I'm not sure if I'm a virgin, or if I'll ever have sex again… and I'm happy

October 23 | Guest post by Penelope Widdowson-Bonefat
By: aigle_dore – CC BY 2.0
By: aigle_dore – CC BY 2.0

I'm twenty-seven years old, and I'm not sure if I'm a virgin. I'm also not sure if I'm ever going to have any more sex than I've already had. And I am pretty happy about that.

Since spending my teenage years in a single-sex boarding school (where apparently people were having passionate love affairs all over the place and I had no idea), and dating one woman in college (we were really mismatched sexually and that was why we broke up), I've gone on… four dates? Five? Does the one where I didn't realize it was a date until afterwards go in the list?

I don't worry about whether the sex I had with my girlfriend in college was "real" sex or if it "counts" as me losing my virginity. (Incidentally, if you're interested in the concept of virginity, Hanne Blank's Virgin: The Untouched History is a great book.) I closed my OKCupid account a few years ago when I realized that I couldn't understand the difference between a first date with an OKCupid stranger and a meet-up with one of the fangirls on my Dreamwidth subscription list. Except that I was probably going to go home after the OKCupid thing and read PG Wodehouse to make my brain stop chewing on itself (and probably sleep for about eleven hours because it was so exhausting).

Being in contact with someone who had socially-reasonable expectations that I was assessing them as a sexual being was stressful as hell.

My therapist occasionally pushes me on the subject, but I think she's come to understand that I am really telling the truth when I say it's not something I think about. Would I like a partner, someone to share my life with, someone for whom I would be a major priority? Sure. Probably. Maybe. But I mostly just want a close circle of friends I can trust. That is a way higher priority.

I am frankly a little baffled by how important this is to a lot of people; I honestly thought for years that the sex scenes in novels — and not just romance novels — were some weird literary convention. I remain unconvinced that sex is as much fun as it's being billed as; I am unpersuaded about the power of both physiological and emotional feelings of arousal.

Asexual or demisexual is as close to "accurate" as I'm going to get for a label, I think. I have a sex drive, I have sexual fantasies, I masturbate, I can imagine being sexually attracted to someone I knew and trusted, but if my future self figures out time-travel (will have figured out? tenses are so difficult when you're discussing hypothetical future past actions) and drops me a note to inform me that I'm never going to get laid, I would be a lot more interested in the implications for free will than I would be distressed at the thought of never having sex again.

It's possible that my various traumas have led me to a place where I feel safest excising access to my sexual self, but I don't think that's what happened — none of the shit that happened in my past were sexual in nature. (If any of you ever meet someone who identifies as ace or demi? Do not, under any circumstances — probably even if you are their therapist — suggest that they are "like this" because of trauma or molestation or anything of the sort. It is hurtful, offensive, and profoundly un-empathetic.)

I know my mother worries about me being alone — about me being lonely. I don't know how to reassure her about that, except to be visibly happy.

Fortunately, that is easy: I love my job; I live in my favorite city; I make a fantastic peach cobbler; I own a kick-ass leather jacket, and write poetry that is slowly getting published in small journals, and my roommate's cat is an adorable fuzzball who plays fetch. It's pretty great.

I'm pretty glad I'm the person who gets to be me. I don't think I'd trade any of it.

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  1. I'm really really excited to see this on an Offbeat Empire site. So excited. Thank you for writing it and thank you, Ariel et al, for shining some light on an often-misunderstood and still-mostly-invisible identity.

    26 agree
  2. I am a sexuality educator and very sex positive, and I think we need more voices of asexual and demisexual folks to add to the discourse. So thanks for being one! <3 Being a sexual person is definitely a privileged majority position, and I realized my own blind spot in not being inclusive of asexual perspectives recently. I don't want to marginalize folks of your experience any longer! Also, as a counselor (and just as a human who interacts with other people!) I want to say thanks for mentioning that people shouldn't refer to others who have a different type/level of sexual attraction as damaged. This is the same crap that's been put on LGBTQ ppl, poly ppl, kinky ppl….the list goes on. I say we STOP pathologizing people just because they have different orientations, desires, or experiences!

    31 agree
    • Thanks for being open to listening to us!

