It used to be called the unkindest cut. Now the head of one of the world's largest Aids charities says we are poised on the brink of a revolution in attitudes to circumcision.
Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said research revealing the protective effect of circumcision against HIV is set to change parental expectations and medical practice throughout the world.
Instead of viewing the operation as an assault on the male sex, it was increasingly being seen as a lifesaving procedure which every parent would want for their sons.
Removing the foreskin is thought to harden the glans (head) of the penis, making it less permeable to viruses. Research carried out in 2005 showed the transmission of HIV from women to men during sex was reduced by 60 per cent if the men were circumcised.
A study published last month calculated that if all men in sub-Saharan Africa were circumcised, it would prevent almost six million new cases of HIV infection and save three million lives over the next 20 years.
Dr Feachem said the finding was one of the most significant in the battle against Aids and offered hope of slowing the spread of the virus. The issue is to be debated at the World Aids Congress which opens in Toronto next week.
Dr Feachem said the factors influencing the spread of HIV in a country were the number of concurrent sexual partners, the use of condoms, the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases and male circumcision.
"Other things being equal, in a circumcised population you have a low and slowly developing epidemic and in an uncircumcised population you have a high and fast developing epidemic."
Circumcision was common in the UK in the early part of the last century. It is estimated that more than one in three boys was circumcised in the 1930s.