Don't read too much into girls showering together

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 24, 2009 06:00 AM

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Hello Barbara,
My 12-year-old daughter, in 7th grade, just mentioned to me and my husband that she showers with her friends when they have a sleepover. We could not conceal our surprise at this, and both my husband and I are uncomfortable with it. I asked her why and she said they "just do." I asked if there was any touching or comparing going on and she exclaimed "No Mom! We're not lesbians." I was eavesdropping as she and her friend were in the shower, and I could hear their conversation, and it does seem that it's innocent according to what I could hear. She sees nothing wrong with it, and she's done this with other friends at other sleepovers. Is this normal? All seems fine otherwise. Thanks very much!

From: NHMom, Nashua

Yes, this is normal behavior for girls this age.

I know, I know. It’s not what you’re used to. It’s not what we did when we were this age. But wait. Do you remember going to sleep-overs (when I was a girl, we called them “slumber parties”) and practicing kissing your girl friends because you couldn’t figure out where the nose goes during a kiss? Or practicing slow dancing because where, exactly, do the hands go?

Taking showers together is an extension of those behaviors, says Jean Kilbourne, co-author of “So Sexy So Soon.

It’s also a reflection of today’s culture.

“It’s not sexual,” she says in a phone conversation. “It’s part of a culture in which there is more widespread acceptance of nudity than most of us, as parents, remember from that age. Girls today sleep in the same bed when they sleep over, they take showers with each other – they are just extremely comfortable with each other’s bodies.”

In fact, Kilbourne says it could actually be healthy for girls to see each other naked. “Girls today are surrounded by idealized images of women and girls. To see real bodies, to realize the range of real bodies, that’s not dangerous, it’s good.”

Psychologist Sharon Lamb, author of "The Secret Life of Girls" and a professor at UMass/Boston, reminds in an email that there is a long, ancient and rich history of women bathing together in public bathhouses. “It’s an intimacy but not really sexual,” she wrote in an email. “For seventh grade girls to feel OK enough about their bodies to accept being nude and to accept each other – that sounds like a good thing to me.” Lamb is also co-author of "Packaging Girlhood, Rescuing our daughters from marketers' schemes." Her newest book is "Packaging Boyhood, Saving our sons from superheroes, slackers and other media stereotypes."

That’s not to say that there might occasionally be sexual overtones between two girls. Both these experts say, however, that engaging in sexual experimentation with a same-sex partner at this age does not necessarily predict future sexual orientation.


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25 comments so far...
  1. "does not necessarily predict future sexual orientation" -- not to quibble, Barbara, but orientation is what it is. Many medical experts believe we are born with our sexual orientation, and so a better way to say this would be that the behavior in the letter here does not reveal what the girls' orientation is. I say this because some parents seem to think sons and daughters "turn gay" later in life, and they therefore try to take steps to stop it from happening -- fruitless, as I said, because people do not turn straight or gay, they just are straight or gay. Recognizing that one's orientation just *is* might help discourage that parental behavior.

    Posted by jlen November 24, 09 09:13 AM
  1. It's not uncommon for people of the same sex to shower together at the gym or, for high school kids to take showers together after sports practices and, in some places, after phys. ed. classes. Is the issue that this is happening at a shower in someone's home with the daughter's close friends as opposed to a large group shower with random people? Frankly, I'd be less comfortable with the latter situation than the former.... I think the parents are making a big deal out of nothing. And I agree with jlen that this is independent of sexual orientation.

    Posted by Danielle November 24, 09 10:07 AM
  1. My mother took a child psychology course in the 1930's. It was suggested then that parents should let their children see themselves and each other naked. Not flaunt themselves, but not make an issue of always being clothed either.

    Posted by kozynferg November 24, 09 10:24 AM
  1. "engaging in sexual experimentation with a same-sex partner at this age does not necessarily predict future sexual orientation."

    So? It feels like the undertone of this article is that bathing together=lesbian=bad thing. Is that what the parent is worried about? Or is it that it's not consensual? Or what? It's not clear to me. I'm sorry that your daughter thinks that your questions about whether there is "touching or comparing" is a question about whether she is a lesbian or not that she must defensively answer. If that's not the case, maybe some clarification for your child about what you are actually concerned about would be in order.