      Sex-positivity is a loaded term for me, largely because of this essay (disclaimer, I know the author and may appear in the comments under Another Internet Identity), and how it crystallized my discomfort around dealing with other people as sexual beings. Consenting adults in private, I am all for, but then you start thinking "well, am I not just repeating the old canard about be [queer, gay, poly, kinky, whatever], just don't shove it in my face, only even more broadly and contributing to social shame about sex and identity," except that my identity and discomfort is also valid and true and should be respected, and ugh basically this is a mess.

      4 agree
  3. Thanks for this interesting post! I was really interested by the fact that you have sexual fantasies, desires, and feelings but (from what you've said) don't feel particularly inclined to have sex. I had imagined that the term "asexual" meant "no sexual feelings whatsoever," so thanks for enlightening me. And I'd never heard the term "demisexual" at all.

    And on the topic of virginity, I get endlessly confused by the way the general public (including medical practitioners) define "sex." I consider myself "sexually active" but get really confused when I fill out those forms in the gynecologist's office that ask if you are "currently sexually active." Even though I'm heterosexual, I often avoid (the only) activity that would directly result in pregnancy. So how do I answer the question? "Not sexually active" seems massively incorrect. So I habitually confuse and probably frustrate nurses when I fill out that form.

    10 agree
    • ohboy this gets super complicated really fast.

      If you're interested, AVEN is linked above in "asexual or demisexual" and they can explain this way better than I can.

      Disclaimer, I am not an expert on sexual identity other than my own. Think of it as a parallel line to the Kinsey scale, maybe? Where Kinsey has 0 as exclusively heterosexual and 6 as exclusively homosexual, I think of 0 as completely unengaged by sexual behavior or thoughts (what most people assume "asexual" means) and 6 as very engaged by sexual behavior and thoughts (people for whom their sexual behavior and identity is core to their understanding of themselves). Demisexuals usually think of themselves as having a sexual identity, but it doesn't have the same prominence in our lives as it does for sexual people, and it's usually very…specific; I cannot imagine, for example, having sex with someone I didn't know and trust very well. Sexual feelings about another person don't happen for me until I have a long-standing emotional connection with them, which is relatively common in the demi community. But fictional people having sex with each other not me? That can be fun. And it can be a good time for all concerned (i.e., me) to have a lunchtime date with myself. πŸ™‚

      And yeah, virginity: social construct! And badly defined to boot! Definitely check out the Blank book, I think you'd get a kick out of it.

      9 agree
      • It makes sense – I'm familiar with many other aspects of sexuality, romance, and gender as existing on movable scales of their own, so it follows that the degree to which one is engaged by sexual behavior can also have a scale.

        1 agrees
        • Yeah, I didn't even touch on aromanticism because it's not something I understand from the inside and I am not going to speak for an identity I can't represent, but it's a real thing too. Plus gender. It's messy and human and fascinating.

          3 agree
          • I'm not really sure if I can be too much help in this, but since I identify as aromantic, I'll try to give you an insider's view of things.

            For one, it's all about how deep my feelings for people can go. I have strangers, acquaintances, friends, and, rarely, best friends in my life. Even my blood family, I only consider them to have the emotional connection with me, that other people categorize as, acquaintances and friends, depending on how often I see those family members.

            In watching movies and tv shows, reading books, and just about any other way of seeing/hearing/reading/etc. about the concept of love has mostly just confused me. It never terrified me or made me feel weird for not understanding it. I just thought it was people exaggerating feelings for literary or movie purposes.

            I've never felt "that way" about anyone, not even my soon to be husband. He's on the level of best friend feelings, for which I've had those feelings with only two or three other people in my life, though that doesn't mean I've wanted to marry any of those other people.

            I guess, all in all, you could say that my emotional range is shorter [smaller?] than people with a romantic identity. However, I am not broken. I'm not at all sad that I don't feel this emotion. I still feel lots of other emotions. I still connect with other people, still have friends in my life, still getting married even, so it's not anything bad for me. It's just different.

            Augh, sorry, I went on a bit of a rant. Hopefully you understand a little bit more about my view of aromanticism. If you have any questions, feel free to ask! <3

            5 agree
    • I go with the definition that says "if two or more people are together and someone is attempting to have an orgasm, it's sex." But then I'm bi and kinky so there's a lot of people that I could potentially have a sexual relationship with that obviously doesn't involve PIV.

