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Erwin J. Haeberle

Glossary of Inappropriate Scientific and Professional Terms

Sexological research and training are often hampered by traditional terms that contain hidden value judgements or are even openly ideological. Originally, they were part of semantic strategies by which various religious, legal, medical, and pedagogic "experts" tried to impose their professional interests or moral convictions upon the general public. In addition, there are many imprecise and misleading terms still current in our field, so that it is often extremely difficult to describe sexual matters in an objective way. In any case, today the following terms should be avoided:

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aberration. (lat. the action or condition of erring on the wrong side) Originally a term used in medieval theology to describe heresy, i.e. "false religious belief". Later applied by doctors to "false sexual behavior". However, since objective criteria do not exist in the realm of human behavior, the term is simply a value judgement and as such unscientific (see also "deviation" and "perversion")

abnormal behavior. This term denotes sexual behavior of which the speaker disapproves. The norm implied here, however, is his own value system, not some objective criterion. There are no objective norms for human behavior to be found in nature. There are only man-made moral norms more or less widely accepted in society.

addiction, sexual. This term was created in analogy to "drug addiction". It is used to describe sexual behavior that is overly intensive or extensive, therefore "proof of an addiction". However, this semantic maneuver is all too convenient. It paints too many different things with the same brush and, by the same token, blocks the insight into the manifold real causes of habitual, compulsive, unsatisfactory, foolish, egotistical, self-destructive, inconsiderate and aggressive sexual behavior. Furthermore, some especially vigorous sexual behavior may be condemned as "addictive" by envious individuals with lesser sexual needs. The belief in the existence of a "sex addiction" also leads to questionable assumptions about the necessity, form, duration, and goal of therapeutic interventions.

algolagnia. (gr. enjoyment of pain) Misleading term for masochism, which is not so much the enjoyment of pain as the enjoyment of being submissive to a dominant sexual partner. An aspect of this submission may very well be the enjoyment of pain..

artificial birth control. Opposite of "natural birth control" (see there). The speaker usually means "contraception", not birth control (see there). In any case, the distinction between artificial and natural is, in this case, based on religious beliefs and value judgements, not on objective criteria. Scientifically, the terms are meaningless, because, objectively speaking, any means of contraception is as natural or artificial as any other. Even the so-called "natural" means of contraception involve careful observation and calculation as well as the use of "artificial" tools such as calendar and/or thermometer. All forms of contraception use the knowledge of certain laws of nature to prevent certain other laws of nature from taking effect.


birth control. This broad term should be used only in cases where births are to be prevented by any means available, including abortion. Unfortunately, it is often used interchangeably with "contraception", but this is wrong. Contraception prevents only conceptions, i.e. pregnancies, and it is therefore a much more restrictive and precise term.


child abuse, sexual. An unfortunate term that seems to imply that there could be a "good" sexual "use" of a child. However, neither children nor adults should ever be used sexually. What is most often meant is something else: illegal sexual contact between adults and children.

circumcision, female. Cutting out of the clitoris (clitoridectomy) and, in many cases, the additional cutting of the labia majora and minora. Often, the opening of the vagina is sewn shut as well, leaving only a small hole for urination. This barbaric mutilation cannot be compared to male circumcision which removes only the foreskin.

cohabitation. (lat. dwelling together) Misleading, if it is meant to refer to vaginal intercourse (coitus).

coitus interruptus (lat. interrupted coitus) Withdrawal of penis from the vagina before ejaculation as a method of contraception. The term is misleading, because this ejaculation outside the vagina does not interrupt, but end the coitus. It would therefore be more precise to call it coitus abruptus. After all, it does not continue after this "interruption". Of course, it is also quite possible to interrupt a coitus, i.e. to withdraw the penis temporarily from the vagina and then to continue the coitus after this interruption. However, the term "coitus interruptus" is not usually applied to this practice.

