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Dr. James C. Burt’s infamous “Love Surgeries” were anything but kind. © ACHIM SASS/WESTEND61/CORBIS

This is Not a Love Surgery

 Warning this story may make you feel uncomfortable.

James Caird Burt is a former American gynaecologist who was sometimes nicknamed the “Love Surgeon.”

One of his patients recalled: “after he delivered my baby, I did not wake up for 2½ days, and he kept me hospitalized for a week. I asked him, ‘What have you done to me?’ Burt said, ‘Oh, I just patched you up,’ … He told me by fixing me like he did, it would be just like being a virgin again.”

Dr Burt was a simple gynaecologist with a simple goal: to make life better for the husbands of women who just had their love-holes ruined by childbirth. And so, for more than 20 years starting in the mid-1960’s, Dr Burt would perform vagina-tightening surgery on his new mom patients without their consent. He called it “Love Surgery.” Burt’s “Love Surgery” was based on the doctor’s cockamamie idea that women are “structurally inadequate for intercourse” and that the only way to fix their “pathological condition” was through surgery that made the vagina and vulva more penis friendly.

Burt admitted that many of the women who first received the surgery were simply told after childbirth that they’d received episiotomies. Burt’s book says that “hundreds and hundreds” of women were treated this way, but other sources estimate that the number is actually in the thousands.

After practising for two decades while based in Dayton, Ohio, Burt was sued by female patients for altering their vulvas without their informed consent. Over 20 years, the ambitious doctor reportedly performed surgery on thousands of women, realigning the vagina and removing the skin from around the clitoris, leaving it exposed.

Burt boasted in a self-published 1975 book that the resulting improvements on nature would transform a woman from “a scared, reluctant little house mouse” to “a horny little house mouse.”

Far from turning them into orgasmic athletes, say his alleged victims, Burt’s surgery left them sexual cripples, suffering from a host of disabling problems.

Burt was born in Dayton, Ohio born August 29, 1921. The son of a factory superintendent, Burt was born and raised in Dayton. He graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1945, then served an internship at Hermann Hospital in Houston, followed by residencies at hospitals affiliated with the University of Chicago and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. After serving as a captain in the Air Force medical corps, he began his practice in Dayton in 1951.

Why did it take so long for the recklessness of his procedures to get noticed? Dr Sidney Wolfe, director of the Public Citizen Health Research Group in Washington, D.C., maintains that the case represented a failure at every level of the medical system—by local obstetricians and gynaecologists, by local medical groups and by the staff of the hospital where Burt did his surgery. “Any one of these groups could have easily turned off this guy 15 or 20 years ago,” says Wolfe. “Burt is a butcher.”

Burt began performing “love surgery” in 1966. In his 1975 book, Surgery of Love, Burt wrote: “Women are structurally inadequate for intercourse. This is a pathological condition amenable by surgery.” He claimed his surgery would turn women into “horny little mice” and asserted that “the difference between rape and rapture is salesmanship.” Burt’s procedures caused sexual dysfunction, infection and the need for corrective surgery in many patients.

In 1988, women subjected to the procedure came forward, eventually initiating several lawsuits. He voluntarily surrendered his license in January 1989, thereby avoiding a medical board hearing which might have uncovered more evidence against him. The board labelled Burt’s medical conduct “grossly unprofessional or dishonest” and charged him with 41 violations of ethics or standards.

He subsequently divorced and declared bankruptcy due to the victim lawsuits totalling USD$21 million. Even so, Burt adamantly maintained his innocence, blaming his “unjustified crucifixion” on “an avalanche of yellow journalism.

“Women are structurally inadequate for intercourse. This is a pathological condition amenable by surgery,” so claimed Dr Burt. Unfortunately, for many patients, Dr Burt’s genital reconstruction typically resulted in the exact opposite effect he proclaimed his procedures would have on them. Most of his patients suffered several side effects, including sexual dysfunction because of pain during intercourse, infection, and the need for corrective surgery after undergoing Burt’s bizarre medical procedures.

Burt graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School in 1945. He joined the military, working for a time in the US Air Force Medical Corp. Several years later, he returned to the city of his birth, Dayton, Ohio, and it was there that he set up his gynaecology and obstetrics practice in the early 1950s. The doctor was dramatically influenced by the Masters and Johnson research during the 50s and 60s and its focus on the clitoris, the nature of human sexual response, and the treatment of sexual dysfunctions and disorders.