      Not that it matters, really, except that in the gyno's office it *does* matter as there are a lot of things you can get from "sex" other than a case of knocked up…

      17 agree
    • I'm an ace who was dating (and am now married to) a sexual, so those sort of questions with the doctor always got difficult to answer quick. I started to err on the side of caution and define "sexually active" as "Have you have intimate physical contact with another human being where bodily fluids COULD have been exchanged in the last 2-3 years?". And then I would trust my doctor to ask any more specific questions that were actually relevant. But I'm pretty sure most doctors by now realize that those questions can be confusing and so as long as you're trying your best to give the doctor the information needed to help you, you can't be faulted.

      For anyone who feels the need to actually hide the truth from their doctor, it would be best to learn to trust that the doctor is only interested for how it affects their health and/or find a doctor they feel they can trust. Of course, that's not exactly going to be easy on either front, but that sort of trust between patient in doctor is an important factor in healthcare.

      6 agree
      • As a (just now identified) demi/gray-A, who's been in a relationship for several years with my very sexual boyfriend, does anyone have advice on how they've made their similarly mis-matched relationships work? We've had some REALLY rough spots over the years that mostly centered around sex (and my lack of desire except for every so often when I'd really want it). Things have greatly improved recently, and we typically have sex about once a week or so, but I know he would ideally love some sort of sexual contact practically every day.

        Any thoughts or advice?

        4 agree
        • Long time lurker, first time commenter:

          Are there acts that you're comfortable doing and will consent to that he could enjoy when you're not in the mood for other acts? Unfortunately, as a culture (American speaking) we put so much emphesis on sex that is vaginal and hetersexual, that the fact that two people can decide for themselves what they do and what it's called is often lost in the conversation. Which is odd when you realize that our culture can also be, excuse the term (I don't like it very much), "prudish" when it comes to sex. Like, don't talk about, it's a secret, but definitely be having it THIS way and ONLY this way.

          Anyway, what I mean by acts is (about to be sexually explicit)…

          Would you be comfortable watching him masturbate if he enjoys that? Would you be comfortable speaking explicitly with out acting it out? Would you be comfortable strip teasing and stripping, or dancing for him? Would you be interested in clothes on sex? Would you be interested in reading erotica out loud to him? Or even mutual masterbation and/or oral with out penetration?

          You should ask what your boyfriend's turn ons are that are outside of the physical. For example: voyerism, secrecy, gender exploration, vocal/visual/olfactory cues, daredevil acts, I mean the list can go on forever. The brain is the largest sex organ. And then, you guys can brain storm together what would be sexually pleasing for him and fun and pleasing for you, and get creative. As long as you guys can both enjoy the activity, both consent to it, there's no reason why it has to be physical, and there's no reason why if it is physical it has to be penetrating.

          13 agree
        • First, a brief, generalized primer anyone who hasn't dived into sexual theory. (And this isn't directed at the person I'm replying to, rather to anyone confused by the whole thing.) Many people who first hear of asexuality as a thing assume asexuals must not have sex or masturbate, or they're not really asexuals then, right?

          When it comes to it, asexuality as a concept is relatively simple: heterosexuals are sexually attracted to people of the opposite gender, homosexuals are sexually attracted to people of the same gender, bisexuals are sexually attracted to people of two genders, pansexuals are sexually attracted to people of any gender, and asexuals are sexually attracted to people of no genders (i.e. no one). The grey area fills all the areas in between, including people who are only sexually attracted to someone once an emotional bond is established, ie. demisexuals. (And this is where it can get more confusing because the grey area is big, and its difficult to even establish defining terminology, and since I'm not grey myself, I won't attempt to define those myself).

          One of the important things to remember is that sexuality only determines who you want to have sex with, not how often you want sex with that/those people. That part is still called libido/sex drive, irregardless of sexuality. Just as a sexual person may not have much sex drive, an asexual may have a high sex drive. The part sexuality plays is in who it's directed at. A heterosexual man may be sexually attracted to his wife without necessarily wanting to have sex with her three times a day, and that isn't considered part of his sexuality, rather its part of his libido. An asexual may have a high sex drive, but focus it on things like porn instead, or even focus it on their partner, and that likewise isn't part of their sexuality, rather their libido.

