November 1st, 2010
05:35 PM ET

Oral sex leads to other sex for teens

Oral sex is often a precursor to teenagers having intercourse, concludes a new study published in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The study asked more than 600 high school students in California to report on their sexual experiences by filling out surveys twice a year, from the beginning of ninth grade, in 2002, to the end of 11th grade, in 2005.

From the questions asked on the survey, and the six-month window in between each one, researchers learned that most adolescents have their first experiences with oral sex and vaginal intercourse in the same six-month period. They could not extrapolate which experience came first but discovered that among teens who initiated only one of the two types of sex during that six-month window, oral sex usually preceded vaginal intercourse. Additionally, having oral sex once made intercourse more likely to occur. Specifically, initiating oral sex by the end of their freshman year in high school gave teens a 25 percent chance of initiating vaginal sex around the same time and a 50 percent chance of initiating intercourse by the end of their junior year. The results of the study did not vary across any racial, ethnic or gender boundaries.

The goal of the study was to establish the relationship between oral and vaginal sex and whether teens used oral sex as a means of delaying intercourse or if oral sex increased the likelihood of having vaginal sex. The study found the latter to be true, partly because most adolescents don't consider oral sex to be sex in the first place.

"We don't talk about the risks that are inherent in oral sex," says Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, Ph.D, senior author of the study and a professor of pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco. "Teens think oral sex is less risky [than intercourse] and they're right, it's not risk free but it is less risky. But socially and emotionally, they're still being intimate."

Halpern-Felsher believes teenagers are most likely to initiate oral and vaginal sex during their first two years of high school. She advises concerned parents to talk to their teens about oral sex and not focus solely on the risks associated with intercourse.

"We have a disadvantage as health professionals and parents when teens do not equate oral sex with sex," says Halpern-Felher. "They think the messages don't apply to them and we need to make it apply to them, we need to talk to them about oral sex."

soundoff (1,228 Responses)
  1. Matt M

    My god! Stop the presses! Phone the White House! SHUT. DOWN. EVERYTHING.

    November 1, 2010 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Junior in HS

    I am a black female junior in high school and i think that this articleis hilarious! I just want to point out that it doesn't matter what background you come from or how much peer pressure you recieve, the choice is ultimately yours (unless you're raped, but thats another issue). I attended middle school at a private catholic school that was predominantly female. Entering high school from there i was exposed to sexual conversations. But peer pressure and oral sex really has nothing to do with how likely we are to have sex. Speaking from experience.... its our hormones and there is no action or study any adult can do to fight a teenagers hormones. I personally have been offered a LOT of times to get head- without giving it in return. I have yet to take any of these boys up on their offer,yes i am a virgin. Its really dependent on the teen. I choose to wait but its not easy. Yes peer pressure has a huge impact because majority of the people i hang around are not virgins and are still sexually active. Where i'm from, the girls get "addicted" and have this need to have sex. Oral does not technically lead to sex unless that girl was already willing to have sex. I've partaken in "dry-humping" and giving my boyfriend a hand- job. But i can stop myself from going all the way. As far as this study goes, it was a waste despite the fact that they were supporting a claim. Almost ALL kids lie on those stupid surveys. I kno i do. Especially on the ones about the drugs.. i mean really ! STOP WASTING MONEY ! Anyway, i plan to have oral sex, and i doubt it will lead to intercourse. If it does its because i was already willing and tired of waiting. And parents, stop trying to keep your child on lockdown to prevent this because take t from someone who's subjected to those conditions, it doesn't work ! My mother tries to lock me down, but i've had plenty of oppotunities over my high school years to have done it.
    To everybody who's responded, thank you for the laughs !

    November 1, 2010 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jimmy Jurkuff

      Go ahead and get pregnant. Pretty much all black girls have five kids by the time they are 19 anyway so you might as well keep the cycle going and we wonder why the AA community is in such a wretched shape. Losers

      November 1, 2010 at 22:55 | Report abuse |
    • Junior in HS

      Excuse me J I M M Y, there was no need for the racist comment. 1st of all, black girls are not the only race of teenage girls with babies. WHITE girls get pregnant quite often but it is mostly covered up because their parents have money and pay for the abortions to make sure they don't blemish the family name ! I will not be a teen mom because i'm not stupid enough to have sex before i'm out of high school. As far as "keeping the cycle going" you can take that BS and shove it up your a** ! You are probably a low life who gets pleasure from raping helpless girls, because with an attitude like that i doubt anybody really wants you. Its dumb a** people like YOU that has this world in the predicament its in now, not typical black girls who "have about 5 babies by the time their 19" !

