Lose the turtleneck and save your own. That’s the growing consensus as studies increasingly suggest that cutting it off cuts down a man’s risk of HIV from unprotected sex. Foreskin foes even say that circumcision may be more important than clean water, pointing out that HIV rates remain stable in certain circumcizing African countries while they soar in non-nixing, neighboring nations with otherwise-identical risk factors.

A Lancet study back in 1999 estimated that uncut dudes had a two-to-eight-times greater chance of infection. Why? Beneath the surface of the easily ruptured -- and supersensitive -- foreskin is a forest of CD4, macrophage and Langerhan’s cells -- all top viral targets. And a just-released study from Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago ups the anti-skin ante with news that the inside tissue is seven times more susceptible to HIV than is cervical tissue. Some CDC epidemiologists are now calling for public-information campaigns -- and perhaps eventually a phalanx of phallic farmers.

But this CDC siren doesn’t settle the matter. Other studies have found that cut men were more likely to have STDs (though not necessarily HIV) than their uncut bros. A 1998 immunological inventory of foreskin functions by P. M. Fleiss, MD, praised the protective shield and its glands for their pathogen-killing substances. “Eyes without eyelids would not be cleaner,” Fleiss said. “Neither is a glans without its prepuce.”

The pro-prepuce posse National Organization for Circumcision Information Resource Centers (NOCIRC) cites a host of data to prove that this circumcision-as-HIV prevention theory is bogus. NOCIRC points out that in the developed world, the U.S. has the highest rate of both penile pruning and HIV. “Tell that [theory] to all the circumcised men who are dead from HIV,” said Marilyn Milos, NOCIRC head.

And don’t tell Milos that a 2001 collection of Harvard AIDS Institute studies found a big interest in voluntary circumcision among men in six African countries -- from 45 percent in Zimbabwe to 80 percent in Botswana. The real skinny? These guys don’t believe HIV can be stopped by stepping up to the chopping block -- they’re worried about other STDs. Next question: If cut cock is less sensitive than uncut, will its owners be less likely to decrease pleasure further by using condoms?