          Now to actually respond to the question: The problem seems largely rooted in the libido side of things (though the sexuality would obviously affect it as well). Most of the methods that work for sexual couples with differing libidos will work for mixed couples with differing libidos.

          The sorts of solutions that may be better to pay attention to for mixed couples are things that focus on why you're together. If you're demisexual, and your sexual interest in your partner is based on your emotional connection, then things that highlight that relationship should be your foreplay – even if things that highlight that connection is something that seems as mundane as your partner vacuuming the house when vacuuming is normally your job. Essentially anything that makes you think "this is why I'm with this person" can be effective foreplay. This can also work for asexuals who don't necessarily have their own interest in sex, but do have an interest in making their partner happy – the partner doing something non-sexual to make the ace happy can then help the ace want to make their partner happy in a sexual way. If you're otherwise in the gray area, you may have to work a bit more to define what it really is about sex that works for you, and what just doesn't. Sometimes it may require taking some time to deprogram ourselves from what society taught us we should like and want.

          If that itself doesn't feel like enough, alternative sexual contact is definitely a way to go. Essentially anything that works into what makes you and your partner enjoy sex should be something to try, the kinds of things Cass mentioned.

          Also know that, in the end, you'll likely still end up with some sort of gap between what you want and what your partner wants, and that is normal, even outside the conversation of the asexual spectrum. Few couples are 100% sexually compatible, and since things like libido and sexuality itself can change throughout your life, those couples that are are likely to not be at one point or another. The important part is to work on a compromise that is balanced and doesn't leave either partner feeling unwanted or undervalued, even if they aren't getting exactly everything they want. (This is the trickiest part, and something that will have to constantly be re-evaluated and worked on.)

          2 agree
    • Back when that was me, I just accepted the fact that I was going to have to ask the nurse potentially awkward questions about what the standards were for answering that question.

    • Society's definition of 'sex' and 'sexually active' are annoyingly narrow. On those Ob-Gyn forms though, I'd definitely list 'sexually active' so long as a partner and I were doing anything involving genitalia, mainly because they just want to know for STD-risk purposes. You can always clarify whether that includes PIV sex to the doc if necessary (like if you're worried about being pregnant or some such).

      As for the topic of virginity, perhaps it would be a more useful term if we always listed it with a qualifier, like 'PIV-virgin' or 'Oral sex-virigin' where the term 'virgin' only means, 'a thing you haven't done.'

    • I have that same problem (what to say when I fill out forms). I usually say that I am currently sexually active, but I've been called out on it before (by nurses/doctors) and told that I wasn't technically sexually active if I wasn't having intercourse (I am straight). Not cool. I guess sometimes they are trying to judge your pregnancy risk by asking that question… but if that's the case ask "is there any way you could be pregnant" or something!

  4. I can't believe I have never heard of demi-sexuality until now. I don't identify as asexual, but nor am I truly sexual. Demi-sexual is one of the most accurate descriptions I've heard and it is reassuring to find a label for how I feel! Hookups, one-night stands, etc, I could never understand the concept. I've only been with a few people sexually, and when involved, am very sexually connected on both physical and emotional levels. Yet, my demi-sexuality has the downside in that when we break up, it is emotionally devastating because I required that emotional intimacy (or the perception of it for myself–apparently it wasn't reciprocated in the partner!) in order to pursue physical intimacy. It would take me years to recover, and I'm at the point that I just don't want to pursue sexual relationships anymore because of the emotional upheaval, even though I *love* sex.

    And I suspect my daughter (donor conceived) will be similar, but hope to offer her better guidance. Thanks so much!

    9 agree
    • Oh I'm so glad to have given you a word that fits what you're feeling! I hope you find ways to make your identity work for you.

    • I felt the same way when I discovered the term demisexual! I need the emotional connection in order to even think about someone sexually. It was so nice to figure out other people felt the same way.

      3 agree
  5. Huh. This part "I honestly thought for years that the sex scenes in novels β€” and not just romance novels β€” were some weird literary convention." reminded of in movies where they have a romantic plot line just for the sake of having a romantic plot line. It seems like something they feel like they "have" to do but it doesn't really add much to the story overall. At the same time, in books there are times when I enjoy that the chapter just ends with the couple going into the bedroom (and presumably sex ensues) but other times I like reading the sex scenes. Different strokes for different folks – or even the same folks at different times.

