Readers: How Do You Like Your M/M Romances?

Please don’t beat me up but I’m running a poll on the site about sex in M/M romances. I know, I know, you hate surveys, but this time your input is very important. We all love M/M romances for different reasons. Some readers love these books because they are wall to wall sex. (Really??? What a surprise!) 😯 I’m not sure if those readers are concerned about something like (maybe) a plot, as long as there’s the obligatory humping in every chapter.   :sex2: Others prefer a story with well rounded characters and an actual plot to go along with the hot sex. A few readers just want a good story and don’t care if there is minimal or any sex in the books.  With such varying tastes authors can’t please everyone, so a lot of them go where the money is, meaning: they write books that are off the scale hot because they know they are sure to sell. Clearly this targeting works.

Most readers think that M/M romances must be erotic, but is M/M also synonymous with erotica (PWP – Porn Without Plot)? Many digital publishers seem to think so, based on comments by their authors who claim that the editors return their manuscripts if they don’t think there’s enough sex and ask for more, more, more unnecessary sex. On the other hand, some publishers say it’s the authors who make the choice about the level of sex in their books: when they see that books with a heat level of 5 are best sellers, and those with a heat level of 1 go on the remainder pile almost immediately (if there is such a thing as a remainder pile for ebooks), it’s the writers who make the choice to write books that are sexfests. Someone is not being straight 🙂 with us and the truth may lie somewhere in deep space. Are you proving the publishers and authors right by maxing out your credit cards on M/M romances that are burning hot and ignoring the “sweet” romances with less sex? Are you saying with your wallets that M/M is all about the sex?  😕 Based on the evidence, it seems that readers are the ones who set the bar for the heat level in these books. How else can you account for the fact that books which are are rated at the highest heat levels outsell those that are less so by a margin of 10 or more to 1, unless the author is very well known such as Josh Lanyon?

Please don’t think I’m saying there’s something wrong with books that have a high level of sex.  I just think that the sex should advance and enhance the plot. OTOH there are times when you might be looking for a short sexy read just before bedtime, not  a story that would keep you up all night where you become so interested you forget everything else.

Some genres such as BDSM, by their very nature, seem to require lots of sex. The norm in other genres such as fantasy, historical and science fiction romances is for a lot less sex. But what about the books in the middle such as contemporary gay romances, stories that are mostly about guys meeting each other and falling in love.  Do we need lots of sex in murder mysteries? Is it necessary for these books to be wall to wall sex? Is there a middle ground? Are M/M readers setting the bar low for our genre by almost always buying books that are sizzling hot, regardless whether the stories suck, or even if there is no story, as long as the humping goes on between the covers unabated? Can we raise the bar a little by not using our purchasing power to buy books that have the highest heat level? Could we encourage those authors who write plotty books that don’t have much sex by actually buying some of these books? I don’t mean to imply that all books with lots of sex aren’t wonderful stories with lots of plot and great characters – that would not be true as some of my favourites do have a lot of heat.  However, it’s a shame that we don’t acknowledge through our wallets the great job being done by authors who don’t write books with high heat levels.

If we’re trying to “sell” M/M by promoting it to our friends who don’t see this genre as a credible alternative to what they currently read, should we not raise the bar by encouraging our writers to pen books with engaging, believable characters and actual plots, rather than stories that at times seem thrown together just to hang sex scene after sex scene? Authors and publishers complain about the ghettoizing of gay romances because they are all classified as erotic, regardless whether the books are sexfests or have no sex. Perhaps if we reduce the amount of sex in some of these books and market them as “sweet” gay romances they could come in under the radar.

Two years ago I wrote a post called Do You Read Sweet Romances? which is linkedI listed quite a few M/M books that were not rated at the highest heat levels but were considered to be wonderful stories. I also included some statistics on book sales, based on information from epublishers as well as re-sellers such as ARe. Although this data is 2 years old I don’t think the ratios have changed much.  Books with heat levels 1 and 2 represented less than 3% of sales while books with heat levels of 4 and 5 together were 83% of sales, which is very revealing as well as damning in terms of our tastes and buying patterns:

Heat level 1- .73%
Heat level 2- 1.9%
Heat level 3- 10.3%
Heat level 4- 32.61%
Heat level 5- 50.57%

A couple weeks ago author Angie Benedetti wrote an essay (linked) on the much broader theme of romance called: What Does Love Look Like? Most of the readers who responded to her post seemed to be leaning on the side of more plot, more romance, better rounded characters and less sex. That’s what you said when your name was on the comment, but what about when you’re anonymous? 😆 :blush:

I hope the enclosed poll will help to clarify what heat levels you want in your M/M books, if you answer honestly. You can complete the poll in this post or on the right hand sidebar.  You can only select two answers that most closely reflect what you think. I do hope you complete this survey, and no cheating. 🙂


How do you Like Your M/M Romances?