    Posted by RPK November 24, 09 11:24 AM
  1. As a child / teeneager I had alot of sleepovers with my girlfriends and up until the age of 14 we took showers together. Although there was no touching in a sexual manner we did compare body parts. It was also less time consuming if we were planning a trip to the mall or movies. There isn't anything wrong with it, unless you make it a big deal. It's a good way to learn about different body types and it teaches young girls to be comfortable with their bodies.

    Posted by Miranda November 24, 09 11:30 AM
  1. Teenaged girls can be awfully cruel to one another. I'd be wary of any ramifications that could spill out from a situation like this with regards to bullying.

    Posted by AndrewS November 24, 09 12:13 PM
  1. My daughter now 16, has for years slept with her girlfriends at sleepovers and for a brief time showered with one of them. It's very different from when I was her age 30 years ago, but it's healthy. There is a closeness and comfort level that lifts her up and helps her feel cared for. She's heterosexual but it would not be an issue for me if she was not, as long as she loves and knows she is loved in return.

    Posted by MoozMom November 24, 09 01:15 PM
  1. I was about a year younger than that when a couple of my friends and I started "experimenting" with our sexuality. We showered, took naps together etc, and their mothers never even thought about it, I'm sure. It's normal, but at least you know it might have something more involved. I don't know that you can stop it, or even necessarily want to, but you should least be aware.
    By the way, I've never "fooled around" with girls since. It just took the boys a little while to catch up. :)

    Posted by Grandma November 24, 09 01:21 PM
  1. Um... no. Does modesty have no value? Is cautious discernment out of fashion? All it takes is one prankster with a cell phone camera and these girl’s social lives will be in turmoil. (Oh look! It’s Cindy & Mindy showering together - on Facebook! It’s OK – it’s natural.)

    I wonder, how would everyone feel if it were 12 year old boys showering together? Is that OK, too? Or is that different?

    Posted by Noah November 24, 09 01:23 PM
  1. My 13 year old daughter and her friends shower together all the time but with bathing suits on. They snuggle and cuddle and sleep in the same bed. They write "I love Lauren" and "I love Deanna" the way we used to write about boys. I have asked her about lesbianism and got a great big eye roll from her. I think it is wonderful that they feel so comfortable with each other.

    Posted by EPK November 24, 09 01:53 PM
  1. My two best friends growing up both had pools, and we would always shower together afterwards to save time and water, especially if I was sleeping over that night. It's not a big deal at all and I think it's totally normal for girls to do this.

    I also played sports in college, and we would have to group shower after practice or games. At first I was uncomfortable with it, but then you get used to it, and become much less self-conscious after a while. It was more like a social thing - we would all chat with each other while showering!

    Posted by notabigdeal November 24, 09 02:10 PM
  1. Yeah, this is just bizarre. To purposely shower together after you've hit puberty? You really have to wonder about the motivations of the girls. I knew a ton of girls at my high school who experimented a bunch and were known for it around school. Who really wants that for their daughter? It happens a lot more than parents know.

    Also, showering together in a home bathtub is a little more ... intimate than in a gym locker room. Just odd behavior for a girl that old.

    Posted by JKR November 24, 09 02:58 PM
  1. I don't know if it's normal for all girls, but I can reassure the letter writer that my daughter did this all the time at that age, and it was totally innocent. However, I think it's the parents' prerogative to decide what behaviors they are comfortable with, so if this bothers you, you have the right to not allow it in your home. You can just explain that she's reached an age where it's appropriate to be more modest. Many girls, like my daughter and her friends, arrive at this stage naturally, but some girls may need more guidance.

    Posted by Ashley November 24, 09 03:39 PM
  1. I have to agree with Noah - in this day and age of cyber bullying all it takes is one cell phone with an internet connection to ruin a life. These girls are friends now, but we all know how girls are; friends one day arch enemies the next - I was once a 12 year old girl, I know!

    Posted by sandra November 24, 09 03:54 PM
  1. I'd be concerned about outside issues, I can say looking back that as a 12yr old boy if I heard the girls were showering together the comments I would have made would have made Larry Flynt blush.