Burt came to believe that women’s bodies were not properly aligned for penetrative heterosexual sex and said his unique sexual enhancement surgery could correct this anatomical problem. He felt that the clitoris was positioned too far from the opening of the vagina for women to have enough clitoral stimulation during coitus in the missionary position. The doctor also believed that women lost all or part of their ability to have an orgasm following childbirth, as a result of their vagina becoming too loose post-delivery, claiming that women’s vaginas were “large enough to drive a truck through sideways” after childbirth.

Apprehensive patients were reassured by Burt’s superb bedside manner. “I looked at him and said, ‘Here is a man who is real calm,’ ” recalls Linda Cook, then 35. “He portrayed a peaceful inner self and you feel that is your refuge.” Cook claims Burt told her he could relieve her pelvic pains by “suspending” her uterus. After the operation, Cook suffered even more and had to wear a bladder bag for several weeks. She became addicted to the prescription painkiller Percodan and lost both her job and her boyfriend. “The first time we made love, I screamed hysterically with pain and went over in a fetal position,” she says. “He kept saying, ‘What did I do, what did I do?’ ” Now, says Cook, she sees Burt “as if he were a spider with a fly. From the first time I walked into his office, he was scheming to get me into the operating room so he could perform this surgery of his.”

Cook isn’t the only patient who believes Burt used her as a guinea pig. Judy Mack, suffered bladder infections and pain during intercourse as a result of Burt’s tampering with her insides, she says. “I did not go to Dr Burt for love surgery,” she insists. “I did not request it. I had no problems at all sexually. If I had requested it, I would have been able to accept the consequences. Right now I feel I’ve been raped.”

Burt’s love surgery was apparently good for his pocketbook, if not always for his patients. Adorned with gold chains, he cut a flamboyant figure in the Dayton medical community. Before they divorced in 1973, Burt and his third wife, Linda, were “noted for their high lifestyle and lavish pool parties—sometimes sans swimsuits,” according to the Dayton Daily News. “Burt is a free spirit. He is totally uninhibited,” says one of his colleagues. “He was not a golfer or an athlete—it was all indoor games.”

Coney Mitchell fell under the spell of Dr James C. Burt when she moved to Dayton, in 1967, five months pregnant with her third child. Burt, an avuncular, soft-spoken gynaecologist, listened to Mitchell’s concerns and promised her pain-free childbirth. But, alleges Mitchell, “after he delivered my baby, I did not wake up for 2½ days, and he kept me hospitalized for a week. I asked him, “What have you done to me?’ ” Burt said, “Oh, I just patched you up,” Mitchell recalls. “He told me by fixing me like he did; it would be just like being a virgin again.”

Far from “fixing” her, claims Mitchell, 43, Burt ruined her health. Following the delivery and “repair,” she developed chronic bladder, urinary tract and vaginal infections. Twelve years later, in 1979, Burt performed a hysterectomy on her. In 1985, still trusting her doctor, Mitchell submitted to yet another operation at Burt’s hands, intended to correct her bladder problems. Since then she has been unable to have intercourse with her husband, Hence. “I had all the faith in the world in Dr Burt,” she sobbed. “He never told me he was going to do Move surgery’ on me. I don’t know why he did that unless he hates women.”

Mitchell is only one of at least 40 women who say they are victims of what Burt called the surgery of love—experimental operations, performed sometimes without informed consent, which he claimed would revolutionize relations between the sexes.

Dr Burt wrote in his 1975 book, Surgery of Love, that his surgery could turn his female patients into “horny little mice” and he also claimed that “the difference between rape and rapture is salesmanship.” A despicable doctor, indeed.

So Dr Burt decided to fix all that. Between 1954 and 1966, Burt began experimenting on unknowing patients with his own variations of the standard episiotomy repair after child birth. Known for his heavy hand with anaesthesia, Burt had human canvasses on which to experiment after delivery. He would increase the amount of stitches to make the vaginal opening smaller and tighter. He would build up the skin tissue between the anal opening and the vaginal opening to alter the walls between the rectum and vagina. He would remove the hood of a patient’s clitoris to expose it, thinking it would enhance the pleasure of sexual intercourse for them. He would actually reconstruct their genitalia, changing the angle of the vagina’s opening in order to move the vagina closer to the clitoris. He would direct the labia majora into the vaginal opening. He would tinker with these women’s bodies and perform these experimental surgeries, which could last several hours after childbirth.

