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Masturbation refers to sexual stimulation, especially of one's own genitals (self masturbation) and often to the point of orgasm which is performed manually, by other types of bodily contact (except for sexual intercourse), by use of objects or tools, or by some combination of these methods. Masturbation is the most common form of autoeroticism[How to reference and link to summary or text], and the two words are often used as synonyms, although masturbation with a partner (mutual masturbation) is also common. Animal masturbation has been observed in many species, both in the wild and in captivity.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Masturbation techniques
- 3 Mutual masturbation
- 4 Masturbation frequency, age and sex
- 5 Evolutionary utility
- 6 Health and psychological effects
- 7 Masturbation in history and society
- 8 Masturbation in other animal species
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
The word masturbation is believed to derive from either the Greek word mezea (μεζεα, "penes") or the Latin manus ("hand") and the Latin turbare ("to disturb"). A competing etymology based on the Latin manu stuprare ("to defile with the hand") is said by the Oxford English Dictionary to be an "old conjecture".
Ways of masturbating common to members of both sexes include pressing or rubbing the genital area, either with the fingers or against an object such as a pillow; inserting fingers or an object into the anus (see anal masturbation); and stimulating the penis or vulva with electric vibrators, which may also be inserted into the vagina or anus. Members of both sexes may also enjoy touching, rubbing, or pinching the nipples or other erogenous zones while masturbating. Both sexes sometimes apply lubricating substances to intensify sensation.
Reading or viewing pornography, or sexual fantasy, are often common adjuncts to masturbation. Often people will call upon memories during masturbation. Masturbation activities are often ritualised. Various fetishes and paraphilias can also play a part in the masturbation ritual. Some potentially harmful or fatal activities include autoerotic asphyxiation and self-bondage.
Some people get sexual pleasure by inserting objects into the urethra (the tube through which urine and, in men, semen, flows).. Other objects such as ball point pens and thermometers are sometimes used, although this practice can lead to injury and/or infection. Some people masturbate by using machines that simulate intercourse.
Men and women may masturbate until they are close to orgasm, stop for a while to reduce excitement, and then resume masturbating. They may repeat this cycle multiple times. This "stop and go" build-up can achieve even stronger orgasms. Rarely, people quit stimulation just before orgasm to retain the heightened energy that normally comes down after orgasm. Doing this could lead to temporary discomfort due to pelvic congestion.
Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich in his 1922 essay Concerning Specific Forms of Masturbation tried to identify healthy and unhealthy forms of masturbation. He tried to relate the way people masturbated to their degree of inclination towards the opposite sex and to their psycho-sexual pathologies.
Female masturbation techniques include a woman stroking or rubbing her vulva, especially her clitoris, with her index and/or middle fingers. Sometimes one or more fingers may be inserted into the vagina to repeatedly stroke its frontal wall where the g-spot is located. Masturbation aids such as a vibrator, dildo or Ben Wa balls can also be used to stimulate the vagina and clitoris. Many women caress their breasts or stimulate a nipple with the free hand, if these are receptive areas for sexual stimulation. Anal stimulation is also enjoyed by some. Lubrication is sometimes used during masturbation, especially when penetration is involved, but this is not universal and many women find their natural lubrication sufficient.
Common positions include lying on back or face down, sitting, squatting, kneeling or standing. In a bath or shower a female may direct tap water at her clitoris and vulva. Lying face down one may use the hands, one may straddle a pillow, the corner or edge of the bed, a partner's leg or some scrunched-up clothing and rubbing the vulva and clitoris against it. Standing up a chair, the corner of an item of furniture or even a washing machine can be used to stimulate the clitoris through the labia and clothing.
Women can sexually stimulate themselves by crossing their legs tightly and clenching the muscles in their legs, creating pressure on the genitals. This can potentially be done in public without observers noticing. Some masturbate using only pressure applied to the clitoris without direct contact, for example by pressing the palm or ball of the hand against underwear or other clothing.
Thoughts, fantasies, and memories of previous instances of arousal and orgasm can produce sexual excitation. Some women can orgasm spontaneously by force of will alone, although this may not strictly qualify as masturbation as no physical stimulus is involved.