      November 1, 2010 at 23:09 | Report abuse |
    • Patricia

      yes Jimmy that was harsh......
      Girl, I thought you wrote a very thoughtful comment and I have to agree with you that one of the hardest things is to wait. I waited until I was 18 and I was the last in my age-group. My sister said "finally!" but I wasn't ready. I'm sure it will be a beautiful thing when it does happen because you're taking your time.

      November 1, 2010 at 23:50 | Report abuse |
    • AW

      Jimmy Jurkuff –
      I read these columns often, and rarely respond, though when I do it's usually to make an objective observation... I don't like to get into the name-calling, ego inflation, or smart-ass criticisms. I've read a lot of offensive things on this article response column, but your racist, belligerent, desperate, and obvious attempt at insulting "shock" commentary is disgusting. How is your comment constructive? I'm imagining a person who doesn't have the courage to say this type of thing openly, and so resorts to posting such statements online, simply to be offensive, and as an outlet for a repugnant personality.
      Just cowardly really.
      Again I will resist stooping to the level of name-calling, but I will say that I hope you rethink your motivations for posting... taking time to craft such bigotry is pointless, not constructive, and really just insulting. It's not funny. It's really not even worth responding to, which is why I'm surprised that I am, but the teenage girl you berated offered a thoughtful viewpoint, and we should be encouraging people at her age to engage these types of issues and to express their experiences. I'm glad she stood up for herself, and I hope you will read this and consider offering an opinion that contributes to a dialogue, rather than spending your energies deliberately insulting other people with nothing to gain.

      November 2, 2010 at 04:47 | Report abuse |
    • GreenApple

      Junior, you sound like a responsible girl with a head on your shoulders! Although it seemed like a lot ofgirls my age were having sex, I didn't have sex in high school. Haha, of course it also helped that I didn't have a boyfriend either until I was 20....None of the guys appealed to me then, they were all so immature. I finally had sex when I was 21......Something they rarely tell you is the likelihood that sex can HURT a lot for some women. I had sex three times with my first boyfriend, and it was excruciating every time. I abstained from sex for a long time after that because it just wasn't worth it (instead, I perfected my other skills!). Two years later I tried again with a new boyfriend....half a dozen times and it still hurt like hell. I'm now 25 and finally talking openly with my OB/GYN about my pain so that I can get it resolved. Painful intercourse is somewhat common for women, but no one talks about it.

      November 2, 2010 at 10:17 | Report abuse |
  3. michaelsorianomacugay

    LOL. Is this a study? Read: "The goal of the study was to establish the relationship between oral and vaginal sex and whether teens used oral sex as a means of delaying intercourse or if oral sex increased the likelihood of having vaginal sex. The study found the latter to be true, partly because most adolescents don't consider oral sex to be sex in the first place."

    November 1, 2010 at 22:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Bob

    Think about it, teens aren't going to kiss and make-out forever. They will move on to other things, maybe we can stall this until high school, but in my sons 8th grade class he tells me at least 6 girls have gone all the way.

    November 1, 2010 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. David

    Teach them proper contraceptive methods and let 'em have at it! It's nature's way.

    November 1, 2010 at 22:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Skippy

    Somebody actually got PAID to research this?!? And they came up witn the brilliant masterstroke (no pun intended) that "Oral sex is often a precursor to intercourse"?!?!? Thats right professor.... we sexually active grownups (and, whooda guessed it, teenagers!) call it FOREPLAY. Should get your money back on that PhD.... and go rent one of those bedroom how-to videos!

    November 1, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Nursehope

    Preaching abstinence does not equal abstaining from oral/anal sex. Both of these practices are risky with regard to STDs. When oh when will the religious right stand behind their precious children and educate them? Sex no longer = baby. Sex now =death. Put aside your pious platitudes. Get serious and protect your kids. sheesh

    November 1, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • David

      The hell are you on about? The "religious right" is very much in favour of abstaining from those other things you mention as well as intercourse...

      November 1, 2010 at 22:51 | Report abuse |
  8. Diane

    Oral sex is NOT less risky – especially if you have someone that has an STD and you've just gobbled up the germs. I had a friend who worked in a Medical Clinic here in Escondido, CA and they were taking care of a guy who had oral sex with someone who had herpes....he didn't know and she 'believed' she was in remission. Needless to say, they had been working with this guy for about 6 months and were now in the process of trying to figure out how to replace all the skin inside his mouth and on his tongue because the STD had destroyed it all. The only way he could eat was anything through a straw. Yeah...less risky??? I THINK NOT!