View Results

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In addition to completing the survey your comments are always appreciated. I would also ask you to submit recommendations of M/M books that you love which do not just titillate our baser senses but are really great reads, with wonderful characterizations and actual plots, similar to those books recommended in my post 2 years ago. Your recommendations would be helpful to those readers who are interested in a different fare than our usual diet.


I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

I’ll admit when I started in on m/m, it was all about the sex. It was new and different and fascinating to me. Now that I’ve seen just about every where tab A can go I want more plot. So it’s been a progression. for me, the first time I read any m/m stories without sex were the free stories at Goodreads like the LiAW event. Before then I didn’t realize such things existed. But I imagine if someone only reads erotica and comes over to m/m for a different type of the same, then non sex books will never… Read more »

Hi Issa

You made some excellent points. I have been reading these books since 2003 so the sex is not new to me, but I’m guessing for a new reader it would be like WOW – guys actually do that? As for erotica readers I admit that books with a lower level of heat would never appeal. However, for the regular readers, switching things around for books with more plot and better characterization might be the way to go. 🙂 At least I hope they give it a try.


I have to go out for a few hours but I’ll be back to see how the poll is coming along as well as to answer your comments. 🙂

I think it’s also a matter of how long you’ve M/M. I’ve found over time, that people new to the genre generally fall into one of two groups: Either they want all sex all the time, or they want none or “lite” because they’re still getting used to the idea of reading about men having sex. The ones in the first group tend to devour their stories for a good while before it tapers off and they get more interested in a good story, no matter the sex. Personally, I want a good story. I want there to be a… Read more »
EM Lynley
Great points, Karin! I know when I first started reading and writing I liked a higher sex-to-plot ratio than I do now. I find it much more enjoyable to explore other aspects of the relationship, and to see how the MCs change or grow throughout a book. As a writer, it’s fun getting any couple together the first time, but since I started writing series, with established couples, I almost feel like we don’t need to be in the bedroom with them all the time. They need some privacy! 🙂 It’s usually the other aspects of the relationship that are… Read more »
I write, too (not published, nor am I looking to be), and yes it can be fun to get them together at first. But it can be equally fun to have established couples. In both cases, the fun doesn’t have equate to showing sex, in my opinion. 😉 I’ve actually had the girl that goes through my stories beg me for sex (for the MC! I mean, please! Out of the gutter ;-)) and I’ve flat out refused. She loves reading sex (and I do, too), but I’m not going to put it in “just because it’s wanted” when it’s… Read more »
EM Lynley
I did say “some writers.” Personally, I don’t put in more than the plot needs and maybe I don’t sell as many books as I could. I won’t add sex for the sake of selling books. But the sex scenes I write should sizzle and tell the reader something about the characters that they wouldn’t otherwise know or discover. However, for authors who want to be published or to sell more, they may choose to consider other issues and they may also like writing more sex. I won’t judge what other writers do. As I writer I make my own… Read more »
Hannah E.
Is this a poll, or an editorial? 😛 The lead-in to the poll definitely makes it clear what you’d like the poll results to look like, and so does the structure and language of the poll itself. Not that I don’t agree with a lot of your sentiments. I’m just not sure your results are going to be terribly useful after the participants have been abashed by your plea to “raise the bar a little by not using our purchasing power to buy books that have the highest heat level.” Personally, I don’t tend to read any romances, m/m or… Read more »
Hi Hannah I expressed my opinion in the post as I always do, but this is not an editorial, it is a poll and it’s anonymous, so readers can vote however they choose. You may have noticed that in addition to the quote in your comment I also said: Could we encourage those authors who write plotty books that don’t have much sex by actually buying some of these books? One of things that authors constantly complain about is that M/M romance is being ghettoized by being lumped with porn. If we get a balance of different heat levels in… Read more »
I don’t purposely read 5 flame books, because they often contain kink that doesn’t entertain me, and generally have a sex to plot ratio that’s too skewed. Four flame books, maybe, but my preferred reading range is 2-3. When picking books to review just off blurbs, I might get more flames than I would normally choose, because I don’t usually check that out before picking. I could, but I’m trying to widen the field. I do notice that my review list contains few stories from publishers known to request more heat, and a lot more from pubs who let the… Read more »
Hey Crys Fade to black is fine for at least part of the sex scenes for me, a few well chosen words to symbolize a whole lot of interaction can get my imagination revved up to where I have to stop reading for a while. That often works better than pages of grunt and thrust, Isn’t amazing what the readers’ imagination can do if it’s allowed to take flight rather than have everything on the page? I love it when an author’s writing is so arresting that I break out in goose bumps. 😀 Of course many readers love the… Read more »