Male masturbation techniques are also influenced by a number of factors and personal preferences. Techniques may also differ between circumcised and uncircumcised males, as some techniques which may work for one can be quite painful for the other.
The most common male masturbation technique is simply to hold the penis with a loose fist and then to move the hand up and down the shaft until orgasm and ejaculation take place. The speed of the hand motion will vary from person to person, although it is not uncommon for the speed to increase as ejaculation nears and for it to decrease during the ejaculation itself. When uncircumcised, stimulation of the penis in this way comes from the "pumping" of the foreskin. This gliding motion of the foreskin reduces friction. When circumcised, there is more direct contact between the hand and the glans, thus a personal lubricant is sometimes used to reduce friction. Sometimes, if too much pressure is applied, it may be rubbed sore for a time.
Another technique is to place just the index finger and thumb around the penis about halfway along the penis and move the skin up and down. A variation on this is to place the fingers and thumb on the penis as if playing a flute, and then shuttle them back and forth. Another common technique is to lie face down on a comfortable surface such as a mattress or pillow and rub the penis against it until orgasm is achieved. This technique may include the use of a simulacrum, or artificial vagina.
There are many other variations on male masturbation techniques. Some men place both hands directly on their penis during masturbation, while others use their free hand to fondle their testicles, nipples, or other parts of their body. Some may keep their hand stationary while pumping into it with pelvic thrusts in order to simulate the motions of sexual intercourse. Others may also use vibrators and other sexual devices more commonly associated with female masturbation. A few extremely flexible males can reach and stimulate their penis with their tongue or lips, and so perform autofellatio.
The prostate gland is one of the organs that contributes fluid to semen. As the prostate is touch-sensitive, some directly stimulate it using a well-lubricated finger or dildo inserted through the anus into the rectum. Stimulating the prostate from outside, via pressure on the perineum, can be pleasurable as well. Some men, also, enjoy anal stimulation, with fingers or otherwise, without any prostate stimulation.
A somewhat controversial ejaculation control technique is to put pressure on the perineum, about halfway between the scrotum and the anus, just before ejaculating. This can, however, redirect semen into the bladder (referred to as retrograde ejaculation). If repeated on a regular basis, this technique could cause long term damage due to the pressure put on the nerves and blood vessels in the perineum.
- Main article: Mutual masturbation
Mutual masturbation is a sexual act where two or more people stimulate themselves or one another sexually, usually with the hands.
It is part of a full repertoire of sexual intercourse, where it may be used as an interlude, foreplay or as an alternative to penetration. For some people, non-penetrative sex or frottage is the primary sexual activity of choice above all others. Participants who do not want full sexual intercourse thus still enjoy a mutual sexual act.
Mutual masturbation is practiced by people of all sexual orientations. If used as an alternative to penile-vaginal penetration, the aim may be to preserve virginity or to prevent pregnancy. Some people choose it as it achieves sexual satisfaction without actual sex, possibly seeing it as an alternative to casual sex.
Masturbation frequency, age and sex
Frequency of masturbation is determined by many factors, e.g., one's resistance to sexual tension, hormone levels influencing sexual arousal, sexual habits, peer influences, health and one's attitude to masturbation formed by culture. Medical causes have also been associated with masturbation.
Different studies have found that masturbation is frequent in humans. Alfred Kinsey's studies have shown that 92% of men and 62% of women have masturbated during their lifespan. Similar results have been found in a British national probability survey. It was found that 95% of men and 71% of women masturbated at some point in their lives. 73% of men and 37% of women reported masturbating in the four weeks before their interview, while 53% of men and 18% of women reported masturbating in the previous seven days.
"Forty-eight female college students were asked to complete a sexual attitudes questionnaire in which a frequency of masturbation scale was embedded. Twenty-four of the women (the experimental group) then individually viewed an explicit modeling film involving female masturbation. One month later, all subjects again completed the same questionnaire. Subjects in the experimental group also completed a questionnaire evaluating aspects of the film. Results indicated that the experimental group reported a significant increase in the average monthly frequency of masturbation, as compared to the control group. This same group, however, reported that the film had no effect on sexual attitudes or behavior."