    November 1, 2010 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Skippy

    Somebody actually got PAID to research this?!? And they came up witn the brilliant masterstroke (no pun intended) that "Oral sex is often a precursor to intercourse"?!?!? Thats right professor.... we sexually active grownups (and, whooda guessed it, teenagers!) call it FOREPLAY. Should get your money back on that PhD.... and go rent one of those bedroom how-to videos! – Your whole PhD dissertation in one sitting!

    November 1, 2010 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Gue$t

    Go Giants!!!!!!

    November 1, 2010 at 22:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Shmegmuh

    In other news...herp f****n derp.

    November 1, 2010 at 22:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Cody Klein

    beating a dead horse here.... its called foreplay

    November 1, 2010 at 22:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. John

    No sht there Sherlocks. The current era of media, gives kids the wanting of those actions.

    November 1, 2010 at 22:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Re

    Regardless, we should be teaching kids about protection over abstinence because this proves that kids WILL have sex. Might as well protect them.

    November 1, 2010 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. John

    No sht there Sherlocks.

    November 1, 2010 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Andrew D

    Ya Think !

    November 1, 2010 at 23:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Brian

    I don't advocate kids having sex (or oral sex) but you people who think that you can stop them from doing it are ridiculous. You really think that you can stop Human physiology and biological inheritance from running it's course?

    Humans, along with EVERY OTHER animal are born to procreate and continue the species. This means sex. It's BIOLOGICALLY programmed into every human.

    And if you religious nut jobs want to get into this, then WHY did God create us so that we would be physically capable and emotionally and physically INTERESTED in Sex around that young age?

    To deny our basic human instinct would be to question god's plan. How do you like them apples? You don't? Then go knock on people's doors and try to get them to drink the same cool aid you have.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JuniorGirl (16)

      from what i know, Procreate is to create again right? having a baby? Procreation and having sex is NOT the same thing. Sure we need sex to procreate but im pretty sure that is not what teenagers are doing in highschool when the girl gets pregnant and does an abortion. Im still in high school and dude they only have sex for pleasure. Its not cool to say "Oh God created sex so religious ppl shouldnt say anything." Yeah God created us to do that, but for the right reasons. To procreate just like you said. Not to give a guy a blowjob in highschool cuz she has low self esteem and doesnt want to get dumped or cuz they r "curious" and r probably gonna end up doing it more than once with Different guys. -_____-

      November 3, 2010 at 17:29 | Report abuse |
  18. someoneelse

    Everyone has already said it, but... DUH!

    November 1, 2010 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. cmc

    This study is a no brainer. And let's all remember that having sex doesn't always lead to pregnancy and a sexually transmitted disease (aside from AIDS and herpes, we have cures for those anyway). Teach a kid about abstinence AND birth control so they can make an informed decision if/when the big moment comes. Don't weigh this stuff down in morality, as every one has a different moral code. Weigh it down with facts: teen parents usually end up missing out on the fun, have a harder time getting an education and then end up not making as much money in adulthood as their child-free peers. These FACTS are more likely to have a stronger impact that the OPINION that God wouldn't like it.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. dion

    Of course ORAL SEX is not sex...Bill Clinton swore that it was NOT LOL! Anyways...insofar as the comments in regards to the earth revolving around the sun AND WHAT NOT...We are talking about another subject...an area where the sun don't shine...!!

    November 1, 2010 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Parkerman

    Gee you think? No surprises here, I mean once your blood is pumping whats going to keep them from stopping there.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Kathy

    So now we do surveys on high school kids pertaining to oral sex... so whats next? where does it end, is there any subject thats off limits anymore?

    November 1, 2010 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. joe

    most of the debate with oral versus intercourse is based on religion. Had a buddy in college and his gf would only give head cause she wanted to remain "pure." Yeah, because an omnipotent all powerful being cares if it goes in your vajay jay or your mouth. Educate, educate, educate. Be honest about the risks. Make sure they use a condom, and that's about the best you can do. Study after study show's that abstinance education increases std's and teen pregnancy.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Billy

    Wait, foreplay leads to sex? GET OUT!

    November 1, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Patricia

      ... I know... it's pretty ground-breaking stuff.

      November 1, 2010 at 23:16 | Report abuse |
  25. joe

    ouch!!! so sorry, had a girl like that, keep moaning ow, oww, oh stop, she thought I was liking it till I smacked her

    November 1, 2010 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. fireybuddha

    they had to do a study to figure that out? wow.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. darksideoftheshrub

    Yay SEX!

