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Why I orgasmed in an MRI scanner
January 27th, 2012
07:10 AM ET

Why I orgasmed in an MRI scanner

Kayt Sukel is a passionate science writer and the author of "Dirty Minds: How our brains influence love, sex and relationships" - an edgy, irreverent book that examines all the ways our neurons can wreak havoc with our hearts.

Let me just get this out of the way upfront: I had an orgasm in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

That is, as background research for my book, "Dirty Minds: How our brains influence love, sex and relationships," I participated in a study at Rutgers University where scientists measured the activity in my brain as I self-stimulated to an orgasm.

I wasn’t the first woman to participate in one of these studies - and I won’t be the last.

I know, it’s controversial and perhaps even a bit shocking. And, because of that, I expected readers and commenters to make a few jokes at my expense (and perhaps even question my character) when I wrote about the experience.

But what I didn’t expect was so much outrage about sex research in general.

Time and time again, regardless of the publication discussing my fMRI orgasm, commenters wrote things like, “If only researchers were as interested in finding a cure for cancer,” and “I can’t believe my tax dollars are going to pay for such useless research.”

How can the study of human sexuality be considered useless? This is something that is prevalent in each and every one of our lives. When we’re not having sex, we’re talking about it. When we’re not talking about it, we’re thinking about it. And when we’re not thinking about it, we worry that something is wrong with us.

Sex is a primary source of human motivation and can change the way we act and the way we feel in quite dramatic ways. And this isn’t something that occurs solely in the privacy of our bedrooms: You see sex at play in advertising and marketing, in problems in the work place, in self-esteem and identity, in pleasure and reward, and also in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Human sexuality has direct influence over so many aspects of day-to-day life. Understanding such a universal phenomenon is never useless. Yet, many want to discount its importance - and its study.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Alfred Kinsey, esteemed biologist and founder of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, pioneered the study of sexual behavior with the publication of the Kinsey Reports. That work was the first of its kind: a systematic, scientific approach to understanding variation in normal sexual behavior. And, thankfully, his work has inspired countless brave scientists in the decades since to buck the status quo and study human sexuality.

Yet, while we’ve come a long way in our understanding the biology of sex, there is still plenty left to discover. We now have a good deal of data on the mechanics of sexual behavior.

But as anyone who has ever been involved in a sexual relationship knows, there’s a lot more to sex than pure mechanics - a heck of a lot more. The blossoming field of neuroscience, including neuro-imaging studies like the orgasm one I participated in as well as cellular and molecular research, is now offering us a new window of understanding into age-old questions about sex and related behaviors by focusing on all the ways our brains influence our behaviors.

During the course of my research for "Dirty Minds," I asked neuroscientific researchers about the greatest challenges involved in studying human sexuality. I expected to hear concerns about finding study participants willing to be honest about their sex lives or if what was learned in the laboratory could really be applied to real-world behaviors.

But unanimously, the scientists I talked to said their greatest challenge was finding research grants and financial support for their work. Because so many of us are peevish about the study of sex, funding agencies can be, too. But none of us should be. Human sexuality is important - and its study is something we should all get behind. Because we can’t begin to have discussions about how to best deal with problems concerning sexual behavior, sexual function and sexual intimacy until we have a better handle on what’s normal.

Time and time again, I’m asked how I managed to have an orgasm in an fMRI scanner. But that’s not the right question. The important question is why I had an orgasm in an fMRI scanner. And that’s to help further our understanding of orgasm and human sexuality. When I say I came for the science - I mean it. And it’s my hope that more people will do the same in the future.

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Filed under: Sex

soundoff (767 Responses)
  1. just a gurl

    I'll preface with I'm very comfortable with who I am and my sex life. I would do this for science or for fun!

    January 27, 2012 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe Sixpack

      My kind of girl!

      January 28, 2012 at 03:46 | Report abuse |
    • Jeremy

      Fascinating. Very well said. My first question (before I even read the whole article) was : What does this show about the brain ? where does it "light up " , what have you found out ? Etc , etc. Most people are so rooted in their day to day fears , they aren't able to consider bigger issues about what motivates man(or woman) to do the things they do . Much of it is foolish , painful to others and ultimately self-destructive. Wouldn't it be great to understand WHY we do these things?

      January 28, 2012 at 08:11 | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      I knew it! The feminists have finally found a way to make men irrelevant. We should ban these machines before we have no sex life at all.

      January 28, 2012 at 08:28 | Report abuse |
    • clumsygirl

      Hi, friends, female orgasm is as same as males, women also have refractory period after every orgasm, they can't have multiple orgasm.