    Just think for a moment if other kids at school got word of this, maybe from a sibling or overhearing the girls talk, the taunting would be merciless and continue for years potentially.

    I'd also be concerned about possible abuse from a friends relative, who started this idea of showering together, perhaps it's their sick way of grooming the girls for something more sinister.

    Posted by JT November 24, 09 04:00 PM
  1. I don't see any harm in the girls showering together as long as all their doing is showering. Like one or two other posters said of themselves, my girl-friends and I too would hop into the shower together after swimming in my families pool. We thought nothing of each others nudity, we were only trying to wash off the chlorine and warm up after getting out of the cold pool water.

    We all had to shower nude in front of each other in middle school and high school gym class anyway.

    I think that girls are just comfortable with that sort of thing, which is actually a good thing. It's not about sex in anyway.

    Posted by Lisa November 24, 09 10:44 PM
  1. I have to admit that I'm not comfortable with my daughter showering with other girls. Most of us will quietly admit that we weren't comfortable in a communal shower on our first day in gym class in junior high school. I freaked out. The gym teacher, who was understanding, allowed me to shower and get dressed early. After awhile, it didn't bother me anymore, but I sure was traumatized!

    Posted by Heather November 24, 09 11:44 PM
  1. I agree it is not about sex in any way! Girls of that age can be inseparable, and much of the relationship is about identity. You are almost a single person. Since the bathroom is the most intimate space, and private from little brothers etc, it's the perfect place to tackle the biggest issues of your life. Girls that age must recognize and accept what their body type is becoming, a development that is totally out of their control and determines MUCH of their social standing. My best friend and I spent hours in the bathroom taking care of hair, fixing skin problems, and yes, sharing the shower because we could keep talking. She was busty and curvy and I was more athletic, and it took much conversation and comparing for us to start to accept the pros and cons of our inherited features, and get over any jealousies. It was important to have that intimacy allowed us by the parents.

    Posted by CLG November 25, 09 10:04 AM
  1. Just like the ariticle says "Don't read too much into girls showering together." Coming from a Lesbian who showered with many of my female heterosexual friends at this age, it had nothing to do with my sexuality. People are so afraid of their kids 'catching the gay'. Homosexuality is not a choice. Homosexuality is not a choice. Homosexuality is not a choice!!!!

    Posted by Pinkeye November 25, 09 10:31 AM
  1. Homosexuality is a choice. Homosexuality is a choice. Homosexuality is a choice. Sorry but just saying it doesn't make it so. It is actually more than a choice it is a very strong addiction. So is alcohol which, by the way, some people have a tendency toward when they are born. But they can still chose. As a matter of fact we are all born with tendencies. So if you mean that feeling attracted to the same sex is not a choice then I might agree, however, choosing to act on this desire is a choice. This is an indisputable fact.

    Posted by Ty December 6, 09 03:56 PM
  1. I think at anywhere 7 years and older, kids, either boy or girl, who are not siblings of the same sex, should not shower together. The children will obviously become used to it, and later in life, they still might not have grown out of it. As "Noah" said, logic and society frown upon this. Preadolescents and older should learn to shower on their own. It is not just about heterosexuality or homosexuality, it is about a childish habit that needs to be stopped. Do kids 7 and up still shower with their parents? Usually, no! So why should they shower with other people?

    Posted by Chris December 14, 09 12:23 PM
  1. Wow... Really? This is just a sad thing that a parent is so paranoid with that kind of thing. Showering together isn't weird at all. If it were two friends of the opposite sex showering together, then I'd be a little bit more suspicious. Even if your daughter is showering with another girl, i'd look at the bright side: If any same-sex sexual activities are occurring, at least she won't get pregnant!! Just seems like that's more of a good thing than a bad thing.

    Posted by IWOULDKNOWBETTERTHANU December 26, 09 06:38 PM
  1. What age is too old for this?

    Posted by Jim January 4, 10 02:13 AM
  1. Wow, Ty contradicted himself opening his argument about observed experiences on homosexuality. Bravo; very 1945.

