Unequal Partners, Our Whole Lives, and the Sex Ed Conference: 2015 was a busy year!

Goal For The 2015Some really exciting things happening in my personal life aside, 2015 was a year of incredible growth and opportunity! Thus, I had a little less time than I had hoped to work on my blog. So, what was I doing?!

Unequal Partners: Teaching about Power, Consent & Healthy Relationships, 4th Edition

Some time ago, the Executive Director of the Center for Sex Education asked me to edit and update their teaching manual, Unequal Partners. Originally written in the late 1990s by award-winning sexuality educators Sue Montfort and Peggy Brick, the focus had been on preventing teen pregnancies, especially when teen girls were in relationships with older male partners. The lesson plans drew heavily on focus group research conducted by Lyn Phillips, and incorporated opportunities for participants to learn from the experiences shared by the research subjects. In subsequent editions, the editors added more and more on exploring power differentials in general, and developing healthy relationship skills. And along with the times, lessons were adapted and added to be inclusive of same-sex relationships. The 3rd edition, published in 2007, has 30 lesson plans, and also includes several lessons on the legal components of consent.

The 4th edition, which is AT THE PRINTER RIGHT NOW!!!, has a total of 50 lesson plans divided into two volumes- one for participants ages 10-17, one for college-age participants. The manual is now organized into sections, so that facilitators can easily identify the relevant topic. And it’s designed as a choose-your-own adventure resource- you don’t have to do all the lessons in the manual, and there’s no one set way of implementing them (because every group and program is different, and I truly believe in the power of ‘facilitator’s choice’ for program design).

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When I first started working on the project, I recognized how much the narrative of consent has changed in the last decade, and how few curricula address how to navigate the conversation around consent. In addition to understanding the legal age of consent and possible repercussions for engaging in sexual activity with someone who is underage, we need to help young people communicate about consent, read non-verbal cues, and understand the influence of power dynamics in relationships. I know that truly understanding healthy relationships is a lot more than just listing characteristics like respect, trust, honesty, and communication, it’s also about conflict resolution, decision-making, asking someone out, handling rejection, and thinking about break-ups. And many of the issues of power that exist between partners of different ages could also be problematic among partners of the same age, and that a critical learning moment will help participants dissect and unpack POWER as an issue, rather than age.

As I started working on this project, the national dialogue on campus sexual assault and mandated consent education had really started amping up, which highlighted the lack of resources available for this population. I’m really excited about the 20 lessons for college age participants in the 2nd volume, almost all of which are new, and many offering guidance on hot topics, such as BDSM & consent.

This was a pretty epic project- there was a call for lesson plans from contributing authors, I carefully reviewed and updated the existing lesson plans (cutting some, combining others), and there were a few key concepts that I really wanted to make sure were included, so I either invited colleagues to submit a specific lesson or threw one together myself. For example, Meredith White, Julia Scheinbeim & Lindsay Fram co-wrote the lesson plan in volume two Stone Cold Sober, Buzz Buzz Buzz, Totally Wasted, which explores substance use and consent. In response to some relevant current issues, I put together the lesson Tears, Smears & Fears, looking at what can happen after a break-up, such as overwhelming emotions, smearing behaviors like revenge porn, and stalking. Plus the project entailed a massive amount of formatting and copy-editing, and I was incredibly thankful for the wisdom and expertise provided by Bill Taverner and Mary Lynn Koval.

Working on this manual was both fun and thought-provoking, and of course at times challenging! It’s not easy to keep audience, facilitator, scope, and content in mind all at the same time. I hope that it is helpful for facilitators and educators in a variety of settings who are seeking to incorporate concepts of power, consent, and healthy relationships into their programs.

Are you SOLD? You can order your copy today!! http://www.sexedstore.com/unequal-partners-4th-ed/

Our Whole Lives, grades 4-6, 2nd Edition

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The 1st edition was published in 1999.