A 2004 survey by Toronto magazine NOW was answered by an unspecified number of thousands. The results show that an overwhelming majority of the males – 81% – began masturbating between the ages of 10 and 15. Among females, the same figure was a more modest majority of 55%. (Note that surveys on sexual practices are prone to self-selection bias.) It is not uncommon however to begin much earlier, and this is more frequent among females: 18% had begun by the time they turned 10, and 6% already by the time they turned 6. Being the main outlet of child sexuality, masturbation has been observed in very young children. In the book Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America, by Strong, Devault and Sayad, the authors point out, "A baby boy may laugh in his crib while playing with his erect penis (although he does not ejaculate). Baby girls sometimes move their bodies rhythmically, almost violently, appearing to experience orgasm." Italian gynecologists Giorgio Giorgi and Marco Siccardi observed via ultrasound a female fetus masturbate to orgasm.
The NOW magazine survey has it that the frequency of masturbation declines after the age of 17. Many males masturbate daily, or even more frequently, well into their 20s and sometimes far beyond. This decline is more drastic among females, and more gradual among males. While females aged 13–17 masturbated almost once a day on average (and almost as often as their male peers), adult women only masturbated 8–9 times a month, compared to the 18–22 among men. Adolescent youths report being able to masturbate to ejaculation around six times per day, though some men in older middle age report being hard pressed to ejaculate even once per day. On the other hand healthy 21-28 year old males are able to masturbate at least 8-10 times per day if they are not stressed. The survey does not give a full demographic breakdown of respondents, however, and the sexual history of respondents to this poll, who are readers of an urban Toronto lifestyle magazine, may not extend to the general population.
It appears that females are less likely to masturbate while in a heterosexual relationship than men. Popular belief asserts that individuals of either sex who are not in sexually active relationships tend to masturbate more frequently than those who are; however, much of the time this is not true as masturbation alone or with a partner is often a feature of a relationship. Contrary to conventional wisdom, several studies actually reveal a positive correlation between the frequency of masturbation and the frequency of intercourse. One study reported a significantly higher rate of masturbation in gay men and women who were in a relationship.
Among some cultures, such as the Hopi in Arizona, the Wogeno in Oceania, and the Dahomeans and Namu of Africa, masturbation is encouraged, including regular masturbation between males. In certain Melanesian communities this is expected between older and younger boys. One interesting twist is the Sambia tribe of New Guinea. This tribe has rituals and rites of passage surrounding manhood which involve frequent ejaculation through fellatio. Semen is valued and masturbation is seen as a waste of semen and is therefore frowned upon even though frequent ejaculation is encouraged. The capacity and need to ejaculate is nurtured for years from an early age through fellatio so that it can be consumed rather than wasted. Semen is ingested for strength and is considered in the same line as mothers' milk.
Other cultures have rites of passage into manhood that culminate in the first ejaculation of a male, usually by the hands of a tribal elder. In some tribes such as the Agta, Philippines, stimulation of the genitals is encouraged from an early age. Upon puberty, the young male is then paired off with a "wise elder" or "witch doctor" who uses masturbation to build his ability to ejaculate in preparation for a ceremony. The ceremony culminates in a public ejaculation before a celebration. The ejaculate is saved in a wad of animal skin and worn later to help conceive children. In this and other tribes, the measure of manhood is actually associated more with the amount of ejaculate and his need than penis size. Frequent ejaculation through masturbation from an early age fosters frequent ejaculation well into adulthood.
Masturbation is becoming accepted as a healthy practice and safe method for sharing pleasure without some of the dangers that can accompany intercourse. It is socially accepted and even celebrated in certain circles. Group masturbation events can be easily found online. Masturbation marathons are yearly events and are occurring across the globe. These events provide a supportive environment where masturbation can be performed openly among young and old without embarrassment. Participants talk openly with onlookers while masturbating to share techniques and describe their pleasure.
Masturbation may increase fertility during intercourse.
Female masturbation alters conditions in the vagina, cervix and uterus, in ways that can alter the chances of conception from intercourse, depending on the timing of the masturbation. A woman's orgasm between one minute before and up to 45 minutes after insemination favors the chances of that sperm reaching her egg. If, for example, she has had intercourse with more than one male, such an orgasm can increase the likelihood of a pregnancy by one of them. Female masturbation can also provide protection against cervical infections by increasing the acidity of the cervical mucus and by moving debris out of the cervix.
