucial for the future of humanity (I’m not kidding — bacterial vaginosis might “derail reproduction” completely). This kind of controversy makes it that much harder to encourage investors and Hutchinson is working to salvage her project from this media wreckage, to make the most of the attention. I sincerely hope she is able to. Personalized probiotic treatment for vaginal infection, delivered to your home, is a great idea that we may have just, collectively, prevented from coming to fruition.