In 1988, Dayton gynecologist Dr. James C. Burt was charged with “grossly unprofessional conduct” by the Ohio State Medical Board, and the following year, his medical license was revoked. Before then, Dr. Burt enjoyed a profitable practice that afforded him a lavish lifestyle replete with weekend pool parties and, reportedly, oodles of 70s-style neck bling. The secret to his success? A surgical procedure he pioneered called “Love Surgery.”
Despite the quaint name, Burt’s “Love Surgeries” were anything but kind. Often performed post-childbirth, they were radical female genital reconstructions that involved, as The New York Times reported in 1988, “removing the hood of a patient’s clitoris, repositioning the vagina, moving the urethra, and altering the walls between the rectum and vagina.” As horrific as that might sound, Burt wasn’t shy about these surgeries, which he performed on as many as 5,000 women over a 20-year period and wrote about in his 1975 book “Surgeries of Love.” From Burt’s point of view, he was simply doing postpartum women a favor by increasing their sexual sensitivity that could ultimately change a gal from “a scared, reluctant little house mouse,” as he wrote in the book, to “a horny little house mouse.” And that’s not it; there’s more! In addition to referring to vaginas as “structurally inadequate” for intercourse (which maybe helps explain his multiple marriages?) he also asserted that “the only difference between rape and rapture is salesmanship.”
But in fact, Burt wasn’t always selling these surgeries to his female patients. While he offered it as an elective surgery, 33 patients involved in his medical malpractice suit claimed they never opted for the genital reconstruction. Known for his heavy hand with childbirth anesthetics, the bad doctor would keep women in a drugged sleep for a couple days at a time until they woke up with babe in arm and “Love Surgery” unwittingly completed, like the worst possible parting gift one could ever bestow. Despite his “horny little house mouse” promises, Dr. Burt left many patients sexually dysfunctional, with “extensive scarring, chronic infections of the kidney, bladder and vagina and the need for corrective surgery in many patients” among other complications, The New York Times reported.
Although Dr. Burt and his “Love Surgeries” have largely faded from public memory, similar types of vaginal reconstruction are alive and well in gynecological and cosmetic surgery practices across the United States. Granted, the patient consent problem central to Burt’s malpractice isn’t a factor, especially because more women than ever before are actively seeking out “vaginal rejuvenation” procedures to tighten their vaginal muscles and alter the appearance of their vulvas. In fact, the cosmetic vaginoplasties, labiaplasties and clitoral hoodectomies (also known as female circumcision) that bring doctors millions these days don’t sound all that different from “Love Surgeries,” though they’re certainly rooted in anything but that sweet and accepting sentiment.