Not long after I started working on editing and revising Unequal Partners, I was asked to co-author the revisions to the 4th-6th grade Our Whole Lives curriculum, alongside the brilliant and inspiring Amy Johnson. Even though I already had an editing project on my hands, I knew this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

The Our Whole Lives program holds a very special place in my heart. Not only is it one of the first programs I was ever trained to facilitate as a sexuality educator, I participated in the program that preceded Our Whole Lives, called About Your Sexuality, when I was in 8th grade, and in large part is the reason I am a sexuality educator and trainer today. Our Whole Lives expanded on all the good aspects of About Your Sexuality– the intentional environment, the comprehensive approach to learning about sexuality, the value of sexuality as a positive aspect of life, and the focus on respect and relationship- and applied it to not only middle school students, but people of all ages in a developmentally appropriate manner. Our Whole Lives is comprised of six different curricula, one for Kindergarten-1st grade, 4th-6th grades, 7th-9th grades, 10th-12th grades, young adult, and adult. Our Whole Lives is a collaboration between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ, and includes a secular resource with an optional faith supplement for each curriculum.

The 4th-6th grade curriculum happens to be my favorite age group to lead for Our Whole Lives. 10-12 year olds are experiencing a lot of change, are often eager to learn, and will still play and have fun without worrying too much about what that means. Amy and I were excited to build on what was already a strong program. Originally written in the mid-90s (published in 1999), the program needed a refresh to reflect shifts in our language about gender, sexual orientation, among other topics, plus we wanted to added some topics related to media literacy and body image.

Amy and I worked closely together to revise the curriculum, thinking carefully about how will 10-12 year olds respond to various activities, language, and content. We agreed that 8 lessons wasn’t quite enough, so the 2nd edition will feature 10 one-hour workshops. It’s also remarkable how much of sexuality education at that age is about learning vocabulary, so we added a Word Bank, with new words added to the Bank each lesson, which will remain up and visible for the rest of the program.

The process for revising this curriculum was very different from Unequal Partners– each workshop was collaboratively written by me and Amy, sent to a team of reviewers, and then we revised the workshop based on feedback. And now that our work is done, the curriculum is currently being field-tested in a variety of settings nationwide, after which final revisions will be made.

So STAY TUNED on when the 2nd edition of Our Whole Lives for grades 4-6 will be available for purchase!

Consent: So Simple, Yet Oh So Very Complicated…Keynote at the National Sex Ed Conference

Yet another exciting opportunity came my way when I was asked to give a keynote presentation for the National Sex Ed Conference on the topic of consent. What a year!

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That’s me, talking with my hands! And right in front of the Racial Justice Solidarity statement. Rad, indeed.

With this opportunity, I wanted to highlight the national conversation on consent, share some insights on how college students in particular have been taking up the issue, and add some depth to the conversation because I truly believe that consent can be quite complicated. Building on the thoughts and ideas that went into Unequal Partners, I sought to demonstrate the need for messages that are simple and straightforward, and that make great t-shirts and memes, but also touch on the complexities of relationships (of any duration, seriousness, or commitment) and power dynamics.

This project was also a challenge! My jam is far more facilitation- asking participants questions and really allowing their insights to drive the lesson and conversation. In preparing for this keynote, I had to get ready to talk TO a group of about 500 people for AN HOUR! Switching gears to presentation mode was truly a moment of growth for me, and entailed more than a small bit of research and reading up on crafting an engaging talk, rather than a workshop! Although I did ask people to turn to their neighbors and discuss messages about consent. I just couldn’t resist!

This was fun, though. I’ve enjoyed learning and growing at the National Sex Ed Conference for five years now, and this experience was just the same- encouraging me to truly think about what do sexuality educators need to be thinking about.

Want to check it out? The video from my keynote will be posted in the coming weeks, I’ll post the link once it’s live! More info about the conference can be found: http://sexedconference.com

In Reflection of 2015

2015 was HUGE! Two big teaching manual editing projects and prepping and giving my first keynote presentation all in my ‘spare’ time, I’m trying to not be too hard on myself for the lapse in blog posts. And I couldn’t have done it alone- I had many friends and loved ones that have helped and supported me through the journey of 2015!