conversion therapy. The term refers to the missionary work of psychiatrists who try to convert homosexuals to the "true faith" of heterosexuality. This is moralism masquerading as science, because the silent assumption that anyone should need this conversion is nothing but a religious value judgement or, to be more precise, a prejudice. Not surprisingly, the reverse has never been tried (psychiatrists have never tried to convert heterosexuals to homosexuality). History offers some illuminating examples of conversions, from the forced conversion of Jews to Christianity in 16th-century Spain to the voluntary conversion of Martin Luther from catholicism to protestantism. The converted Jews (sp. conversos) were generally suspected of lying and of secretly remaining true to Judaism. Martin Luther and other protestants were first declared outlaws and heretics, but, after long religious wars, they eventually could practice their new faith under any sovereign who shared it (in the latter case, it was the catholics who had to convert or leave the country according to the rule "cujus regio, ejus religio", i.e. the religion of the sovereign determined the religion of his subjects). Today's parallels are striking: The new heterosexuals converted by therapy are suspected of lying and of secretly remaining true to their previous homosexuality; the voluntary converts to homosexuality often lead "make-believe" heterosexual lives or move to states or countries without "sodomy laws" (for example from Jamaica to Martinique or from Malaysia to Germany). The whole issue of religious and sexual conversion is a depressing example of never-ending human folly. Science should not contribute to it. In recent times, some psychiatrists have replaced the term "conversion therapy" with the equally unacceptable term "reparative therapy" (see there).


deviation. (lat. the action of leaving or the condition of having left the right path) Originally a term used in medieval theology to describe heresy, i.e. "false religious belief". Later applied by doctors to "false sexual behavior". However, since objective criteria do not exist in the realm of human behavior, the term is simply a value judgement and as such unscientific (see also "aberration" and "perversion")

dyspareunia. (gr. the condition of not fitting together) The term is used by some doctors for pain during vaginal intercourse (coitus).However, since such pain can have a multitude of causes, the term is just as useless diagnostically as "reddening of the skin" or "cough". It is always necessary to name the exact nature and cause of the pain.


ejaculatio praecox. (lat. ejaculation coming too early or "prematurely") The term is completely misleading, because it confuses ejaculation with orgasm. It is the orgasm, not the ejaculation, that is felt to occur "too early". An ejaculation can, but does not have to, accompany a male orgasm. Not every male orgasm is accompanied by an ejaculation (examples: before puberty, after a prostatectomy etc.) However, after an orgasm the penis usually loses its erection, and it is this loss of erection that causes the concern. In other words, the real problem has nothing to do with an ejaculation of semen, but with an "untimely" softening of the penis after orgasm. It is therefore more appropriately called "unsatisfactory timing of orgasm". (See also "premature ejaculation")

ejaculatory dysfunction. The term almost always means some problem of orgasm. There are only two real male ejaculatory dysfunctions, which, by the way, are very rare - a complete lack of ejaculation and retrograde ejaculation, i.e. ejaculation of semen not to the outside, but into the bladder.

ejaculatory incompetence. Misleading term which confuses ejaculation with orgasm. The speaker usually means a male's inability to reach orgasm, an entirely different matter.

ejaculatory overcontrol. The speaker usually means a male's inability to achieve orgasm at all or within a "reasonable" time frame. The ejaculation of semen has nothing to do with it and will be absent in any case before puberty. However, the problem may occur even in boys before their first ejaculation.

erotomania. (gr. love craze) The word, formerly often used by disapproving psychiatrists, refers to a person's frequent wish to have sexual intercourse or to change sexual partners. A learned term of denigration without scientific value. (See also "nymphomania" and "promiscuity")


family planning. This term is often falsely used as a synonym for "contraception". However, many women and men who use contraception have no intention of planning a family, whatever "family" means. This is especially true if they are and want to remain unmarried. The term can correctly be used only when a couple living together is planning the number of children, i.e. the eventual size of their family.

foreplay. Term used for caresses that, in the opinion of some "experts", should precede the insertion of the penis into the vagina. It is an unfortunate, moralizing term that implicitly declares vaginal intercourse (coitus) to be the only "real play". By the same token, everything else is degraded to an "opening act", something that must lead up to the "main event". However, these caresses can also have value in themselves without leading up to anything else. Not every sexual encounter between male and female must "culminate" in coitus.

frigidity. (lat. coldness) This vague, denigrating term was formerly used to refer to a lack of orgasm in women or their lack of sexual excitement or generally the absence of female sexual interest. No thought was given to the possible causes, but some female inadequacy was simply assumed. Very often, the problem lay with the partner, however. Since scientific discourse today requires precision, the term is no longer acceptable.