      January 28, 2012 at 09:49 | Report abuse |
    • just a gurl

      Chef, self stimulation is not about making men irrelevant,its about getting off.

      January 28, 2012 at 13:17 | Report abuse |
    • shan

      @clumsy – not entirely true. I read somewhere that women are physically capable of having an orgasm every 15 minutes INDEFINITELY. Or was that you could stay awake indefinitely if you slept 15 minutes out of every hour...
      Probably both.

      January 28, 2012 at 19:20 | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Saints be praised! Humanity is saved! Thanks to this serious research on what our brains are doing during an orgasm, our species has been pulled back from the brink of extinction. The mystery of sex has been unlocked and now people can start learning how to have it again, thereby ensuring our survival.

      It's a shame that while 1 person is dying of cancer every minute in this country, money is being wasted on crap like this that has no medical benefit.

      January 29, 2012 at 03:46 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      Steve....should we stop all research on ANYTHING until we find a cure for cancer through research?

      January 29, 2012 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
    • LegendaryStick

      @Clumsygirl: Definitely not true. My girl has orgasmed 8 times in one hour. Some from sex, some from manual stimulation, some from oral. And a few were within a minute or less of each other. It's all how you work it. 😀

      January 29, 2012 at 11:20 | Report abuse |
    • CKG

      @clumsy – I believe my wife would say otherwise. . .

      February 3, 2012 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
  2. Not a Hater

    Nothing wrong with it, people need to be less uptight and more tolerant. If we just had a little more tolerance for other cultures and lifestyles there would be much less violence. I've been in combat so I know that violence sucks.

    January 27, 2012 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. prg144

    It's really sad how hung up on sex and the human body we really are. I mean it's the most basic and necessary desire of the human experience. Our fear,confusion and reluctance to understand the subject of sex is the reason this whole world is so f#*%$d up. Hiding behind religion, insecurity or whatever, we need to get our heads out of the sand and embrace our own humanity and chill out. Satisfaction trumps fear everytime.

    January 27, 2012 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • just a gurl

      Well said!

      January 27, 2012 at 21:50 | Report abuse |
    • Saylee

      Agreed. People are pathetic.

      January 28, 2012 at 02:21 | Report abuse |
    • Vee

      Wow, this made perfect sense. I wish I knew people like you in real life, because we would all benefit from such sound advice.

      January 28, 2012 at 14:42 | Report abuse |
  4. Bill at work

    Why is this considered news? Sounds like True Confessions to me. Is this the best CNN can do?

    January 27, 2012 at 21:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • michaelj

      It's not considered "news," Bill-Who-Should-Be-Working-Anyways. CNN.com isn't a newswire service; it's more of an online news and culture magazine, featuring a mix of conventional headlines, editorials, arts and culture reporting, and blogs. Of course, you KNOW this already; the real question should be why I' bothering to pay attention to your transparent snark.

      January 27, 2012 at 22:02 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      Predictable post. Are you the same person who always posts comments on all cnn.com articles, making the same inane comment? I ask AGAIN......why do you read articles you think are "not news" and should not be on cnn.com? Ah, yes, it's that darn "liberal media" again. LOL

      January 29, 2012 at 09:11 | Report abuse |
  5. don smith

    what a waste of taxdollars and a load of bs, how much did you rake in on this "book", sex should not be discussed openly

    January 27, 2012 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • michaelj

      I suppose you're right, Don. Let's find a stake and burn the harlot. By the way – your use of the internet offends the Lord.

      January 27, 2012 at 22:04 | Report abuse |
    • CoffeeT

      Well. Those who can't talk about sex, or see the benefits of research on sex just ain't getting any or maybe never had any. For us who know the power of sex, we know it is something we need to understand because of it's power over us, and YES, it has power over those of you who ain't gettin any too.

      January 27, 2012 at 23:37 | Report abuse |
    • chefdugan

      Don, when did you return from the Middle Ages?

      January 28, 2012 at 08:29 | Report abuse |
    • old golfer

      Sex is our third strongest drive, behind thirst and food. Religion has kept sex in the closet long enough. A completely natural biological drive all normal humans have. Lighten up Dave and read other books.

      January 28, 2012 at 09:16 | Report abuse |
    • cara

      agreed. I know people who need MRI's but can't afford them and then they are used for this? it's BS

      January 28, 2012 at 10:03 | Report abuse |
    • Victoria

      Better yet, Dave, get laid.

      January 28, 2012 at 11:18 | Report abuse |
    • Harald

      Don, that really wasn't a very smart comment. Sex is at the CORE of human's lives. No sex = No human race. So why would you treat something so essential to our very existence in hiding ????