Incredibly, Dr. Burt was not even licensed as a surgeon. By the mid-1970s, he had performed his “love surgery” on almost all of his obstetrics patients and many of his other female patients who were scheduled for various types of surgeries. Burt himself estimated that he performed over 4500 love surgeries during this time.

By this time, Burt was so proud of his accomplishments that he began promoting his love surgery to women as a way for them to increase their sexual enjoyment. By the mid-1970s, Burt felt he had honed his unique love surgery techniques and tried to publish his findings in medical journals but was met with resounding rejections. So he published his own book on the subject to lend his makeshift cosmetic surgery some legitimacy. He claimed his surgical technique would revolutionize relations between the sexes.

What made matters worse was that a local daily newspaper in Dayton brought positive attention to Dr Burt when it published an article about the doctor’s love surgery. In the article, Burt was quoted as claiming that almost 100% of the women were ecstatic with the results of their operations. He slapped an official name on his genital reconstructive procedures, officially calling his technique “plastic surgical postero-lateral redirection extension vulvo-vaginoplasty.”

Perhaps the worst part of this story, changing public perception of which is detailed in a study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, is how other doctors and medical professionals knew what Dr Burt was up to, but did nothing. St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton, Ohio, where Dr Burt practised, didn’t require medical consent forms for the procedure for the first 12 years it was being performed. And doctors with former Burt patients could always tell who the Love Surgeon had worked on.

‘Doctors would say, ‘Dr. Burt’s done surgery on you, hasn’t he?’ ” said Joy Martin, on whom he performed his surgery after delivering her son in 1974. She recently had corrective surgery. Mrs. Phillips and Mrs. Sexton have filed lawsuits, seeking $6 million, against Dr. Burt and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where he performed most of his surgeries. Thirty-five other former patients are expected to sue in the next few weeks, said Lee Sambol, the lawyer for the women. Ten malpractice suits against Dr. Burt over the past 12 years were dropped after other physicians refused to testify.

”We’ve all had Dr. Burt’s patients, and we’ve tried to undo the work he has done,” said Dr. Robert Hilty, a gynecologist who was chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Kettering Medical Center in Dayton for 18 years. ”But we need the freedom to openly criticize without fear of legal retribution.”

His fourth wife, Joan (25 years younger than himself), was the co-author of the book that degraded women with many of its weird observations. Passages from the book report that Dr. Burt’s vaginal tightening also accommodated men, stating that “men of any age” would be able to “love his woman to exhaustion,” and that “every man can be a stud” as a result of his female sexual enhancement surgery. The book even bragged that his wife was one of the doctor’s most successful patients and that “Joan has climaxed in elevators from the Southampton Princess in Bermuda to the Kuilima in Hawaii…more than many women do in their entire lives.” Joan Burt also commented that her husband had “given women the opportunity to enjoy sex.”

Burt boasted in his book that he could improve on what Mother Nature had given to women and that he could turn women who were “scared little mice” into “horny little mice.” The man actually thought he was doing women a favour by increasing their sexual sensitivity (whether they wanted it or not).

As a result of his self-published book and the newspaper article, Burt appeared on the Donahue TV talk show and was also featured in an article in Playgirl. Burt’s medical practice prospered. Women flocked to the doctor’s office inquiring about his love surgery, hoping for a surgically enhanced, superior sex life. By 1978, about 200 women requested the surgery, yet, inexplicitly, Burt continued to perform his sex surgery on unsuspecting women who never requested it. In one case, Burt talked a woman into having a hysterectomy after she gave birth (so he could perform his love surgery on her unwittingly), telling the woman, “You don’t really need to have more kids.”