genitals. (lat. organs of generation) This term falsely restricts the sex organs to a single function or purpose. (See also "reproductive organs.)


hermaphrodite. Poetic, but now obsolete medical term for intersex. (Hermaphroditos, the beautiful son of the Greek deities Hermes and Aphrodite was embraced by a nymph so passionately, that her body merged with his.) Intersexes are born with indeterminate or ambiguous sex organs, and their immediate sexual identification can therefore be in doubt. However, there is a wide spectrum of possible variations from the male or female anatomical "norm". About 1 in 100 newborns differ in some minor or major way from the standard male or female anatomy, and ca. 1 or 2 in a 1000 children receive surgery at one time in their lives to "normalize" the appearance of the sex organs. While each child has the right to a definite gender role, i.e. the right to be raised as either a girl or a boy, the traditional medical approach to such cases has recently been called into question as hasty and simplistic by intersex organizations who demand that, wherever possible, at least surgery should be delayed until puberty or after, giving the person concerned a well-informed choice in the matter.

homosexuality. The term means either homosexual behavior or an alleged condition of desiring same-sex erotic contact. However, these are two very different matters that should not be denoted by the same word. Instead, one should avoid this noun altogether and state exactly whether one is referring to a form of conduct or to an (alleged) condition of wanting to engage in such conduct.


illegitimate child. Old, denigrating, and now obsolete term for the child of an unmarried mother. The term "illegitimate" referred to the fact that, in our society, the conception and birth of children was, for centuries, socially approved and protected only within marriage. This meant, in practical terms, that an illegitimate birth usually put children at a great disadvantage. However, modern Western societies have made great strides in securing equal right for such children. They can now receive the same support and can inherit on equal terms with children born within marriage.

impotence. (lat. powerlessness) The term usually refers to a lack of erection in situations where it is wanted. The reasons for this can be very many, and none of them have anything to do with power or the lack of power (even a potentate can be "impotent", i.e. even powerful men can have erection problems). The term is too imprecise to be scientifically useful.

inversion. (lat. turning around) Obsolete general term referring to 1. A switching of gender roles (males feeling and behaving like females and vice versa), and 2. Homosexuality, i.e. a switching of sexual orientation from the generally expected pattern (males loving males instead of females as expected; females loving females instead of males as expected). This second usage always implied the first, and male "homosexuals" were therefore also called "inverts", presupposing that they had "female souls in their male bodies". As a result, the term always created a lot of confusion, because it equated, as it were, apples and oranges. In real life, people can very well switch gender roles without switching sexual orientations. Extremely effeminate men (for example transvestites) can very well be, and most often are, heterosexual in orientation. On the other hand, men who love men can very well be, and often are, extremely masculine in appearance and behavior. Today, there is justification only for a more precise term which restricts itself the first of the above meanings: "gender role inversion".


life cycle, the human. Misleading when applied to an individual. When a person dies, his life does not begin all over again, i.e. the individual human life is not cyclical. Applying cyclical models is perhaps permissible in the case of species, but even then they are problematic because they stand in some contradiction to the theory of evolution. Applying the term "life cycle" to an individual is simply thoughtless.


"minor-attracted people" ("minor-attracted persons"). The expression is supposed to characterize persons who feel an erotic attraction to children and very young female and/or male adolescents. However, this can lead to confusion for two reasons:
1. The word "minor" means different things in different contexts and different jurisdictions. See here.
2. At the same time, the term "minor-attracted", whether deliberately nor not, lumps together two conditions that should be considered separately: "pedophilia" and "hebephilia". Indeed, some critics may argue against the existence of the second of these conditions or argue that, even if it exists, one should not elevate it to the rank of a psychiatric problem. (There may very well be a continuum and there may also be overlappings, shades, and degrees.) In any case, one should be aware of the fact that the social, legal, and psychological implications of "pedo-" and "hebephilia" are quite different. The term "minor-attracted" tends to obscure these differences.