Now, what’s in store for 2016? Hopefully a few more posts, including in terms of resource highlights, recent reads and Friday Freak Outs, and please bear with me as I balance it all!

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Friday FREAK OUT! Update the curricula! #SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality changes everything 

If you had asked me 15 years ago if one day, everyone would be able to legally marry in every state in the country, I would have replied with hopeful skepticism. I am awe-struck and downright giddy about the monumental decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) to make marriage accessible to anyone regardless of gender identity. When I started teaching sexuality education in the early 2000s, I thought we would forever be adding statements into lesson plans instructing facilitators to check the state’s laws on who can marry whom. I am absolutely thrilled that from now on, curricula authors get to leave that out! No more special footnotes or instructions, we just get to talk about getting married or not married as a thing for everyone and anyone. 

So, hats off to SCOTUS, for requiring revisions to all published sex ed curricula and making future ones easier to write! 

  

Friday FREAK OUT! Tweetstorm about abstinence education: CHEERS to Alice Dreger!

This week Alice Dreger did something I’ve been wanting to do for years. She went to a high school class that had outside presenters talking about abstinence, and she LIVE-TWEETED it. And what she heard was outrageous, and unfortunately, for someone who has researched and reviewed abstinence-based curricula, I’m not surprised:

As she highlights during her tweetstorm, programs like these are using fear as a way to discourage sexual activity, and ignore and dismiss pleasure as a key component of a healthy sexual interaction. I’ve seen this over and over again. SIECUS has some thorough and useful reviews of abstinence based programs, and as Alice and her son found, research is showing the negative impact that these programs have on young people.

This story has gone viral this week- shared on nearly every email list, Facebook group and social media platform I participate in! Alice shared a full account of her experience attending her son’s the class on The Stranger, and has already gotten international attention in outlets like Huffpo, buzzfeed, mtvnews, and feministing. (And a bit of push back in her own local paper The Lansing State Journal)

And major kudos go to Alice for modeling healthy communication with her son about not only sex and sexuality, but also educational methods and critically thinking about class content. We want young people to learn how to take in information and then examine its relevance and worth.

And, sure science has a key place in evaluating content quality, but we also want young people to be able to decide for themselves if a message rings true for them and be able to put it aside if it doesn’t jive with their values or beliefs.

And even MORE kudos to Alice for highlighting the role of pleasure in sexual activity. (And it’s not the first time! In May 2014 she wrote an article for Pacific Standard titled, What if We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure?)

Let’s keep freaking out about how ‘educational’ programs that are fear-based and that focus on scaring teens are destructive and ill-conceived. Instead let’s support education that helps equip people to make healthy decisions using critical thinking skills based on real life circumstances. Sex is exciting, intriguing, and can in fact be pleasurable!

Thank you, Alice Dreger, for speaking out against fear-based abstinence education and speaking UP for pleasure.

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50 Shades of Grey: I read it so you don’t have to

*Note to my readers: spoiler alert! If you don’t want to know what happens in the 50 Shades trilogy, I recommend not reading this post past the “Here Goes”.

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Every once in a while, a book will be so popular its influence is undeniable. For better or for worse, 50 Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, is one of those books. Since its publication in 2011, over one hundred million copies of the book have been sold, and the film is about to hit the screens on February 13, 2015. In April 2012, Time magazine included author EL James in a list of “100 Most Influential People in the World”. 50 Shades of Grey is now a common household reference- it seems like everyone knows about it, and it’s safe to say a good chunk of people have read the series (or at least tried to).

What’s the big deal about 50 Shades? In a nutshell, it’s wildly popular trashy erotica. It originated as Twilight fan fiction, first posted under the title Master of the Universe with characters even named after Edward and Bella. After some push back on the sexual nature of the series, James removed the story from fan fiction sites and eventually posted the reworked original piece as 50 Shades of Grey. So its popularity most likely stems from the following first gained in the Twilight scene.