I want lots of well written plot and nicely fleshed out characters, romance and erotica aren’t actually needed, just as long as there’s no HET in my books I’m good, m/m or gen is the only way for me 😉


Hey Majken

I’m with you on all the points you made. No het sex for me. It’s been a while since I read a menage with women or a het romance. 😮

Kate McMurray
I pretty much exactly agree with Jane Davitt. I like sexy times in the books I read, but I find myself skimming those scenes more often than not lately. (I mean, there’s a time and a place. If I’m at home, whatever, but if I’m reading in public? Or just not in the mood? That scene is getting skimmed.) I only take issue with a book if, when you remove all the hot scenes, there’s no story left. But I’m a firm believer that sex in a novel can be an integral part of and should advance plot/character development. The… Read more »

I agree with Kate’s entire comment, but it’s too long to QFT. I also want to add that I’ve noticed the sex scenes are often when I set the book down to take a break. I get to them and it’s like, “ho hum, nothing much happening here, good time to go [insert activity here]”.

That’s not always true, of course. But it seems to be true more often than not. 🙁 I’ll have to start paying attention to whether that happens with sex scenes that advance the plot or only with gratuitous ones. My suspicion is the latter.

Hi Kate I think m/m romance has a somewhat unfair reputation for being all porn all the time, to the point where books in which the characters don’t do more on the page than kiss still get tagged as erotica solely because the protagonists are both of the same gender. And that’s an issue that I think is preventing some readers from trying out books in the genre. I agree that a few of our books get the unfair label of being erotica when they aren’t. However, if you pick up M/M books today I would say thata large percentage… Read more »
EM Lynley

I did a poll like this a couple of years ago, only I asked authors what they liked to read and what they actually wrote.

The result was that on average writers wrote 1-2 notches hotter than they actually preferred as readers.

I used a 1-10 scale, and while everyone had their own idea of how to rate their preferences, it balanced out since it was the comparison of the two rankings that mattered.

So, yes, writers are writing hotter for the audience, but when they read, they’re looking more for story and characterization than the sex scenes.

Hi EM …. on average writers wrote 1-2 notches hotter than they actually preferred as readers. So, yes, writers are writing hotter for the audience, but when they read, they’re looking more for story and characterization than the sex scenes. I wonder why authors do that? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that their readers were just like them? Why are they treating us like the red headed stepchild? 😮 I know that there are more readers who probably prefer lots of sex in these books, but at the same time authors complain about M/M being ghettoized and yet they are… Read more »
Angelia Sparrow

Sometimes it’s not our choice. Sometimes our editor says “Good, but give me 5,000 more words of sexy times. And make the title sexier too!” (IOW, add 10% more, and make it all smut)

I write the level I would like to read.
Sometimes, most times, it gets published at about that level.