    Addiction is a behavior. Behaviors are acquired through experiences in life muddled with a bit of personal brain chemistry. While some things may influence what qualities make you sexually attracted to someone, homosexuals can't pick who they are attracted to anymore than heterosexual people do. People do not exist simply to have desires they don't act on. While acting on something is different entirely, there's nothing wrong with acting on an attraction either way so long as in one person isn't harmed or forced. Showering together is innocent in itself, but regardless, what are the parents going to do? Prevent her from seeing her friends, or showering? Even if she is (gasp) homosexual, why does that matter? Are they going to be instructed by a church to love their daughter less because they don't approve of her?

    You aren't born with a natural tendency to alcohol. If a mother introduces it in to both of their bodies during pregnancy, you aren't born with an addiction to alcohol. Just brain damage, depending on exposure. You can't compare the two issues seriously and expect to look like you don't suffer from it yourself.

    Posted by Andrew January 8, 10 01:59 AM
  1. As a sixteen year old who showers with my friends all the time I think I can add to this comment conversation.
    I take showers with my best friends all the time to save time/water/because we're open with each other. One of those friends is a very open and very sure of her sexuality lesbian, it makes no difference. There is no sexual tension or acts in any of these showers it's just getting clean and talking as we always do. To teenagers and children nakedness isn't nearly the shamefull dirty thing adults sometimes think it is. I wouldn't be worried about experimentation.

    Posted by Anna November 20, 11 12:14 PM
 
25 comments so far...
  1. "does not necessarily predict future sexual orientation" -- not to quibble, Barbara, but orientation is what it is. Many medical experts believe we are born with our sexual orientation, and so a better way to say this would be that the behavior in the letter here does not reveal what the girls' orientation is. I say this because some parents seem to think sons and daughters "turn gay" later in life, and they therefore try to take steps to stop it from happening -- fruitless, as I said, because people do not turn straight or gay, they just are straight or gay. Recognizing that one's orientation just *is* might help discourage that parental behavior.

    Posted by jlen November 24, 09 09:13 AM
  1. It's not uncommon for people of the same sex to shower together at the gym or, for high school kids to take showers together after sports practices and, in some places, after phys. ed. classes. Is the issue that this is happening at a shower in someone's home with the daughter's close friends as opposed to a large group shower with random people? Frankly, I'd be less comfortable with the latter situation than the former.... I think the parents are making a big deal out of nothing. And I agree with jlen that this is independent of sexual orientation.

    Posted by Danielle November 24, 09 10:07 AM
  1. My mother took a child psychology course in the 1930's. It was suggested then that parents should let their children see themselves and each other naked. Not flaunt themselves, but not make an issue of always being clothed either.

    Posted by kozynferg November 24, 09 10:24 AM
  1. "engaging in sexual experimentation with a same-sex partner at this age does not necessarily predict future sexual orientation."

    So? It feels like the undertone of this article is that bathing together=lesbian=bad thing. Is that what the parent is worried about? Or is it that it's not consensual? Or what? It's not clear to me. I'm sorry that your daughter thinks that your questions about whether there is "touching or comparing" is a question about whether she is a lesbian or not that she must defensively answer. If that's not the case, maybe some clarification for your child about what you are actually concerned about would be in order.

    Posted by RPK November 24, 09 11:24 AM
  1. As a child / teeneager I had alot of sleepovers with my girlfriends and up until the age of 14 we took showers together. Although there was no touching in a sexual manner we did compare body parts. It was also less time consuming if we were planning a trip to the mall or movies. There isn't anything wrong with it, unless you make it a big deal. It's a good way to learn about different body types and it teaches young girls to be comfortable with their bodies.

    Posted by Miranda November 24, 09 11:30 AM
  1. Teenaged girls can be awfully cruel to one another. I'd be wary of any ramifications that could spill out from a situation like this with regards to bullying.

    Posted by AndrewS November 24, 09 12:13 PM
  1. My daughter now 16, has for years slept with her girlfriends at sleepovers and for a brief time showered with one of them. It's very different from when I was her age 30 years ago, but it's healthy. There is a closeness and comfort level that lifts her up and helps her feel cared for. She's heterosexual but it would not be an issue for me if she was not, as long as she loves and knows she is loved in return.