    November 1, 2010 at 23:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Kevin

    No, i reject this study. I think i will only really be able to tell if i experience it myself. 😉

    November 1, 2010 at 23:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. admiral 149

    One male and one female left alone together will almost always make babies. I hope this study was not an expensive insight into the obvious. That is, after all, how we all got here. The old timers were pretty smart making it harder for kids to have too much time alone together.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Dave C

    The comment that kids experience oral and vaginal sex in the same six month window is not borne out by the later remark in the article; "initiating oral sex by the end of their freshman year in high school gave teens a 25 percent chance of initiating vaginal sex around the same time and a 50 percent chance of initiating intercourse by the end of their junior year." A 25% chance of vaginal sex in the same six month window and a 50% chance of it within two years seems to indicate that oral sex is very effective at delaying vaginal sex, especially if kids are habing oral sex as freshmen and only half of them have vaginal sex by the end of their junior year. The core issue is that societal rules have not kept up with biology. Girls reach puberty at ten, but marriage is typically delayed until people are over 25. That leaves kids with raging hormones and no release for fifteen years. Expecting fifteen years of celibacy from young people is ridiculous, and we need to find a way to address this issue. I saw an article recently that said in Nordic countries it's considered normal for teen girls to bring home their boyfriends to spend the night in their beds, and parents don't object. Surprisingly, the rate of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy is actually lower in those countries than in the US. What can we do differently?

    November 1, 2010 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AW

      Good observation.... the difference is a cultural one, and primarily has to do with American attitudes about sex. We tend to overly dramatize sexuality in US culture, and when coupled with a sense of denial/censorship regarding the responsibilities of safe sex, we experience alarming rises in teen pregnancy, STD transmission, etc... The problem is with communication within the family, but it's also broader and more complex than that... in short we expose our children (and ourselves as adults) to overt, provocative sexuality (through images, pornography, advertising, media in general, etc...) without equally confronting the realities of sexual activity, and the potential consequences. The aforementioned exposure is unavoidable in today's digital age, so it is our responsibility as adults to stop pretending that sex is not a major focus in our society... we need to confront this reality by opening an honest practical dialogue about a world that we live in regardless of whether we choose to admit it.
      There was a mention of a comparative study between Nordic countries and the US. I'm not sure if this was the exact study being referred to, but check out "Raging Hormones, Regulated Love: Adolescent Sexuality in the United States and the Netherlands." by Amy T. Schalet
      The article examines the family dynamic between the two cultures, and offers insight into how cultural attitudes may contribute to the alarming rates of teen pregnancy we see in the US.

      November 2, 2010 at 05:12 | Report abuse |
  31. Russ

    The kids who went right to vaginal sex are now thinking that they missed something.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Ron J69

    Why did they neglect anal sex in the study?? I am 14 and my friends and I do it all the time. We call each other "Butt Buddies." My parents support it, so to all the other naive parents out there, anal sex is prevalent as well!!! Viva Anal!!

    November 1, 2010 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. dakidnextdoor

    I'm bangin angry carolyn's daughter.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. joe

    what do they do differently? They tell their kids about condoms and they actually use them. Yes I know this because I dated a girl from sweden when I lived in the cayman islands, Europeans are much more accepting that sex is going to happen no matter what you do, so they provide and educate about condoms. Suprisingly if you tell kids here are the tools and sex is o.k. they actually back off a lot of times and say I'm not ready and want to wait. Tell them they can't do it and they are hooking up that night.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Sparky44

    FlowinEddie ... aspie probably = "ass pie"

    November 1, 2010 at 23:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Michelle

    Really? They had to study this? I think anyone with half a brain could have informed them of this...
    But anyways, to those people who are convinced their kids are little angels and will not have sex before marriage blah blah blah and teach them only abstinence, you could be hurting them in the long run. My mom was always supportive of me and my sister, offered to take us to the doc for a prescription for the pill anytime we had a new boyfriend, and taught us about safe sex – even offering to buy us condoms. She told us about the emotional consequences. And guess what? We did have sex eventually but we were safe, no one night stands and no mini-me's on the way. And my friend who was taught abstinence only, and came from a very religious family, was knocked up without any idea who the dad was when she was 17. I lost touch with her, but last I heard she had 2 more kids with no guy in the picture.
    Most teens are going to do it, but the more prepared they are the better it is for everyone involved.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. james savik

    Oh my God! Teens are having sex. That's NEVER happened before. Let's all panic and pass some ill-advised knee-jerk legislation, a morality crusade (that the adults running it couldn't live up to) and have some dumbass politicians wife say something clever like "Just say no."