As a result of his prospering practice, Dr Burt had his way with many of his willing as well as unsuspecting patients through the late 1980s. The insanity went on for over 20 years; most every one of his love surgeries did not boost sexual pleasure as promised. Instead, his genital modifications brought on nothing but pain, anguish, and misery. Patient complaints about his realigning, redesigning, and disfiguring their genitalia went unheeded…lost in the system. During this time, Burt lived a lavish lifestyle. Among other complications, most patients were left sexually dysfunctional, with “extensive scarring, chronic infections of the kidney, bladder and vagina and the need for corrective surgery in many patients,” as reported in a New York Times article, which bought Burt’s practice to the forefront and set off an avalanche of official complaints from his patients.

Cheryl Sexton Dillon’s life was forever altered at the age of 36 when her doctor Burt recommended a hysterectomy although she only needed minor bladder surgery. While she was under the knife, he performed a nine-hour operation, relocating her vagina and removing her clitoral hood. Dillon said she had no idea he would do more than a standard hysterectomy. Dillon, who in 1984 was a vocational teacher with three children, said afterwards, “I thought I would die. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced in places I couldn’t understand.”

She said even ordinary activities became impossible — sitting down, wearing pants, riding a horse. Dillon could no longer have sex without excruciating pain, and despite an understanding husband, her happy marriage eventually fell apart.

Patients who underwent these procedures have said they thought they were getting surgery for common ailments like incontinence or post-pregnancy repairs. Many, like Dillon, said they did not sign adequate consents. St. Elizabeth’s began requiring Burt to use  “a special consent form specific to love surgery” in 1979. By his own admission, he did not always get proper consent for some of his earliest surgeries.

“When I went to [Dr. Burt] and asked, ‘What have you done,?’ he said, ‘What are you talking about?'” said Dillon. “I found out from other doctors that I had been mutilated.”

Other doctors tried to alert the state medical board about Burt, but it did not take action until then Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste became aware of this medical procedure and reached out to the board demanding answers, according to a 1988 article in the Columbus Dispatch.

Doctors around the country were shocked. ”It’s a disgrace to all of medicine,” Dr Sidney M. Wolfe, told the New York Times in 1991. Dillon was one of the first to file a malpractice lawsuit in 1985 against both Burt and the hospital where the surgery took place.

“From what I remember, by default, I won against Dr Burt, and got nothing,” she said. Dillon said she settled with St. Elizabeth’s Hospital out of court.

When she first went to Burt, whom her first husband, an anesthesiologist, knew personally, Dillon was already in a happy second marriage with three children.

“[Burt] said, ‘You don’t really need to have any more kids,’ I went ahead and got a hysterectomy,” she said. “You trust your doctor.” Her surgery was so long and complicated, Dillon was barely conscious for five days following the procedure and was out of work for six weeks. “I thought I was going to die,” she said.

Dillon eventually sought help from the University of Cincinnati. “I asked for the best doctor because I had to find out what was wrong with me,” she said.

“He looked at me and called in one of the nurses and said, ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ He had repositioned my vagina and circumcised me,” said Dillon.

“The doctor said he had never seen it anywhere except in African tribes,” she said.

The surgery strained her 12-year marriage.

“For the first time in my life I was happily married to a wonderful man,” said Dillon. “The way I was deformed, I couldn’t have sex. I ended up going through three different corrective surgeries but by that time, my marriage was shot and I lost the best thing that had happened in my life.”

Dillon went public with her story in 1988 and found others who had suffered similar surgeries. “We said we have to stop this man,” she said. “I don’t want to die young and have my daughter go to the same doctor.” At the time, Burt called the news report, “a conspiracy of lies.”

“My medical practice has been conducted with great concern for the welfare of women,” he insisted. “There are a lot of women with problems involving vaginal intercourse that are either not being adequately addressed or not being addressed at all.” Arguing that many women suffer an unnecessary loss of sexual response because of stretching of the vagina during childbirth, Burt advocated reconstructive surgery to tighten the vagina and circumcision to make the clitoris more sensitive. In his book, Surgery of Love, Burt disclosed that hundreds of his patients were not told “that anything special had been done at the time of their delivery” and that they later reported increased sexual response.

Published at the height of the sexual revolution, Burt’s book was a sensation.

The media attention boosted Burt’s practice, and he soon became the gynaecologist in Dayton, says one former patient. “He was very high priced, and you had the best when you went to Dr Burt,” she says. “He had a big name.”