    Posted by MoozMom November 24, 09 01:15 PM
  1. I was about a year younger than that when a couple of my friends and I started "experimenting" with our sexuality. We showered, took naps together etc, and their mothers never even thought about it, I'm sure. It's normal, but at least you know it might have something more involved. I don't know that you can stop it, or even necessarily want to, but you should least be aware.
    By the way, I've never "fooled around" with girls since. It just took the boys a little while to catch up. :)

    Posted by Grandma November 24, 09 01:21 PM
  1. Um... no. Does modesty have no value? Is cautious discernment out of fashion? All it takes is one prankster with a cell phone camera and these girl’s social lives will be in turmoil. (Oh look! It’s Cindy & Mindy showering together - on Facebook! It’s OK – it’s natural.)

    I wonder, how would everyone feel if it were 12 year old boys showering together? Is that OK, too? Or is that different?

    Posted by Noah November 24, 09 01:23 PM
  1. My 13 year old daughter and her friends shower together all the time but with bathing suits on. They snuggle and cuddle and sleep in the same bed. They write "I love Lauren" and "I love Deanna" the way we used to write about boys. I have asked her about lesbianism and got a great big eye roll from her. I think it is wonderful that they feel so comfortable with each other.

    Posted by EPK November 24, 09 01:53 PM
  1. My two best friends growing up both had pools, and we would always shower together afterwards to save time and water, especially if I was sleeping over that night. It's not a big deal at all and I think it's totally normal for girls to do this.

    I also played sports in college, and we would have to group shower after practice or games. At first I was uncomfortable with it, but then you get used to it, and become much less self-conscious after a while. It was more like a social thing - we would all chat with each other while showering!

    Posted by notabigdeal November 24, 09 02:10 PM
  1. Yeah, this is just bizarre. To purposely shower together after you've hit puberty? You really have to wonder about the motivations of the girls. I knew a ton of girls at my high school who experimented a bunch and were known for it around school. Who really wants that for their daughter? It happens a lot more than parents know.

    Also, showering together in a home bathtub is a little more ... intimate than in a gym locker room. Just odd behavior for a girl that old.

    Posted by JKR November 24, 09 02:58 PM
  1. I don't know if it's normal for all girls, but I can reassure the letter writer that my daughter did this all the time at that age, and it was totally innocent. However, I think it's the parents' prerogative to decide what behaviors they are comfortable with, so if this bothers you, you have the right to not allow it in your home. You can just explain that she's reached an age where it's appropriate to be more modest. Many girls, like my daughter and her friends, arrive at this stage naturally, but some girls may need more guidance.

    Posted by Ashley November 24, 09 03:39 PM
  1. I have to agree with Noah - in this day and age of cyber bullying all it takes is one cell phone with an internet connection to ruin a life. These girls are friends now, but we all know how girls are; friends one day arch enemies the next - I was once a 12 year old girl, I know!

    Posted by sandra November 24, 09 03:54 PM
  1. I'd be concerned about outside issues, I can say looking back that as a 12yr old boy if I heard the girls were showering together the comments I would have made would have made Larry Flynt blush.

    Just think for a moment if other kids at school got word of this, maybe from a sibling or overhearing the girls talk, the taunting would be merciless and continue for years potentially.

    I'd also be concerned about possible abuse from a friends relative, who started this idea of showering together, perhaps it's their sick way of grooming the girls for something more sinister.

    Posted by JT November 24, 09 04:00 PM
  1. I don't see any harm in the girls showering together as long as all their doing is showering. Like one or two other posters said of themselves, my girl-friends and I too would hop into the shower together after swimming in my families pool. We thought nothing of each others nudity, we were only trying to wash off the chlorine and warm up after getting out of the cold pool water.

    We all had to shower nude in front of each other in middle school and high school gym class anyway.

    I think that girls are just comfortable with that sort of thing, which is actually a good thing. It's not about sex in anyway.

    Posted by Lisa November 24, 09 10:44 PM
  1. I have to admit that I'm not comfortable with my daughter showering with other girls. Most of us will quietly admit that we weren't comfortable in a communal shower on our first day in gym class in junior high school. I freaked out. The gym teacher, who was understanding, allowed me to shower and get dressed early. After awhile, it didn't bother me anymore, but I sure was traumatized!