  6. I've identified as demisexual for a while now, so it's great to see this article! I always explain it as, sexual attraction is different than what you DO with that attraction. Many people can see someone attractive and start to have sexual thoughts about that person. That doesn't mean they're going to act on those thoughts. For me, I can see someone attractive and think, "He's attractive I guess," but that's about it. Unless it's my fiance. πŸ˜‰ lol

    2 agree
    • Exactly. I am perfectly capable of noticing how incredibly pretty Keira Knightley is, or Gina Torres (omg how gorgeous is she?), or John Cho, or Idris Elba, but that doesn't mean I want to have sex with them. I just want to gaze in admiration. If I'd known more about myself a few years ago, and been able to ask for what I needed, I suspect I would've had a much better time having sex with my girlfriend, because I genuinely liked her and wanted to make her happy.

      4 agree
  7. I'd love to see people treat sex drive like a spectrum the way we now do sexuality and gender identity. On one end, you've got people with literally NO sex drive, ever, even alone- truly asexual. On the other you've got people who are DTF literally ever second of every day. Both pretty rare πŸ˜‰ Then in the middle, a whole world of greys- people like you who aren't that into it and are happy masturbating, people like me who want sex like crazy when I'm ovulating but otherwise pretty much not at all, and, really, almost every other person out there, who sometimes is in the mood and sometimes isn't.

    There are soooo many labels now that it's impossible to keep them all straight – sometimes I think it'd be so nice if we could introduce ourselves as "50% sex drive (romance 40% pre-requisite), 60% gay, and 70% female" (or, what-have-you.)

    5 agree
    • I would also vote for people understanding that where one is on various spectra changes over time. Like, my interest in sex and sex-related topics was higher when I was a teenager, and I would not be surprised if menopause changed my level of interest again. I used to be lot more invested in being androgynous-but-still-female than I am now. But that doesn't mean either of those periods were "just" phases that I got over. Identities are fluid and they develop, but that doesn't make the old ones wrong.

      17 agree
  8. I know the feeling of being aesthetically attracted to people, but having no sexual thoughts about them whatsoever.
    Recently, my friends and I were ogling pictures of some attractive actor. They discussed how fuckable he was, while I sat there thinking "he is very aesthetically pleasing." I enjoy looking at beautiful people, both men and women, because I enjoy observing beauty. I enjoy watching burlesque because it's fun and sparkly and cute. I've never understood the the point of one-night-stands, casual sex, or sleeping with your ex. I find porn and sex scenes boring and tedious. But, I am happily married, and have a healthy sexual relationship with my husband. I wonder if I am technically a demisexual. That would explain so much.

    9 agree
    • This is me. I might occasionally say something metaphorically like "I'd hit that" to signify that there's something vaguely sensual about my appreciation of some actor, but my mind is still occasionally baffled when I'm reminded that somebody else who says that actually means it, because I spent most of my life thinking most people meant it the same way I did. I read books with sex scenes and enjoy them (assuming they are well written), and I sometimes write sex scenes when I have enough time to write fiction, because I do find sex interesting as a subject. I just never thought it sounded interesting to engage in except with my husband. (Well, with the person who is now my husband- this goes for the entire course of our relationship, not just the part since we've been married.) When I first started hearing about asexual being a way that people identify, I wondered if it was possible to be asexual with a single exception. When the word demisexual turned up, it clicked.

      1 agrees
  9. Virginity is an awful, awful concept imo, that needs to be done away with completely*. The fact that a lot of people who identify as sex-positive seem invested in it and in the idea of only sexual activity bringing someone into a full understanding of their own sexuality, like some kind of enlightening initiation, is so painful to me that I only identify with sex-positivity from a cautious distance. (Currently working my way through the related article linked above.)

    I'm confused by demisexuality, because I need to get some sense of what someone is like before true sexual attraction kicks in, I need to feel an active liking for them, but I'm quite misanthropic due to a traumatic past (or a realistic worldview, whichever you prefer ;)), so I keep wondering if maybe most allosexual people need to feel that active liking, but have a higher default level of it for other people than I do. I don't identify as demisexual because I don't have to have romantic feelings for people to be sexually attracted to them, in fact I'm grey-aro, or have intense platonic love for them, so the "strong bond" part doesn't fit me. However I have to feel "a bond", so I don't know. It's very exciting to live in a time where such things are being discussed though, even if not by anywhere near enough people, after growing up feeling totally lost and confused by the multitude of ways in which people appear to experience love and attraction.