    When is this neurotic country going to grow up and realize that teenagers were designed by their maker to have sex. It's a force of nature and we can either fight it unsuccessfully or learn to live with it. The scare tactics used to rile up parents help no one but the networks.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. John

    You can get venereal warts even if you use a condom. Something like 15% of all people in our country have the HPV virus that causes venereal warts. You can get venereal warts in your mouth and venereal warts are a pre-cursor to cancer of the mouth, cervix, penis. A doctor friend of mine said he's send venereal warts covering over about 80% of people's tongues and mouth before. You can also get venereal warts real bad in you anus area. And remember condoms do not guard against venereal warts. Have fun but be ready to have surgery when the time comes.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Brian

    At first I thought this was an article about randy preachers or priests.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. David

    Thank you CNN for the creepiest story of the day.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. amy

    Nah? Really? It can't be true. Oral sex leads to intercourse? Who da thunk?

    November 1, 2010 at 23:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. DD

    I know a lot of people are gonna hate on this comment, but I believe in an old honorable code. First of all, I'm not ugly, dumb, or desperate and thought this was the single most ridiculously titled article I've seen in a long time, so I clicked on it. Now, I thought the ridiculousness of the article was bad as it is, but the comments in some cases are even worse. I know a lot of people like to desensitize intimacy, but the fact of the matter is- we are not animals. This isn't just a simple biological function. You are supposed to truly and deeply care for the person you choose for your most intimate moments, not just some stranger who couldn't care less if you live or die. Those intimate moments would be your bond, your commitment to one another and such a profound trust should not be given indiscriminately- it must be earned. I have many gentlemen interested in me, but I choose very carefully who I would consider as a partner, not just an encounter. Is it so hard to discuss with your kids the value of virtues and morals, rather than just the ole "don't catch anything" singular line? That just sounds lazy, as if you don't even care to explain the value of that special moment in their lives which should be a wonderful (not cheap) experience. Since when are morals considered less important than convenience? Since when do those events in our lives that define us and shape us not matter anymore?? Call me old fashioned if you want, I don't care, but I know that as you cheapen every experience for someone- little by little you chip away at what makes their experiences and life special, and that's just plain sad.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Ron jeremy

    Your stimulus money at work.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Patricia

    I'm starting to think the doctors at CNN Health are having a laugh at our expense.
    They put these articles out there to amuse themselves with our responses.
    Look at the articles lately.
    Oral sex leads to intercourse, seriously?
    Just like the last article on breast cancer and ovarian cancer that said these cancers are reduced if you remove the breasts and the ovaries. DUH CNN we're not a bunch of half-wits. You CAN write more intelligent pieces.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. bhamilton

    I think the results of this study are more likely showing that once kids reach a certain point in their comfort level with sexual behavior it isn't long before they go all the way. I don't think oral sex is a gateway to anything, its a stop on the road to the real deal.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Benny

    I know how to stop teen sex. The ultimate cure, let them get married.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. mmi16

    No Mas

    November 1, 2010 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Q

    Without having read the study, I suspect this was not the only conclusion. Those complaining about the "obviousness" of the result are not considering that this study presents rather detailed insights into the sexual behavior of teens and provides a time line with associated probabilities of specific behaviors. Information like this can help better tailor education targeted to particular age groups and provide actual data indicative of the probability of "escalation" once a teen chooses to engage in oral sex. Given that some teens don't appear to view oral sex as seriously as intercourse, if properly presented, this data could dissuade some teen girls from taking what they may falsely believe to be an innocuous first foray.

    November 1, 2010 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. R2D2Nebraska

    Ah, Sex. What a wonderful thing. Yes, it's frowned upon. Happened when I was a sophomore. Aka 2006. Was glorious. Was glorious. Oral sex some months before vaginal. Something even preceded vaginal. We kids. Now 21. Experiment. We want to be the first to lose it. I was the 4th in my class. Openly. Her and I are still super good friends. Super good friends. Tattoo's were once terrible. Now they're not. Sex will get that way soon enough. We all know that they're getting younger and younger.
    If you see a young teen couple walking a stroller with a kid down the mall. Why think "Poor kid, bad parents, ill-informed teens"? My parents had my sister at ages 19 and 18. And had me at ages 21 and 22. They started dating the're freshman year of high school. They're the greatest people in the world.

    November 2, 2010 at 00:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • First to lay, last to stay.

      Wow, just wow. This article is for you hun. If anyone.

      November 2, 2010 at 06:23 | Report abuse |
  50. mim

    A-hem! It's called oral sex because it is that; sex. Takes me back to Clinton and his denial that oral sex is not sex. Wadda joke.

    November 2, 2010 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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