      January 28, 2012 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      CofeeT.....I have always felt that it is the "power of sex" that makes the world go round. (along with money, of course).

      January 29, 2012 at 09:15 | Report abuse |
  6. don smith

    fear? sounds like ya'll are the ones in fear writing a book ...pleassssse

    January 27, 2012 at 21:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • chris

      Don, you are an idiot for sure

      January 28, 2012 at 09:10 | Report abuse |
    • Bob Jones

      Wow.

      Go crawl back under the rock you came out from under, you aren't wanted here.
      As a matter of fact, stop the earth, I've got someone here who wants to get off, he doesn't belong here.

      January 28, 2012 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
  7. Dantx10

    How about female squirting in an MRI?

    January 27, 2012 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • sugartaste81

      Might get a little messy...but trust me, it's very real.

      January 28, 2012 at 21:08 | Report abuse |
  8. Joshl

    no big deal, i do this in tanning beds every other day

    January 27, 2012 at 22:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Snark Jones

      ...and here's the inevitable gripe about tax dollars.

      January 28, 2012 at 03:49 | Report abuse |
  9. Squarf of the Apocalypse

    A friend's wife just bought a personal CAT scanner. He has to pry her out of it!

    January 27, 2012 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • betty

      It wasn't the MRI that caused the orgasm

      January 28, 2012 at 09:02 | Report abuse |
  10. Neonator

    Nice sentiments but the entire article was spent defending her own participation in the test and villifying people for being old school in their thinking about it. Ok, thats well and true. I was really hoping for some data from this though? What happened to the brain during? Was there a massive change in patterns? More science less rhetoric please!

    January 27, 2012 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Opinions are like...

      What a novel concept. To have a short article written based on substance and fact without conjecture?

      January 28, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
    • Harald

      I suppose your questions will be answered in her book. The article certainly wasn't meant to be a scientific publication.

      January 28, 2012 at 19:42 | Report abuse |
  11. Rub it out

    Who cares if she rubbed one out? Everyone does it in private, why not do it for science?

    January 27, 2012 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. skytag

    Will there be film at 11?

    January 28, 2012 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. C. Sheen

    Kayt..........next time let me know before and I'll bring a few more people to join in

    January 28, 2012 at 01:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mary

    I think people are irritated by the money spent on this research.. Because its something that high school kids figure out all by themselves.. We all figure it out by ourselves.. one way or another..
    So yeah, the big money needs to go for research for other more important things.

    January 28, 2012 at 03:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • G

      Hey Mary, what do people figure by themselves? how the brain react to orgasms? Do you know what an MRI machine is?

      January 28, 2012 at 18:41 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      Yes, I think the "big research" should go to studying YOUR brain....to figure out why you think so illogically.

      January 29, 2012 at 09:21 | Report abuse |
  15. Joe Sixpack

    Every time you "self-stimulate", a kitten dies =(

    January 28, 2012 at 03:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob Jones

      Terrible lies.

      I know for a fact that this one isn't true!
      If it was, there would be no kittens left on Earth!

      Hah.

      January 28, 2012 at 19:30 | Report abuse |
  16. DaLe

    Nothing wrong with study per se, in my opinion. Where it starts to be.. eh let's say.. stupid, is when e.g. those who financed research start making and selling e.g. pills for orgasm, or generalized, when rather artificial problems are tried to being solved through rather artificial means. Respectivly, a drug junkie may feel what s/he considers happy when on stuff, but there is rather bound to be a fall to that, and it is rather at least unfair if more or less sober persons work hard and others (e.g. more or less hedonists) are living off the fruit of such without really contributing anything to anything.

    January 28, 2012 at 05:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DaLe

      Albeit in nature, a few worms in many apples may be interpreted as harmful, but in the bigger picture they are not really harmful, respectivly they are not really harmful or even beneficial in aspects, such as ending up as food for e.g. birds.

      January 28, 2012 at 06:02 | Report abuse |
    • DaLe

      *they are not really harmful, or they are even beneficial in aspects

      January 28, 2012 at 06:03 | Report abuse |
    • Ghibelline

      What in God's name are you blathering about?

      January 28, 2012 at 19:52 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      Da le......Iyour post is: "without really contributing anything to anything.

      January 29, 2012 at 09:28 | Report abuse |
  17. illeagalimagrant

    I self explode all the time, and Im still ok. End of research. Keep on rubbing!