In males, masturbation flushes out old sperm with low motility from the male's genital tract. The next ejaculate then contains more fresh sperm, which have higher chances of achieving conception during intercourse. If more than one male has intercourse with a female, the sperm with the highest motility will compete more effectively.
Health and psychological effects
The physical benefits of masturbation and having an orgasm or ejaculating creates heightened arousal while epinephrine courses through the body, producing the flushed face, shallow breath and post-climactic euphoria. It is held in many mental health circles that masturbation can relieve depression[How to reference and link to summary or text], stress and lead to a higher sense of self-worth (Hurlbert & Whittaker, 1991). Masturbation can also be particularly useful in relationships where one partner wants more sex than the other – in which case masturbation provides a balancing effect and thus a more harmonious relationship.
Mutual masturbation, the act by which two or more partners stimulate themselves in the presence of each other, allows a couple to reveal the "map to [their] pleasure centers". Witnessing a partner masturbate is an educational activity to find out the method a partner pleases him- or herself, allowing each partner to learn exactly how the other enjoys being touched.
In 2003, an Australian research team led by Graham Giles of The Cancer Council Australia concluded that frequent masturbation by males appears to help prevent the development of prostate cancer. The study also indicated that this would be more helpful than ejaculation through sexual intercourse because intercourse can transmit diseases that may increase the risk of cancer instead. Also, frequent ejaculation is more easily obtained and sustained over time with the aid of masturbation.
A study published in 1997 found an inverse association between death from coronary heart disease and frequency of orgasm even given the risk that myocardial ischaemia and myocardial infarction can be triggered by sexual activity. Excerpt, "The association between frequency or orgasm and all cause mortality was also examined using the midpoint of each response category recoded as number of orgasms per year. The age adjusted odds ratio for an increase of 100 orgasms per year was 0.64 (0.44 to 0.95)." That is, a difference between any two subjects appeared when one subject ejaculated at around two or more more times per week than the other. Assuming a broad range average of between 3 to 5 ejaculations per week for healthy males, this would mean 5 to 7 ejaculations per week. This is consistent with a 2003 Australia article on the benefits against prostate cancer.
Masturbation is also seen as a sexual technique that protects individuals from the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Support for such a view, and for making it part of the American sex education curriculum, led to the dismissal of US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders during the Clinton administration.
Sexual climax, from masturbation or otherwise, leaves one in a relaxed and contented state. This is frequently followed closely by drowsiness and sleep – particularly when one masturbates in bed.
Some professionals consider masturbation to function as a cardiovascular workout. Though research is still as yet scant, those suffering from cardiovascular disorders (particularly those recovering from myocardial infarction, or heart attacks) should resume physical activity (including sexual intercourse and masturbation) gradually and with the frequency and rigor which their physical status will allow. This limitation can serve as encouragement to follow through with physical therapy sessions to help improve endurance.
Both sex and masturbation lower blood pressure. A small study has shown that in one test group, recent full intercourse resulted in the lowest average blood pressure in stressful situations. Masturbation then led to lower blood pressure than did no recent sexual activity.
Objects inserted into the vagina, anus/rectum or urethra should be clean and of a kind that will not scratch or break. Care should be taken not to fully insert anything into the anus – any object used should have a flared or flanged base; otherwise retrieval can require medical intervention. Modern dildos and anal plugs are designed with this feature.
Masturbation involving both a man and a woman (see mutual masturbation) can result in pregnancy only if semen contacts the vulva. Masturbation with a partner can also theoretically result in transmission of sexually transmitted diseases by contact with bodily fluids.
Problems for males
A man whose penis has suffered a blunt trauma or injury during intercourse may rarely sustain a penile fracture or suffer from Peyronie's disease. Phimosis is "a contracted foreskin (that) may cause trouble by hurting when an attempt is made to pull the foreskin back". In these cases, any energetic manipulation of the penis can be problematic.