Is it any good? In my opinion (which I know many others share), the books are poorly written, lack character development, have painfully predictable plot lines, glorify some very unhealthy relationship behaviors, and the sex scenes are remarkably similar- you’ve read one or two, you’ve read them all. But I guess some people must like the books- or else how would they be so popular? Maybe people read them out of simple curiosity, maybe a socially acceptable way to learn more about BDSM (bondage/discipline, dominant/submissive, sadism/masochism) and/or read about sex, or maybe just because it was available at the right time in the right place. Or maybe because it’s somehow become socially acceptable to read this particular erotica- people are reading it on the subway, on airplanes, in waiting rooms.

Why did I read the series? I knew about the series well before picking the books up myself, and heard friends and colleagues say they tried to read it but couldn’t make it past the first few chapters. By the time I read the first book, 50 Shades was already part of regular conversations among sexuality educators. And I delved into them and read all three books for several reasons:

  • People kept on asking me about it. They know I’m a sexuality educator, and wanted to know what I thought. Therefore, I wanted to have an informed opinion.
  • I knew that my audience, my sex ed participants would have read 50 Shades or at least heard of it, and frankly I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of them! Plus it’s helpful to have an idea of where your participants are coming from in terms of how/what they’ve learned about sex.
  • I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Why THIS book? What could be captivating people THIS MUCH?
  • To write this blog post, and provide a service to my fellow educators. Reading the series was annoying, frustrating, and left a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s THREE books. But sexuality educators NEED to know something about 50 Shades, because we can’t go around pretending it hasn’t impacted our culture on some level. So in this post I’m going to point out key components of the book that would be critical to know about in your role as an educator. (You can also read more on Wikipedia about the series.)

 

So here goes!  Continue reading

Friday FREAK OUT! UVA Sororities banned from frat parties: an ill-advised strategy

The University of Virginia, like many other colleges and universities nationwide, is struggling to address campus sexual assault. In the current climate, people feel called to take some action to prevent further assaults from taking place, and it seems that some of these actions are well-intentioned yet ill-advised.

The Washington Post reported this week that 16 of UVA’s sorority chapters in the National Panhellenic Conference were banned from attending fraternity parties this weekend in order to ensure their safety. Many students are outraged at this mandate, a decision that demonstrates an attitude that women are weak and need to be protected.

This action also neglects to hold those people who are engaging in coercive behaviors or committing acts of violence accountable for their actions. I’m tired of ‘prevention tactics’ that lay the sole responsibility on potential victims- yes we all need to do our best to stay safe, but really people need to NOT commit acts of violence.

You bet I’m freaking out about this one, alongside a slew of others (I particularly like how Mary Sanchez responded in her piece Sorority strictures are a retrograde reaction to campus sexual assault) and many students who have every right to be frustrated and upset by these top-down, ‘holding the victim responsible’ actions.

‘Prevention’ measures that don’t address the root of the problem of sexual assault- one person taking control of another, engaging in behaviors without the consent of another person- only change the environment that the assault takes place in. Assault may take place while alcohol is involved or at a frat party, but it’s not the REASON. Let’s spend our efforts and energies looking to education and changing the culture in which consent is overlooked, bypassed, or ignored to one where consent is expected and respected.

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Resource Highlight: Our Whole Lives

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Description
Our Whole Lives is a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum available for six different age levels (grades k-1, grades 4-6, grades 7-9, grades 10-12, young adult, and adult), developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC). This program can be combined with the Sexuality and Our Faith supplements, available for each level.

In-depth training sessions are available for would-be facilitators of the program, that usually take place over one weekend. Training sessions provide facilitators with a strong understanding of the Our Whole Lives values, key facilitation and implementation skills, tips on teaching about critical topic areas, and an opportunity to practice through peer facilitation. Check out the list of upcoming trainings on either the UUA or UCC training list websites.

The Sexuality and our Faith supplement includes an optional visual component for the grades 7-9 and 10-12 levels, available to facilitators from UUA or UCC congregations who have attended an OWL training and are approved by their Trainers.