    January 28, 2012 at 06:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Kathy

    The first comment that I read here said it all. I would like to know more about what parts of the brain light up during orgasm and that sort of thing. The controversy over sex research is kind of a boring topic, but knowing more about what happens to the brain during orgasm is not.

    These people that are against this type of research are either very old and have forgotten how caught up with sex they were when they were younger or they are just prudish. This is a very interesting topic to research. People don't seem to have a problem with the way that advertisers use sex to sell products, because the human race is obsessed with it, so what is the problem with this.

    January 28, 2012 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • RW

      Actually, many of us old prudes who've forgotten about how caught up we were with sex when we were younger DO object to sex used in advertising. Problem is the advertisers don't care what we think or what our children and grandchildren have rammed down their throats. As long as they're selling and making money ....

      January 28, 2012 at 13:11 | Report abuse |
    • Bob Jones

      @RW

      You're right, you're a prude.

      Seeing some skin on the TV bothers you? You're free to end your life early and solve the problem of you having to put up with anything that offends you.. that way.. you get your way (Death – your life has got to be just as boring if you get offended so easily) and we get ours.

      I don't see anything wrong with sex at all. It is completely normal in the animal world as it is in ours.
      Understanding this is very important to us as a race.

      Let me ask you RW, do you find breathing just as offensive? Eating, perhaps? No, of course you don't... cause those are "normal" *Shock* *Gasp* Hey, sex is normal too.

      Stop being a hypocrite.

      January 28, 2012 at 19:37 | Report abuse |
    • Ghibelline

      Why is it only conservatives seem to use the expression "rammed down our throats"?

      January 28, 2012 at 19:54 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      I think it was a great way to get through an MRI.

      January 29, 2012 at 09:30 | Report abuse |
  19. Gerald

    Next time you want to practice, give me a call! LOL

    January 28, 2012 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tony T

    Maybe I am stupid...but did the machine casue the orgasm or did she bring herself to orgasm??

    January 28, 2012 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sandy

      She did the deed herself and the machine recorded data used in the study.

      January 28, 2012 at 14:03 | Report abuse |
  21. clumsygirl

    female orgasm is as same as males, women also have refractory period after every orgasm, they can't have multiple orgasm.
    don't be silly any more.

    January 28, 2012 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wisco30

      Speak for yourself clumsygirl. Multiple orgasms are completely achievable if you know what you're doing (which you obviously dont). Pretty pathetic to try and tell other women what can and cant happen.

      January 28, 2012 at 14:44 | Report abuse |
    • sugartaste81

      What? You must've never had multiple orgasms, because they are indeed a reality.

      January 28, 2012 at 21:09 | Report abuse |
  22. studdmuffins

    Darn. I should have put Sex Researcher higher on my list of potential careers so many years ago.

    January 28, 2012 at 10:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Douglas MacNeill

    I wonder about women's sexual fantasies in the context of the MRI scanner. Kayt, here's my reading of what happened for what it's worth: The MRI scanner is something that "sees through you" or "sees what you're like on the inside", so to speak. I suspect that being with a lover who can do things like that to you is such a turn-on, so arousing, that you're reaching orgasm almost before you know what hit you.

    January 28, 2012 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wisco30

      Thanks for stopping by.

      January 28, 2012 at 14:46 | Report abuse |
  24. rh

    It's nice to do this for science. But it is just like activist gays, now we have activist masturb8ors. Sheesh!

    There is NO news website or channel that my kids under high school age can see without parent censoring. Thanks CNN!

    January 28, 2012 at 12:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob Jones

      Go crawl back under the rock you crawled out from under, better yet, get off the internet if you don't like what you see.

      It's very simple to do, all you need to do is turn off and then sell your computer.
      The internet is better off without people like you on it.

      January 28, 2012 at 20:22 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      Why would your kids "under high school age" be interested in reading articles on cnn.com?

      January 29, 2012 at 09:43 | Report abuse |
  25. RW

    I'd still prefer to see a cure for cancer. Yes, sex is good, dominates our thoughts and actions, and is a fascinating human endeavour but as a field of inquiry for scant research dollars ultimately it's a waste of money and time.

    January 28, 2012 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • wisco30

      Ok, but cant they study both fields? Why does it have to be one or the other? There's more to life than just cancer or just sex, scientists need to study all avenues of human life.

      January 28, 2012 at 14:48 | Report abuse |
    • Marion

      Yes, of course, we need a cure for cancer before ANY OTHER research can be done.

      January 29, 2012 at 09:45 | Report abuse |
  26. JV

    I think its great what you did. Sure we need a cure for cancer but with all the hang ups about sex, we need to study it to. It is not a bad thing. Its a part of life.