    *That said, I have no problem with people, including myself, playing with the purity/corruption idea in a kinky context, but that's consensual. A lot of horrible ideas can be fun to *play* with provided everyone involved is into it and not feeding their own unhealthy tendencies (though that's a whole other discussion). They're still horrible outside that context or when non-consenting people are dragged into them, and what I'm talking about above is the application of a dysfunctional concept to people who aren't consenting to being a part of it. The skeeviness of bringing that out of play and into a social context is partly why it gets my back up.

    1 agrees
  10. Yay, more light being shed on asexuality! I identify as Ace, although I'm still kind of in that "who am I?" phase a lot of the time. But for the past 12 years or so (at least since I was 18, maybe before) I've identified as asexual. I thought I was slow to bloom for a long time and now it's like… if someone told me I could never have sex again, I'd be like "okay, fine, now what's for dinner?" It's really just not something that I NEED in my life. I'm happily married, and we compromise, but… man, I get so tired of people going "what? No, you're just repressed", etc. I mean, maybe I am "just repressed" but the fact of the matter is that I don't really need sex in my life and I don't really like it all that much anyway.

    4 agree
  11. Ace and agender here. Thanks for writing this, and thanks to the Offbeat team for publishing it. Woo, visibility!

    3 agree
  12. I love this! I'm demi/grey-asexual (I'm somewhere on the ace spectrum, and it's wibbly aha), but I didn't realize it for ages because I'd never actually really been able to conceptualize what sexual attraction actually *is*? Because I have sexual fantasies, I don't mind sex, etc. It wasn't until I read someone try to define it on an asexual advice blog that I had a lightbulb moment and realized I'd only ever actually experienced sexual attraction for my wife, and that instead of pansexual, I'm panromantic. So. Yes. Yay visibility!

    2 agree
  13. This was nice to read. I am a bit of an odd ball myself. I am in a polyamorous relationship. I am myself ans a sexual/ demi sexual while being very gender fluid. And that while I can find people attractive…regardless of anything, it is not sexual. I just love being around them. So…panromantic, but only if they are friends. Yeah it is very interesting. Yet, it is nice to find out that there are others that are similar to me in the world.

  14. I don't mean to be Debbie Downer but I'm a little skeeved whenever I read stuff about asexuality (I am asexual) and the "we aren't victims of abuse!" comes up. To me, it really rings like the cliche "I'm not a lesbian!" declarations on TV shows where lady-lovin' comes up. Some of us ARE abuse survivors and our feelings about sex CAN be related to trauma. And that's okay. No, asexuality as a whole is NOT about abuse, but we also shouldn't be excluding ace survivors as not a real part of the community. Many of my asexual friends are survivors, I am as well, and we are just as valid as anyone else.

    5 agree
  15. I've met two people like this. The first, like you, is happy and has totally come to terms with it. I didn't get it, in some ways I still don't. At first I thought it was a 40-year-old virgin thing: she didn't have relationships, years went by and she became embarrassed to the point of not searching for relationships anymore. Then I realised it wasn't that at all. There had never been a need for it. Sexual relationships, I mean, because I can see she craves a bit the emotional part. But we lived together for a year and that's when I saw the companionship we had was more than enough: someone to share meals with, watch TV, say good morning to.
    For me, sex came easy. My boyfriend and I started going out at 17 and 19 years later we're married and have a baby. We're monogamous since ever and sex is an important part of our relationship. I don't know how I'd ever deal with being adult, single and dating and I get the difficulty.
    The second woman I met is miserable, honestly. It's not by choice that she's asexual and a virgin at 30. I don't know how deep is the craving for sex, but I know the need for a relationship with the opposite sex is very strong. I advised her to get into activities, so she could meet new people, instead of closing herself at home with the Internet. She did and I hope she will fall for someone who also falls for her. But sometimes I think of the first and wonder if the second is the first 10 years earlier.
    One thing seems clear to me, even though I have a very powerful sex drive and can't imagine living without sex: what one craves mostly is companionship. If you find it without the sex, after a certain time, maybe the sex becomes unimportant.

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