EM Lynley
I don’t believe I asked why, but my thoughts are that if readers seem to be buying stories with more sex, then writers are trying to please the readers. There certainly are some publishers that specifically request specific amounts of sex in the books they will accept. This also drives how writers are writing. I had a story rejected a few years ago from a publisher because it didn’t have enough sex in it. I have heard that particular house doesn’t expect as much sex as they used to, but I still don’t think what I write really fits them,… Read more »

Tigers and Devils is one of my favorite/standout books. It has no actual sex but lots of passion and sexual tension. The slot a and b rendition wasn’t necessary. I definitely want passion and sexual tension in my romance (unless it is a historical) but the details aren’t necessary if the stories carry it.
Knight Errant also had fade to black sex but LOTS of passion between the MCs. It work very well. 😀

Hi Reggie Tigers & Devils is also one of my all time favourites and it has nothing to do with the lack of sex. I just loved the writing and the characters. It’s an ensemble cast with great characters, the plot was fantastic, and for once the female in the book was not portrayed as a witch. There’s so much in this book that made it so rich!! There are many T & D’s out there, I just have to find them. 🙂 I too love passion in my romance and that doesn’t mean sex in every chapter. I’ll have… Read more »
Jane Davitt
Thanks, Sirius! Glad you liked ‘The Square Peg’. Coming at it from a different angle (heh), I find my tastes have changed as my stack of read m/m books threatens to tip over, it’s so tall. I used to feel like turning the book upside down and shaking it if there was no sex; now I’m more likely to skim the sex scenes if they start popping up every chapter unless they’re really grabbing me. I certainly don’t think the story needs copious amounts of sex, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want some; I’m reading romances… Read more »
Hi Jane I guess I’m saying that I want sex that’s there naturally or for a reason (plot-based, advancing the romance, etc), not forced into the story or filler. Like you, I look for books that don’t insult my intelligence by making the stories all about sex. I don’t buy M/M books because of the sex – if I want to read about sex I would buy erotica which at least is honest about what it is. M/M books are supposed to be romances which should include great characterizations, an actual plot that makes me sit up and take notice… Read more »
What Sirius Said about characters who are on the run with assassins after them and bullets incipiently flying, but who come to a sudden screeching halt to boink under a table or something. They really think that’s even vaguely safe? Heck, whoever’s after them would be able to kill both of them with one bullet. 😛 This is from an f/f book I read, but still, same idea. The two protags are private investigators and they’re following some guy. He’s gone home, to this big estate with a wall around it, so they park to one side near the gate,… Read more »
Hi Angie Did I tell you how much I enjoyed your essay (the one I referred to in the post? 😀 😎 ) I have so many examples like the ones quoted by you and Sirius. I’m so sick of reading these types of silly stories because they insult my intelligence and these scenarios are not the least bit exciting, if that was the author’s intention. I love your writing because you offer your readers a balance. I have said time and again that the sex should advance the plot and not be the plot. I think it’s our own… Read more »

You posted it, so I figured you liked it. 😀

I’m so sick of reading these stories because they insult my intelligence

This, exactly. [sigh/nod] Unless it’s being played for laughs, and the tone of the book is pretty clearly humorous, then this sort of thing just doesn’t work for me. I have a hard time empathizing with a character who’s behaving like an idiot, and “OMG Dirk is just SO HOT!” doesn’t change that. :grumble:


PS — the bit you quoted there was from Ethan. 🙂

Angie: Sorry. I had the quote in my reply to Ethan’s comment and didn’t realize that I copied his statement in my response to you. 😮 I deleted the quote. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of our authors – I just wish that some of them would give readers respect by writing stories that didn’t depend so much on the sex to sell them. With great characterizations most readers will forgive almost anything. I hope our writers understand that. I love sex in M/M books but it should be integral to and advance the plot. PS I… Read more »
No prob about the quote; I figured it was just a glitch. 🙂 I love sex in M/M books but it should be integral to and advance the plot. Exactly. Like I said in my essay, the amount of boinking in a book really isn’t the problem. The problem is pointless boinking. One scene can be pointless, or ten can be perfectly functional, and integral to the story. That’s why I ignore heat ratings, as a reader. I don’t mind a lot of boinking if it all has a purpose, and the number of flames or whatever tells me nothing… Read more »
Or a book might have only one boinking scene in it, but if it’s a triple-penetration scene with a shibari tie and a fifty-pin play piercing, and a twelve-inch frozen steel dildo, that sounds like five flames to me, even though it’s only one boinking scene I have NEVER read a book with THAT and I thought I had read just about every kink there was. 😯 Did you just dream that up or actually read it somewhere Angie? As I said earlier, we should have a range of book types or a balance so that there’s something for everyone.… Read more »
I just made it up as an example. :whistle: If I ever use it in a story, I’ll let you know. 😉 I read in other genres as a matter of course, and always have. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’m so aware of how a story can be good/interesting/awesome without any sex in it? That might well make a difference. I know a lot of people only read one genre, though, or only read outside their favorite genre very rarely, so I don’t know that the effect, if it exists, is significant to this issue. Angie
I still remember a book I have read several years ago which did exactly that – it was a pretty good yaoish fantasy with actual plot till like 75% in the story but then I don’t know what happened – did writer decide that she needed more sex ASAP? Had editor tell her that more sex is urgently needed or else? I kid you not – they are running from the evil guys and then there is a house on their way and for some reason ( which reason I do not remember) they can’t move any further and must… Read more »

