By T. V. Antony Raj
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.”
James Caird Burt Jr. was born on August 29, 1921, in Dayton the 6th largest city in the state of Ohio and the county seat of Montgomery County.
He graduated in 1945 from medical school at the University of Rochester in New York. After his internship in Houston, spending time in the United States Air Force Medical Corp, he resided in Chicago and New York City. Eventually, he returned to Dayton where he set up his gynaecology and obstetrics practice after receiving his medical license from the State of Ohio.
A surgically planned incision in the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall during the second stage of labour is known as episiotomy or perineotomy. It can be midline or at an angle from the posterior end of the vulva, performed under local anaesthetics, and closed by suturing after delivery. This common medical procedure performed on women during childbirth has steadily declined over recent decades is still widely practised in many parts around the world, including India, Qatar, Latin America, Poland, and Bulgaria.
Shortly after establishing his practice, Dr Burt began altering the standard episiotomy repair.
Between 1954 and 1966, he experimented on his unknowing patients with variations on this repair. He added a few more stitches to make the vaginal opening, smaller and tighter. However, in 1966, he discovered two things:
1. The role played by the clitoris in female sexual response, thanks to the recently published research of Masters and Johnson.
2. Even though he had not revealed to the women that he had performed a variation of standard episiotomy repair on them, they told him that their sex life had improved.
From these two discoveries, Dr Burt concluded that women’s bodies were not properly aligned for heterosexual, penetrative sex with men, and he needed to do more to correct for this anatomical problem. According to Burt, the clitoris lay too far from the opening of the vagina for women to receive adequate stimulation from the penis while copulating in the missionary position. To correct this, he began building up the skin tissue between the anal opening and the vaginal opening, thus moving the opening of the vagina closer to the clitoris. This added tissue changed the angle of the vagina’s opening. The vagina’s redirection, when the woman lay on her back, was no longer horizontal but almost vertical, with the labia majora drawn into the vaginal opening.
Burt maintained that women who benefited most from his love surgery had lost all or part of their orgasmic ability following childbirth. These women, Burt believed, that the vagina became too loose after childbirth, with some women ‘‘large enough to ‘drive a truck through sideways’’’ (Burt, J. C., & Burt, J. Surgery of love. New York: Carlton Press. 1975, p. 41).
James Burt envisioned love surgery as a procedure on the female body for the encouragement of heterosexual, penetrative sex. He designed the surgery, not just for the sexual benefit of women, but also to accommodate their male sexual partners. By tightening the vagina, Burt stated “any man at any age’” could “love his woman to exhaustion,” because after the operation “every man can be a stud!” (Burt, J. C., & Burt, J. Surgery of love. New York: Carlton Press. 1975, p. 183).
By 1975, Burt had performed love surgery on nearly all of his obstetrics patients and many of his surgical patients, by his count 4,000 women, none of whom had he informed and none of whom had requested his variation of episiotomy repair.
Around this time, Dr Burt believed his love surgery was successful enough to share it with others. He tried multiple times to publish in peer-review medical journals; by his own count, his folders overflowed with rejections. After repeated refusals, he became frustrated with his peers and took his surgery directly to the public by self-publishing his book, Surgery of Love, in 1975 with his wife Joan Burt.
A month after the book’s publication, the local Dayton Daily News ran an article about the surgery under the headline “Local Doctor Develops Corrective Surgery“. In the article, Dr Burt claimed that his surgery would turn women into “horny little mice” and that nearly 100 per cent of the women who had undergone love surgery were “ecstatic” with the results. His wife and co-author Joan Burt added that her husband had “given women the opportunity to enjoy sex“.
This resulted in women from Dayton and beyond to come to his clinic hoping for a surgically enabled better sex life. By the mid-1970s, Dr Burt promoted and offered his surgery as an elective for $1,500 plus hospitalization costs. The two-hour-long surgery required 5 days in the hospital, at least a week of sitting on an inner tube, and 6 to 8 weeks without sex. 200 women requested the surgery by 1978. However, he continued to perform it on women who did not come to him for it or knowledgeably agree to have it.
In June 1978, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (BWHBC) as part of their monthly mailing to 250 women’s health organizations across the United States sent copies of a Medical World News article about the surgery performed by Dr James Burt. Along with the article, the BWHBC enclosed a letter, saying they were “appalled by the vaginal and clitoral mutilation recommended by Dr James C. Burt“. To suggest, the letter continued, “that women need vaginal surgery because they do not have an orgasm with each penile-vaginal intercourse is to inflict upon women male fantasies and assumptions about female sexuality.” The BWBHC’s efforts to expose the sexism of the surgery failed to end Burt’s surgical practice.
In 1989, four women sued him for malpractice and accused him on national television of performing love surgery upon them without their consent.
On January 1989, Dr James Burt voluntarily surrendered his license thereby avoiding a medical board hearing which might have uncovered more evidence against him. He subsequently divorced his wife and declared bankruptcy due to the victim lawsuits totalling US$21 million.
James Burt Burt died in Dayton, Ohio, in 2012.