Sigmund Freud argued that every normal child usually experiments with many types of autoerotic sexual stimulation. Social repressions of sexuality reached their peak in the Victorian era when popular authors wrote books threatening young children with mental deficiency or insanity if they indulged in any form of masturbation. Actually there is no scientific evidence of any causative relationship between autoeroticism and any form of mental disorder. Though mentally disturbed persons characteristically show poor judgment in expressing sexuality, this may be understood as a symptom rather than a cause. Each child however, must learn the appropriate social and legal limitations relating to expressing sexuality. Masturbating frequently presents no physical, mental or emotional risk in itself, but masturbation can be used to relieve boredom or stress. In either case, as with any "nervous habit", it is more helpful to consider the causes of the boredom or of the stress, rather than try to repress the masturbation.
There is some discussion between professionals and other interested parties as to the existence or validity of sexual addictions. Nevertheless, there are lists of warning signs such as when sexual activity affects a person's ability to function in everyday life, or is placing them at risk, for example, of pursuing illegal or destructive activities. Very frequent and compulsive masturbation may be seen as a sign of sexual addiction.
Masturbation in history and society
There are depictions of male masturbation in prehistoric rock paintings around the world. Most early people seem to have connected human sexuality with abundance in nature. A clay figurine of the 4th millennium BC from a temple site on the island of Malta, depicts a woman masturbating. However, in the ancient world depictions of male masturbation are far more common.
Male masturbation became an even more important image in ancient Egypt: when performed by a god it could be considered a creative or magical act: the god Atum was believed to have created the universe by masturbating to ejaculation, and the ebb and flow of the Nile was attributed to the frequency of his ejaculations. Egyptian pharaohs, in response to this, were at one time required to masturbate ceremonially into the Nile.
The ancient Greeks had a more relaxed attitude toward masturbation than the Egyptians did, regarding the act as a normal and healthy substitute for other forms of sexual pleasure. They considered it a safety valve against destructive sexual frustration. The Greeks also dealt with female masturbation in both their art and writings. One common term used for it was anaphlan, which roughly translates as "up-fire".
Diogenes, speaking in jest, credited the god Hermes with its invention: he allegedly took pity on his son Pan, who was pining for Echo but unable to seduce her, and taught him the trick of masturbation in order to relieve his suffering. Pan in his turn taught the habit to young shepherds.
- Main article: Religious views on masturbation
- Also see Sexuality and Religion for broad coverage of this topic
Religions vary broadly in their views of masturbation, from completely impermissible to encouraged as a way to achieve greater spirituality (see, for example Tantric sexuality and Taoist sexual practices). In the modern St. Priapus Church, group male masturbation is a form of worship.
Immanuel Kant regarded masturbation as a violation of the moral law. In the Metaphysics of Morals (1797) he made the a posteriori argument that 'such an unnatural use of one's sexual attributes' strikes 'everyone upon his thinking of it' as 'a violation of one's duty to himself', and suggested that it was regarded as immoral even to give it its proper name (unlike the case of the similarly undutiful act of suicide). He went on, however, to acknowledge that 'it is not so easy to produce a rational demonstration of the inadmissibility of that unnatural use', but ultimately concluded that its immorality lay in the fact that 'a man gives up his personality … when he uses himself merely as a means for the gratification of an animal drive'.
Subsequent critics of masturbation tended to argue against it on more physiological grounds, however (see medical attitudes).
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The first use of the word "onanism" to consistently and specifically refer to masturbation appears to be Onania, an anonymous pamphlet first distributed in London in 1716. It drew on familiar themes of sin and vice, this time in particular against the "heinous sin" of "self-pollution". After dire warnings that those who so indulged would suffer impotence, gonorrhea, epilepsy and a wasting of the faculties (included were letters and testimonials supposedly from young men ill and dying from the effects of compulsive masturbation) the pamphlet then goes on to recommend as an effective remedy a "Strengthening Tincture" at 10 shillings a bottle and a "Prolific Powder" at 12 shillings a bag, available from a local shop.