miscegenation. Mixing of the races. Ideological term based on the obsolete assumption that different, clear-cut human races exist that can be, but should not be, "mixed". In the United States, the term used to be applied especially to marriages between "whites" and "blacks" (however these categories were defined at the time). Several Southern states and South Africa had so-called "miscegenation laws," which made such marriages illegal. However, in the meantime, these laws have been found to violate basic human rights and have been abolished. The whole idea of "pure" human "races" that should not be mixed is an expression of European and American "white anxieties" and fairly modern in origin. It was unknown in ancient and medieval times, began as a form of self-justification with the ever-expanding Western colonialism, and reached its greatest influence in the 19th and early 20th centuries in the social-political ideology of racism. However, from the standpoint of human biology, the category of race is meaningless. In the latest American census, the concept of race finally revealed its absurdity for everyone to see, when many respondents with "mixed" ancestry did not know how to check the appropriate boxes. The racial categories proved to be arbitrary, illogical and inconsistent.(For example, immigrants from Spain (Hispania, España) were NOT to classify themselves as "Hispanic", but as "Caucasian", i.e. originating from the Caucasus mountains in Russia. The alleged race "Hispanic" was reserved for immigrants from Latin American countries which, of course, had previously been settled by people from Spain. In other words: Spaniards immigrating from Latin America and Spaniards immigrating from Spain were declared by the American census to belong to two different races. Question: If immigrants from these two different races then marry each other in the US, is it miscegenation?


natural birth control. The speaker usually means "contraception" not birth control (see there). The term refers to contraceptive methods approved by the Catholic church, such as the "rhythm method" or "cervical mucus observation". The word "natural" as used here has a moral, not scientific, meaning derived from the theological doctrine of Natural Law. However, from the scientific point of view, any method of contraception is as natural or artificial as any other. (See also "artificial birth control")

nocturnal emission. (lat. emission during the night) Refers to an ejaculation during sleep. However, a man can also have an orgasm and ejaculate during an afternoon nap. This would then be a "diurnal emission". Moreover, if the orgasm occurs before puberty, there is no emission of semen. Finally, women can also have orgasms in their sleep. Therefore, it is better to say so and simply speak of "orgasm during sleep". This term is applicable to both sexes.

normal. This term belongs in the context of statistics. When applied to sexual matters, it usually is supposed to mean "good". Correspondingly, "abnormal" then means "bad". However, when it comes to details, the exact meaning of both terms may change from speaker to speaker. As a result, there is usually an argument about the very concept of "normality", and this argument almost always remains unresolved. In sexology, the term should be avoided altogether, since it never describes facts, but only expresses value judgements..

nymphomania. (gr. nymphlike craze) This term alludes to the love-sick nymphs (pretty girl spirits or fairies) in ancient Greek mythology. Well educated 19th century psychiatrists introduced the term to brand female sexual "promiscuity" as sick , i.e. symptomatic of mental illness. A learned term of opprobrium without scientific value. If and how a woman's frequently changing sexual partners are a problem for her, depends on many different factors that should be clearly named in each case. (See also "erotomania" and "promiscuity")


onanism. Erroneously used as a synonym for sexual self-pleasuring (masturbation). However, the sin of the biblical Onan (1. Moses, 38, 8-10) was not masturbation, but greed. Obliged to impregnate his brother's widow in order to produce heirs for her, he wanted to keep the inheritance for himself. Thus, when having intercourse with her, he let "his seed spill upon the ground", i.e. he withdrew before ejaculating, practicing coitus abruptus (see coitus interruptus).

opposite sex. Males and females are not opposites; they are just different in many aspects and in varying degrees. Indeed, even their sex organs grow from an originally undifferentiated cell mass and have a number of homologous structures. Moreover, the male and female sexual responses are quite similar. It is important in science not to construe differences as opposites. Correct term: "the other sex".


paraphilia. (gr. "next to" & "love", i.e. second-class love) Term used by medical, psychological, and legal professionals for sexual behavior of which they disapprove. Indeed, they now prefer this term over the older "perversion", "aberration" and "deviation" which have fallen into disfavor as too harsh and ideological. However, the new term does not really represent any intellectual progress, since it also assumes and implies the existence of a "real", "true","natural", and "correct" love ("philia") which has sisters of minor rank standing next, behind, or below it, just as the paramedical personnel stands behind or below the "real" doctor. Scientifically speaking, this is an unwarranted assumption. Professionals in any field should clearly and openly state the reasons for their disapproval in each individual case. These reasons will prove convincing in some cases, but in other cases they may very well turn out to be no more than prejudices. (See also "aberration", "deviation", "perversion".)