Using this resource
While designed by the UUA and UCC, the curricula can be implemented in either faith-based or secular settings- any faith-based material is only included in the supplemental material. Note, the lesson plans in the curricula for grades K-1, 4-6, and 7-9 are intended to be used sequentially and in full. The lesson plans in the grades 10-12, young adult, and adult programs can be more loosely implemented, using the audience to identify which topics will be included in the program to meet the needs and interests of the group.

Why I like it
The Our Whole Lives program is not only well crafted and intentionally written, it is respected in the field of sexuality education as a model curriculum. It is easy to use for even an inexperienced facilitator, and engages participants in critical thinking while also providing key information. In addition, the OWL values make it clear that the program stands for something, and that something will hopefully help participants be healthy sexual beings.

Plus, this is a comprehensive program that provides age-appropriate learning for people of ALL ages, because we are sexual beings from the moment we come into existence until we die, and we all need to explore this complex topic of sexuality throughout our lives- not just once (or even just twice). We bend and grow and stretch all the time, let’s do that with our sexual development, too.

I also have a strong personal connection to this program. I am a facilitator for all six age levels and a Trainer for middle/high school and adult/young adult levels, and has informed my personal and professional development in profound ways. Of course I selected this resource as my first resource highlight!

How can you get it
Visit the UUA Bookstore or the UCC website to purchase the curricula and/or supplements. Cost of the curricula are $40 (grades K-1, 4-6, young adult), $60 (grades 10-12, adult), and $75 (grades 7-9). Supplements range from $8 to $18.

Friday FREAK OUT! Myla Delbasio breaks ground as a normal-sized model

This past Monday, Calvin Klein nonchalantly released its new line, Perfectly FIt, featuring Myla Delbasio, a normal size 10. CK did not make a big deal of Myla’s inclusion in the spread alongside other straight-sized models, who are typically size 0 or 2. However, several media outlets were quick to label Myla as ‘plus-sized’, resulting in a Twitter backlash highlighting that a size 10 is not a plus-size.

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This freak out has given Myla an unanticipated platform to share her story of finding her way in the modeling industry as a ‘normal’ size. In interviews with NY Magazine and Elle, Myla talks about the past 10 years in her career as a model, and how challenging it has been for her and other girls to be ‘in-between’. She also shared how she never thought she would have an impact on young girls and their body image until she started getting emails this week from teens saying how much seeing her has given them new hope.

What was also uncovered in the midst of Myla’s sudden fame is a video featuring Myla by the What’s Underneath Project, posted on Sep 3, 2014. In this video, Myla shares about her issues and hangups with body image, challenges with drug addiction and eating disorders, and how she feels she is finally coming to a place of acceptance and acknowledgement of her body- feeling good about it, feeling healthy. Oh and she does this while she takes off her clothes, one item at a time. Instead of being tantalizing, she shares more and more while becoming more and more vulnerable.

What’s so amazing about this particular freak out is that we’re freaking out about normal. Not just normal body size but normal, no big deal presentation of it. Even in their follow up statement, Calvin Klein maintains a stance of inclusivity:

The Perfectly Fit line was created to celebrate and cater to the needs of different women, and these images are intended to communicate that our new line is more inclusive and available in several silhouettes in an extensive range of sizes.

There are still significant problems with how women are represented in the media- I imagine that Myla’s photos are still airbrushed and touched up so we can’t see blemishes or stretch marks, but at least her size is more representative of the average female in the US.

And this freak out has generated an inspirational conversation about body image, self-assurance, and body confidence. Let’s keep it going.

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Friday FREAK OUT! Singapore teen wants inclusive sex ed, free of bigotry

On October 6th, a brave high school student in Singapore penned an open letter to her principal about her sex ed class, in which she asserts, “the workshop and booklet actively serve to promote rape culture in school.”

Agatha Tan’s letter has gone viral, with 4,533 shares on Facebook (as of 10/17), and a slew of supportive articles and posts, such as Jezebel, HuffPo Parents, Business Insider, Singapore, and BuzzFeed to name just a few. Some of Agatha’s key points include:

I learned a simple yet important lesson: that bigotry is very much alive and it was naive of me to think I could be safe from it even in school.