Women were also attracted to Burt’s offer of painless childbirth, which he achieved through heavy anaesthesia. “He guaranteed there was no pain and there was not,” says a former patient who had three children delivered by Burt. “If you had one little cramp, you went to the hospital and woke up the next day or perhaps two days later with your baby.”

Some patients reported that their marriages fell apart as a result of Burt’s butchery because it strained their sex lives, as they were unable to have intercourse without excruciating pain. Ex-employees of Burt’s practice corroborated many patient complaints. Malpractice lawsuits swiftly followed, including one in which 33 women reported that they never opted for their genital reconstruction.

Here is a sampling of quotes from victims:

  • “Right now I feel I’ve been raped.”
  • “I thought I would die. The pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced in places I couldn’t understand.”
  • “The way I was deformed, I couldn’t have sex. I ended up going through three different corrective surgeries.”
  • “You’re raised to trust your minister, your policeman and your doctor. He was the one with the degree on the wall. He knew medicine better than I did. I didn’t think he would hurt me.”
  • “I don’t know why he did that unless he hates women.”

In court papers, one doctor commented that he had treated 150 women for injuries resulting from Dr Burt’s love surgery, also relaying that some of those women told him that they did not give their consent for such surgery. Another doctor said her patient’s genitals looked like “a filleted fish.” And another doctor who looked at Dr Burt’s handiwork called in one of the nurses and asked, “Have you ever seen anything like this?” Yet another doctor remarked that he had never seen such horrid work except in African tribes that practised female genital mutilation.

In December 1988, the Ohio State Medical Board labelled Burt’s conduct “grossly unprofessional or dishonest” and charged him with 41 violations of ethics or standards, stating that Burt often caused permanent physical damage due to his sexual surgeries and his crude experimentation. The board went on to allege that Burt practised “experimental and medical unnecessary surgical procedures, in some incidents without proper patient consent,” due to the fact that many women thought they were undergoing routine post-pregnancy repairs or hysterectomies.

In January 1989, Burt voluntarily surrendered his license, most likely to avoid a medical board hearing that might have uncovered damaging evidence against him. He subsequently divorced and declared bankruptcy due to a rash of victim malpractice lawsuits totalling over $21 million.

Even after surrendering his medical license, Burt maintained his innocence. He blamed his situation on an “unjustified crucifixion” and “an avalanche of yellow journalism.” He insisted: “My medical practice has been conducted with great concern for the welfare of women. There are a lot of women with problems involving vaginal intercourse that are either not being adequately addressed or not being addressed at all.” His son also came to his defence at the time, reporting, “There are hundreds and hundreds of Dr Burt’s patients, alive today, whose marriages and lives were dramatically improved by his wholesome restoration to their fully functioning sexual responsiveness, which most of those patients had previously enjoyed earlier in their marriages.”

Faced with at least seven malpractice suits, Burt declared bankruptcy and, by surrendering his license, he avoided a hearing before the state board of medicine. Testimony there might have provided valuable evidence against him, and some former patients feared Burt will escape justice. One of those patients, Anna Mitchell, said she was forced to settle her 1975 suit against Burt for $5,000 because she was unable to find a doctor who would testify against him. Says another alleged victim: “Burt always seems to have the last word. I feel he is getting away with this unscathed.” Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the women who may have been scarred by his surgery.

Charges Against Doctor Bring Ire and Questions – NYTimes.com

The “Love Surgeon” Was Nothing but a Brutal Butcher – Medical Bag

James C. Burt – Wikipedia

Ohio Woman Writes Book About Love Doctor Who Mutilated Her Sex …

James Burt’s ‘Love Surgery’ Was Supported to Boost Pleasure, but …

Did ‘Love Surgery’ by Dr. James C. Burt Boosted Pleasure or Brought …

Dr. James Burt – Patient Safety

Creepy ‘Love Surgery’ Performed on New Moms’ Unwitting Vaginas

Ohio Woman Still Scarred by ‘Love’ Doctor’s Sex Surgery – Health …

“Love Doctor” Mutilated Woman by Surgically Removing and …

Woman tells of horror mutilation by ‘love doctor’ who surgically …

Woman Mutilated by ‘Love Doctor’

“The license to slice, maim, violate.” | MetaFilter

 


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