It’s commonly believed that danger jumpstarts the sex drive, and it might even be true. But what I’ve seen/heard/read suggests that the sex kicks in after the danger is over. And that makes a lot of sense. Figure, people who stopped to boink while a tiger was tracking them wouldn’t have survived to breed — evolution in action, yes? 😛

I think some writers only heard the first part and not the second. So we get:

danger -> boinking

instead of the more logical

danger -> safe -> boinking



Ethan Stone

This is an interesting question for me based on thoughts that have been going through my head for awhile now. In my own books I’ve gone way overboard trying to use sex as the plot but I’ve also tried to find a balance. I had readers tell me there was too much sex in my books so I wrote Bartender, PI where my main characters didn’t have sex on page. And I had complaints about that!


Well, you have at least one (I’m sure more) reader who loved the Flesh books and Bartender!

Hi Ethan I absolutely LOVED Bartender PI as you know (and what great writing). I didn’t even notice the lack of sex until you brought it up. When I rate a book sex doesn’t enter into the equation, only the writing. The question I asked in the beginning of this post was: Are all MM romances supposed to be erotic? Also, is M/M romance synonymous with erotica (PWP)? In my book the answer is “no.” If that’s what these books are I wouldn’t read them. Many writers can’t write good sex scenes and I’m bored with their pitiful attempts to… Read more »

Ethan — it’s possible that the people who didn’t like sexfests stopped buying your books, so when you experimented with the sexless book, the only readers who were left were the ones who were there for the sex. [wry smile]


Can I be a copycat and go with “What Sirius said.”? Honestly though, I find my preferences shifting the more romance (both m/m and m/f) I read. When I first started reading romance a few years back I had a much lower expectation of what I wanted from the book plot and characterization wise. Lately though I find myself irritated when instead of continuing with the interesting plot line and developing it more, the author throws in sex scene after sex scene in entirely unbelievable situations. So yeah, I don’t mind the sex and don’t care how much of it… Read more »
Hi Eva Lately though I find myself irritated when instead of continuing with the interesting plot line and developing it more, the author throws in sex scene after sex scene in entirely unbelievable situations. So yeah, I don’t mind the sex and don’t care how much of it there is (none or a lot), as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story. This is a theme that bothers me all the time — I’m reading an interesting story and all of a sudden I’m reading a different book because the author switches from a good plot… Read more »
I was torn between “I don’t care, I just want a good story” and “sex should advance the plot.” To me those two are the same. I love well written sex scenes, but I can’t get enough of Andrea Speed’s Infected series which is somehow sexy with no on page sex at all. I will say that when I was clueless about how to find good books (pre-Goodreads) and was just scanning the DSP website for books that sounded good, I went for the higher heat levels. Maybe because I was new to the genre and it didn’t take much… Read more »
Hi Cris But now that I know how good the genre can be, I want a quality story whether there’s sex or not. I also wonder if the higher heat level sales aren’t because we’re kind of trained that 2 stars is bad, 5 stars is good (or chili peppers or whatever). It might be an an unintended effect of rating books that way. I think that many readers believe that a heat level of 5 is synonymous with 5 rating stars in a review. I guess the publishers use their heat rating as a marketing strategy, and it definitely… Read more »
Tali Spencer
I happen to love sexual tension between my M/M characters, just as I love sexual tension between M/F characters. If a book is positioning itself as a romance, a story where the gender of the couple is a focal point, I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t at least some sexual pull going on. If they have sex, it should make sense and advance the story. If it’s hot sex, I like that. 😀 As much as I like sex, though, I crave stories with brilliant writing, deeply integrated settings, and rich plots. Not all M/M stories are romances, and I… Read more »
Hi Tali As much as I like sex, though, I crave stories with brilliant writing, deeply integrated settings, and rich plots I hope some M/M writers read your comment because it might make them realize that there are readers like you out there and they don’t always have to focus on the sex. Some M/M readers want actual stories. My biggest beef is that many of our writers treat gay protagonists as if they were sex fiends. I know these stories are fantasies but I need a bit of realism, and I’m sorry but two guys fleeing from gunmen would… Read more »