[The workshop presenter from Focus on the Family] sends a dangerous message: that you should always assume that a girl means something else (like “yes”) when really she just means “no”.

The joking attitude here only serves to reinforce rape culture, since the guys now come to mistakenly understand that girls always mean the opposite when they say anything, including “no”.

[Focus on the Family’s] portrayal of guys with regards to their raging hormones not only makes them seem pathetic, but again reduces girls to their role as supporters of their male counterparts.

I feel that [Focus on the Family] has used sexuality education as an opportunity to further spread their own conservative, “God-ordained” beliefs rather than to educate students on arguably more important things such as safe sex, sexual identity and shared and equal responsibility.

The quickness and ease with which the facilitator dismissed anyone outside of his limited moral framework was a clear display of bigotry and tells students that acceptance is beyond him.

This Freak Out of Agatha’s, and the ensuing viral Freak Out occurring internationally, highlights the absolute need to realize that bad sex ed IS happening, and thank goodness someone is willing to tell us all about it. How many other bad sex ed stories are there, or worse, how many times bad sex ed has contributed to poor sexual decision-making, shame, and/or boundary violations?

Since we can’t wave a magic wand and get rid of all the bad sex ed, we need to prepare teens to do just what Agatha did- critically examine (aka, tear apart) the sex ed they get. Just because there’s an outside expert, students still need to determine if the content and delivery is on point. I’ll put out a shameless plug for a lesson plan I wrote about examining fear based methods: “Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!” It’s published in the curriculum Teaching Safer Sex, Volume 2. In addition, SIECUS has some helpful reviews on existing curricula and speakers in their Community Action Kit. So students: listen carefully and think critically about how people talk about sex and sexuality.

And once they realize their sex ed is bad, they can clamor for sex ed that’s GOOD. Sex ed that is not only accurate and age-appropriate, but also inclusive, affirming, and thought-provoking. Facilitators that are open-minded and welcoming, that do not shut students down or cross boundaries.

Props to Agatha Tan. I hope she continues to inform the leaders in her community, and the world, about any BAD sex ed she gets in the future.

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Am I a Sexuality Educator, or a Be-A-Nice-Person Educator?

As a sexuality educator, I teach about a lot of different topics- contraception, sexuality transmitted infections (STIs), reproduction, anatomy, relationships, violence prevention, values, consent, pleasure, and the list goes on. However, there’s a theme that is ever-present in my work. At the end of the day, a lot of my lessons end with the message, “Be a nice person”.

For example, in a lesson about contraception, I emphasize, be a nice person and make sure you and your sexual partner are on the same page about preventing pregnancy (or not!). In a lesson about STIs, be a nice person and get tested so that you don’t unknowingly expose someone else to an STI. In a lesson about values, be a nice person and respect someone else’s values about sexual expression. In a lesson about consent, be a nice person and make sure that your sexual partner is consenting (preferably enthusiastically!) to all sexual activities. In a lesson about pleasure, be a nice person and think about whether your partner is experiencing pleasure.

Sexuality is so much about being in relationships- with another person, with oneself, with society, with family. And relationships are tough- sometimes we can say the most hurtful things to the people we love the most (including ourselves). It can be easy (and human) to be respond to conflict or disagreement or confusion with yelling, put-downs, passive-aggressive BS, coercion, or the silent treatment. Being a nice person is not always easy- it takes active listening, thoughtful consideration, and sometimes sheer magic. Plus, many people were not taught this critical skill, and it certainly isn’t modeled very regularly in our society. (Need a little help? Wikihow has some helpful suggestions that apply in all sorts of related situations.)

The message, “be a nice person”, is a great alternative to the ‘don’t do this’, ‘don’t do that’ message. Those ‘don’ts’ often get conflated into fear-based messages of, DO THIS AND YOU’LL DIE/SUFFER/HURT SOMEONE. Yes, our actions can hurt others, and yes, we need to be aware of how to prevent harm to others. One of the most basic, fundamental ways we can accomplish that goal is to “BE A NICE PERSON!”

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