    Posted by Heather November 24, 09 11:44 PM
  1. I agree it is not about sex in any way! Girls of that age can be inseparable, and much of the relationship is about identity. You are almost a single person. Since the bathroom is the most intimate space, and private from little brothers etc, it's the perfect place to tackle the biggest issues of your life. Girls that age must recognize and accept what their body type is becoming, a development that is totally out of their control and determines MUCH of their social standing. My best friend and I spent hours in the bathroom taking care of hair, fixing skin problems, and yes, sharing the shower because we could keep talking. She was busty and curvy and I was more athletic, and it took much conversation and comparing for us to start to accept the pros and cons of our inherited features, and get over any jealousies. It was important to have that intimacy allowed us by the parents.

    Posted by CLG November 25, 09 10:04 AM
  1. Just like the ariticle says "Don't read too much into girls showering together." Coming from a Lesbian who showered with many of my female heterosexual friends at this age, it had nothing to do with my sexuality. People are so afraid of their kids 'catching the gay'. Homosexuality is not a choice. Homosexuality is not a choice. Homosexuality is not a choice!!!!

    Posted by Pinkeye November 25, 09 10:31 AM
  1. Homosexuality is a choice. Homosexuality is a choice. Homosexuality is a choice. Sorry but just saying it doesn't make it so. It is actually more than a choice it is a very strong addiction. So is alcohol which, by the way, some people have a tendency toward when they are born. But they can still chose. As a matter of fact we are all born with tendencies. So if you mean that feeling attracted to the same sex is not a choice then I might agree, however, choosing to act on this desire is a choice. This is an indisputable fact.

    Posted by Ty December 6, 09 03:56 PM
  1. I think at anywhere 7 years and older, kids, either boy or girl, who are not siblings of the same sex, should not shower together. The children will obviously become used to it, and later in life, they still might not have grown out of it. As "Noah" said, logic and society frown upon this. Preadolescents and older should learn to shower on their own. It is not just about heterosexuality or homosexuality, it is about a childish habit that needs to be stopped. Do kids 7 and up still shower with their parents? Usually, no! So why should they shower with other people?

    Posted by Chris December 14, 09 12:23 PM
  1. Wow... Really? This is just a sad thing that a parent is so paranoid with that kind of thing. Showering together isn't weird at all. If it were two friends of the opposite sex showering together, then I'd be a little bit more suspicious. Even if your daughter is showering with another girl, i'd look at the bright side: If any same-sex sexual activities are occurring, at least she won't get pregnant!! Just seems like that's more of a good thing than a bad thing.

    Posted by IWOULDKNOWBETTERTHANU December 26, 09 06:38 PM
  1. What age is too old for this?

    Posted by Jim January 4, 10 02:13 AM
  1. Wow, Ty contradicted himself opening his argument about observed experiences on homosexuality. Bravo; very 1945.

    Addiction is a behavior. Behaviors are acquired through experiences in life muddled with a bit of personal brain chemistry. While some things may influence what qualities make you sexually attracted to someone, homosexuals can't pick who they are attracted to anymore than heterosexual people do. People do not exist simply to have desires they don't act on. While acting on something is different entirely, there's nothing wrong with acting on an attraction either way so long as in one person isn't harmed or forced. Showering together is innocent in itself, but regardless, what are the parents going to do? Prevent her from seeing her friends, or showering? Even if she is (gasp) homosexual, why does that matter? Are they going to be instructed by a church to love their daughter less because they don't approve of her?

    You aren't born with a natural tendency to alcohol. If a mother introduces it in to both of their bodies during pregnancy, you aren't born with an addiction to alcohol. Just brain damage, depending on exposure. You can't compare the two issues seriously and expect to look like you don't suffer from it yourself.

    Posted by Andrew January 8, 10 01:59 AM
  1. As a sixteen year old who showers with my friends all the time I think I can add to this comment conversation.
    I take showers with my best friends all the time to save time/water/because we're open with each other. One of those friends is a very open and very sure of her sexuality lesbian, it makes no difference. There is no sexual tension or acts in any of these showers it's just getting clean and talking as we always do. To teenagers and children nakedness isn't nearly the shamefull dirty thing adults sometimes think it is. I wouldn't be worried about experimentation.

    Posted by Anna November 20, 11 12:14 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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