    January 28, 2012 at 13:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Watson

    Another complete was of money. This matters to no-one in the big picture. Meanwhile, another child dies. Satan laughing spreads his wings.

    January 28, 2012 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tom

      Nice quote, Ozzy. Now go out and bite off a bat's head.

      January 28, 2012 at 18:26 | Report abuse |
  28. billl

    i know a cheaper way to get an orgasm

    January 28, 2012 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marion

      This study was done so they could figure out how to get people with claustrophobia get through an MRI.

      January 29, 2012 at 09:47 | Report abuse |
  29. St Xavier

    Sex is the continualing of life on this planet with out sex this Planet is just a ball of dirt. The orgasm is the triger of life.

    January 28, 2012 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. rebiii

    Sex is just another bodily function, like any other. I don't see why we wouldn't study it, along with everything else that has to do with the body. When we study other animals, we are very interested in all aspects of their reproduction. That said, this article seems a little exhibitionist to me, although I may just be reading that into it. The author needs to be careful with her political views in the future, so that this research can not be recast into a damaging narrative by those who might be interested in painting her in a negative light.

    January 28, 2012 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Mike Hunt

    Sorry, but regardless of how much I think about sex (100% of the time) knowing what the brain does during an orgasm doesn't change how we fell about sex or how we do it. Nor does it change anything about how I do it. It's as simple as I stick it in, it feels good, I orgasm, I want to do if again. No additional knowledge is going to change that. So yes, it would be nice if the money spent on this kind of research went to something important like cancer.

    January 28, 2012 at 16:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dick Hertz

      mike, charming, the ladies must be lining up for an evening with you!

      January 29, 2012 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  32. Tom

    It would have been nice had the author gave us the WHY as she was able to have an orgasm during an MRI.

    January 28, 2012 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. chief

    i dont believe this.......... where the video.... i want proof

    January 28, 2012 at 18:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. ColoradoGirl

    RATS! After I read the teaser headline, I thought the article was about how an MRI caused an orgasm. I was all set to run off and demand tests! Drat.

    January 28, 2012 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Miso Hawny

    Awesome!

    January 28, 2012 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. drew

    Is this a real news article ? What's the address of this place ? Bet there is going to be a line out the door now. Woohoo

    January 28, 2012 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. LV

    Waste

    Of

    Money.

    January 28, 2012 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Richard

    She named her kid, "Treasure." No matter what, people who engage in this research are oddballs. The Kinsey's were and so were Masters and Johnson.

    January 28, 2012 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Michael Jackson

    Just beat it, beat it, beat it, beat it!

    January 29, 2012 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. cody

    to bad i missed it

    January 29, 2012 at 03:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. LMAFO

    pics or it didnt happen

    January 29, 2012 at 03:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Sonia

    I am having an MRI next week WOOHOO. And I thought it would just provide some imaging

    January 29, 2012 at 03:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Barb

    Why is it important to monitor changes in brave waves during an orgasm?

    January 29, 2012 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marion

      Well, if the article told us what the findings of the study were, you would have the answer to that question.

      January 29, 2012 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
  44. Mike

    If I could get money for tossing off, I'd be a millionaire. Talk about stimulas money!

    January 29, 2012 at 05:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Marion

      ROTFLMAO

      January 29, 2012 at 09:53 | Report abuse |
  45. Al

    sounds like you need a life. just because you are either having sex or thinking about it doesn't mean everyone is. being totally consumed by any one thing is not healthy. there's a lot more to life than just sex... Maybe even love...

    January 29, 2012 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Joe

    Useless research? No Needed research? Also no We have many more pressing medical research to be done than this: cancer, diabetes, birth defects, infant mortality, etc.

    January 29, 2012 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Maggie

    This is exactly the kind of trash that makes CNN a pathetic news organization...is this what they think we want to read? Wow, how unsophisticated CNN must think their audience is. PATHETIC...just like HLN...keep trying to feed us more trash!
    And lets not forgot Nancy Grace – the path she chose ...sensationalizing crime stories so she can get a ratings increase.

    January 29, 2012 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. leslie

    nothing wrong with science but really, how come we're not spending this time on research for cures for cancer, we know what sex is, just enjoy it!

    January 29, 2012 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. PumpNDump

    Alfred Kinsey has been totally debunked as a fraud and a charlatan. That's a fact.

    January 29, 2012 at 13:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Mikel

    Is this what passes for news these days? Does it pass for important information that helps us be better people? No – it;'s another fluff article that separates women from reality and puts them into a world of self-absorbed meanderings.....

    January 29, 2012 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
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