Right, I love mysteries and fantasy and scifi, which may have minimal romantic subplot or more stronger romance subplot and to see the protagonists having sex there too often for me just downright distracting from the plot. Why are authors often so fond of let them boink when they think they are going to die for example? AM Riley IMO achieves perfect balance there.


I will think of more recommendations later besides my usual suspects – Tamara Allen, Ann Sommerville,Sarah Black, Nicole Kimberling, Ginn Hale, Jordan Castillo Price. I will think of newer authors but right now I want to recommend the book which may have higher sex amount than what I usually read but to me was a perfect example of sex advancing the plot and hot too – Square Peg by Jane Davis and Alex Snow. Oy loved it.

Well you know what I think – write the good story – put sex there , do not put sex there – I do not care. If your characters have chemistry and plot is good I will buy your books. If you write sex that advances the plot I will love it too though. But give me stories like “irregulars” or Angela Benedetti’s series over guys boinking like bunnies the whole book any time. I know I am not the only reader who reads across the genres but when I started I was always scratchingy head wondering how is it… Read more »
“Well you know what I think – write the good story – put sex there , do not put sex there – I do not care. If your characters have chemistry and plot is good I will buy your books. If you write sex that advances the plot I will love it too though. […] Would we say that traditional mystery is a good book based on how many murders are included in it or traditional fantasy is well done based on how many magical spells character knows? No, right? We will look at plot and characters. Why do these… Read more »
Hi Sirius I didn’t start out as a romance reader. The first books I read were mysteries and fantasies and most of them didn’t have any sex. I learned then what excellent writing was all about – it was the ability of a writer to keep you so engrossed that you forgot everything else, even eating. When I started reading M/M romances at first I enjoyed the stories because I guess I lucked out – my first real M/M book was Bareback by Chris Owen which I read in 2003, 9 years ago. Although there was lots of sex in… Read more »
I agree with you totally, Sirius. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a “heat” rating when considering if I want to buy a book or not. If I want to read porn, I’ll go find free internet porn. When I’m buying something though, I prefer books with good “emotional” porn– a relationship I believe in and characters I care about. Also I think M/M will always be a second-class genre as long as the amount of sex in a book is what’s driving the market and not how good the story is. 🙁 As for a rec, I read… Read more »
EM Lynley
Kirsten, You make some really good points here! I do think you’re right about why m/m might not be getting taken seriously enough. As a genre the quality and content is really all over the place, and the “publishing industry” can’t quite figure out where to pigeonhole the books. As for the heat rating statistics, Wave’s data is very interesting, and I’m glad people aren’t just checking the ratings. I tend to write romantic mystery/adventure type plots, with sex as appropriate for plot and relationship sitation, but my current publishers calls them all 3 on the heat level. I’d call… Read more »

EM — My old publisher called everything a 5, even if it had no sex. (I complained about that since many readers looking for 5 were disappointed and people who didn’t want 5 passed up a decent book).

Yikes! I’d have squawked that so hard they’d have heard me three states over. 🙁 Your second sentence there is exactly it — it’s about truth in advertising, and when you lie in your advertising you might make this sale right now, but you’re sacrificing any future sales to that customer. How stupid is that? [sigh]


EM Lynley

I did talk to the pub about it, but they didn’t care enough to take more time to accurately rate their stories. They also used to estimate word counts on stories at distributors which didn’t automatically count the files, and they did stop inflating word counts, but I guess unless readers complained (which they did about the word count) the pub didn’t listen.

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