perversion. (lat. turning around) Originally a term used in medieval theology to describe heresy, i.e. "false religious belief". Later applied by doctors to "false sexual behavior". However, since objective criteria do not exist in the realm of human behavior, the term is simply a value judgement and as such unscientific. There is no "true" or "correct" sexual behavior arising "naturally" in human beings that could be perverted. (See also "aberration" and "deviation")

pollution. (lat. dirtying) Term sometimes used to describe an ejaculation during sleep. A moralistic, negative term that should have no place in science.

premarital intercourse. This term makes sense only when applied to persons who are (or once were) married. It is always inappropriate when applied to adolescents. After all, one can never know beforehand who will or will not eventually get married. An eighty-year-old bachelor, for example, may have had a lot of sexual intercourse in his life, but since he never married, none of it was ever premarital.

preorgasmic woman. This term falsely implies that a woman who does not have orgasms will sooner or later have them. However, this is not true. Thus, the term creates unrealistic expectations and performance pressures. The same would be true if one were to call the poor milkman Tevye "pre-rich". Some poor men become rich, but not all.

premature ejaculation. The term is completely misleading, because it confuses ejaculation with orgasm. It is the orgasm, not the ejaculation, that is felt to occur "too early". An ejaculation can, but does not have to, accompany a male orgasm. Not every male orgasm is accompanied by an ejaculation (examples: before puberty, after a prostatectomy etc.) However, after an orgasm the penis usually loses his erection, and it is this loss of erection that causes the concern. In other words, the real problem has nothing to to with an ejaculation of semen, but with an "untimely" softening of the penis after orgasm. It is therefore more appropriately called "unsatisfactory timing of orgasm". Moreover, in males orgasm is followed by a refractory period during which the penis remains soft for a while. Even if the erection is maintained, the penis is over-sensitive to stimulation during this time. Thus, even in this latter case, a man cannot comfortably continue with coitus. For these reasons the problem is more appropriately characterized as "unsatisfactory timing of orgasm". This term also signalizes that one is dealing here not with an objective fact, but with a subjective judgment, and the next logical questions are: Unsatisfactory to whom? To her? To him? To both? (See also "ejaculatio praecox")

promiscuity. (lat. indiscriminate mixing) This term is supposed to denote the behavior of people who have sexual contact with many, or rather "too many", partners. However, since there will never be a general agreement about how many are too many within which time frame, the word has no clear meaning and is simply a term of disapproval. (see also "erotomania" and "nymphomania")

pudenda. (lat. things to be ashamed of) Obsolete term for the external female sex organs (vulva). However, there is no reason be ashamed of these organs. Curiously enough, the term was never used for the external male sex organs.


reparative therapy. The term refers to psychiatric attempts to "repair" the damaged minds of homosexuals by trying to turn them into "fully functioning" heterosexuals. The term and the practice imply that homosexuality is somehow in need of correction. This is a moralistic value judgement, not an objective, scientific finding. Indeed, the intended objects of this repair work usually consider themselves fully functional just as they are and rightfully demand "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.!" The insistence to do so anyway is nothing but the missionary zeal of moral crusaders (see also "conversion therapy").

reproductive organs. Ideological term for sex organs. These organs also serve other functions besides reproduction and should not be semantically reduced to a single function.

retarded ejaculation. This term is misleading, since it confuses ejaculation and orgasm. The speaker usually means to refer to a delayed orgasm, i.e. a male orgasm that comes "too late" in the opinion of one or both of the sexual partners. After all, it is only after orgasm that the male is sexually satisfied and his penis loses its erection. This then signals the end of the respective sexual encounter. Whether semen is ejaculated durng this orgasm is usually immaterial, unless the female partner wants to become pregnant quickly. (See also "premature ejaculation".)


satyriasis. (named after the satyrs, ancient Greek mythological creatures - half man half goat - who were said to be sexually insatiable) Poetic, but derogatory term for the behavior of men who have "too much" sex. A negative subjective value judgement without any definite content. (See also "erotomania" and "nymphomania".)

self-abuse. Moralistic term of condemnation for sexual self-pleasuring (masturbation). In fact, the use of one's pleasure organs for pleasure is abuse only in the eyes of certain religions.