One of the many horrified by the descriptions of malady in Onania was the notable Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot. In 1760, he published L'Onanisme, his own comprehensive medical treatise on the purported ill-effects of masturbation. Citing case studies of young male masturbators amongst his patients in Lausanne, Switzerland as basis for his reasoning, Tissot argued that semen was an "essential oil" and "stimulus" that, when lost from the body in great amounts, would cause "a perceptible reduction of strength, of memory and even of reason; blurred vision, all the nervous disorders, all types of gout and rheumatism, weakening of the organs of generation, blood in the urine, disturbance of the appetite, headaches and a great number of other disorders."
Though Tissot's ideas are now considered conjectural at best, his treatise was presented as a scholarly, scientific work in a time when experimental physiology was practically nonexistent. The authority with which the work was subsequently treated – Tissot's arguments were even acknowledged and echoed by luminaries such as Kant and Voltaire – arguably turned the perception of masturbation in Western medicine over the next two centuries into that of a debilitating illness.
This continued well into the Victorian Era, where such medical censure of masturbation was in line with the widespread social conservatism and opposition to open sexual behavior common at the time. There were recommendations to have boys' pants constructed so that the genitals could not be touched through the pockets, for schoolchildren to be seated at special desks to prevent their crossing their legs in class and for girls to be forbidden from riding horses and bicycles because the sensations these activities produce were considered too similar to masturbation. Boys and young men who nevertheless continued to indulge in the practice were branded as "weak-minded." Many "remedies" were devised, including eating a bland, meatless diet. This approach was promoted by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (inventor of corn flakes) and Rev. Sylvester Graham (inventor of Graham crackers). The medical literature of the times describes procedures for electric shock treatment, infibulation, restraining devices like chastity belts and straitjackets, cauterization or – as a last resort – wholesale surgical excision of the genitals. Routine neonatal circumcision was widely adopted in the United States and the UK at least partly because of its believed preventive effect against masturbation (see also History of male circumcision). In later decades, the more drastic of these measures were increasingly replaced with psychological techniques, such as warnings that masturbation led to blindness, hairy hands or stunted growth. Some of these persist as myths even today.
At the same time, the supposed medical condition of hysteria—from the Greek hystera or uterus—was being treated by what would now be described as medically administered or medically prescribed masturbation for women. Techniques included use of the earliest vibrators and rubbing the genitals with placebo creams.
Medical attitudes toward masturbation began to change at the beginning of the 20th century when H. Havelock Ellis, in his seminal 1897 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex, questioned Tissot's premises, cheerfully named famous men of the era who masturbated and then set out to disprove (with the work of more recent physicians) each of the claimed diseases of which masturbation was purportedly the cause. "We reach the conclusion", he wrote, "that in the case of moderate masturbation in healthy, well-born individuals, no seriously pernicious results necessarily follow."
Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of The Scout Association, incorporated a passage in the 1914 edition of Scouting for Boys warning against the dangers of masturbation. This passage stated that the individual should run away from the temptation by performing physical activity which was supposed to tire the individual so that masturbation could not be performed. By 1930, however, Dr. F. W. W. Griffin, editor of The Scouter, had written in a book for Rover Scouts that the temptation to masturbate was "a quite natural stage of development" and, citing Ellis' work, held that "the effort to achieve complete abstinence was a very serious error."
The works of Sexologist Alfred Kinsey during the 1940s and 1950s insisted that masturbation was an instinctive behavior for both males and females, citing the results of Gallup Poll surveys indicating how common it was in the United States. Some critics of this theory held that his research was biased and that the Gallup Poll method was redundant for defining "natural behavior".
In 1994, when the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, mentioned as an aside that it should be mentioned in school curricula that masturbation was safe and healthy, she was forced to resign, with opponents asserting that she was promoting the teaching of how to masturbate. Many believe this was the result of her long history of promoting controversial viewpoints and not due solely to her public mention of masturbation.
Masturbation in other animal species
- Main article: Animal sexuality#Autoeroticism (masturbation)
Masturbatory behavior has been documented in a very wide range of species. Individuals of some species have been known to create tools for masturbation purposes.
- Based on "masturbation" in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003
- Breeding Soundness Examination of the Stallion
- Bruce Bagemihl: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. St. Martin's Press, 1999. ISBN 0-312-19239-8
- For further references, see also the main article Animal sexuality#Autoeroticism (masturbation).
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