sex act, sexual act. These terms are often used as synonyms of "vaginal intercourse" (coitus) as if this were the only "true" sexual interaction. However, this moralistic usage is misleading, because there are many other, equally valid ways of interacting sexually. It is prejudicial to use a term that implicitly denigrates them as secondary or less important.

sex drive, sexual drive. The concept of a "drive" is based on the assumption that living creatures are basically inert and must be "driven" to activity by some hypothetical force. However, modern science has abandoned such ideas. It acknowledges that animals are alive and thus, along with all kinds of other activities, also manifest sexual behavior. (After all, humans also speak, sing, laugh, dance, write, and read without any respective drives.)

sleeping with someone. An unfortunate euphemism for vaginal intercourse (coitus). The participants are, of course, usually wide awake. Such deliberately vague terms can lead to serious misunderstandings and misinterpretations. (Example: A man sleeps with his wife seven nights per week, but has intercourse with her only once a week.)

sodomy. (from the biblical city of Sodom) Obsolete religious term, still used in some unreformed criminal codes, for anal intercourse. Originally, the term was much broader and encompassed all "unnatural" sexual activity, i.e. also oral intercourse and sexual contact with animals. Obviously, this Christian term of condemnation, being based on very specific beliefs not shared by Buddhism, Shintoism, and many other religions, has no place in science. (See also "unnatural").

surrogate, sexual. This term is meant to refer to females (in rare cases males) who, under the oversight of a sex therapist, offer their sexual services to his or her clients who do not have regular sexual partners ("sex surrogate therapy"). This kind of therapy operates on the assumption that some clients with sexual problems need practice, and that, in order to practice, they need cooperative partners. If they do not have partners of their own, the therapist will provide them. Unfortunately, the term "surrogate" denigrates such a paid volunteer as some substitute for a "real" or rather ideal, imaginary, hitherto unavailable partner. This is quite unfair. No one should be used as a surrogate or substitute for anyone else who would be more "legitimate" if only he existed. Everyone, including a "surrogate" is a real person and real sexual partner in his or her own right. People should not be diminished in their human dignity by semantic tricks. The unfortunate term was, of course, initially coined by therapists in order to avoid the accusation of "pandering" and "pimping" or of furthering "fornication". However, the usage was always and will remain inherently dishonest. A more objective term would be "temporary sexual partner" or "sexual health care worker".


unnatural sex. A term of disapproval originating in medieval theology and denoting behaviors that are "contra naturam", i.e. against the will of God as revealed in nature. In the history of philosophy, this belief in divine revelation through nature itself is also known as the doctrine of Natural Law. The doctrine itself was, in abstract form, already familiar to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and is thus older than the Christian church. However, it is no longer supportable in the light of modern science. Scientifically speaking, the only unnatural sexual act would be one that cannot be performed.


virgin. virginity. Traditionally, patriarchal societies insisted on every female entering marriage sexually "untouched", i.e. inexperienced. In practical terms, this meant that her hymen had to be "intact", i.e. it was to be torn only by the new husband beginning coitus during the wedding night or shortly thereafter. As proof of the bride’s virginity, a blood-stained bed sheet was often proudly displayed outside the window. However, in our modern societies this custom and the assumptions behind it have become obsolete. A girl’s hymen may very well be torn many years before marriage, for example by inserting a menstrual tampon, by some vigorous sports exercises, or by inserting a finger or vibrator for self-pleasuring. Moreover, even having an intact hymen does not necessarily prove sexual inexperience. Indeed, the girl may have extensive experience with manual, oral, and anal intercourse, avoiding only coitus. (In the 19th century, such girls used to be called demi vierges, i.e. half virgins.) Therefore, given the sexual behavior of many modern female teenagers, it is quite unclear what the terms "virgin" and "virginity" can now possibly mean. Furthermore, everyone is now aware that the term "virgin" is meaningless when applied to males and has, in fact, never been applied to them except in some joking and metaphoric fashion (self-pleasuring, group masturbation, homosexual contacts, and heavy heterosexual petting being ignored). Thus, the term also carries all the implications of the infamous sexual "double standard" of days gone by. In modern sexology there is no choice but to be objective and to state exactly what one is talking about.

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