Sexual Purity after Purity Culture: What Should We Know? Dean Inserra
Serious flaws in purity culture deserve scrutiny—especially given its lasting negative effects on some raised in the movement. Many Christians today reject wholesale the movement and all that it stood for. But is there still a place for sexual purity? Author Dean Inserra dives into God's flawless design for sex.
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Serious flaws in purity culture deserve scrutiny. Is there still a place for sexual purity? Author Dean Inserra dives into God’s flawless design for sex.
Sexual Purity after Purity Culture: What Should We Know? Dean Inserra
Dean: Let’s just, for the sake of argument, say that everything that they negatively say about purity culture looking back on it is true; just for the sake of argument. Does that change the fact that God has a clear design? The answer is not even a little bit. God is not the one who has moved on this. You know, the Scriptures have not moved. It’s the culture that’s moved. So, I’m going to tell you something that’s just as clear in the Bible as loving your neighbor and as helping the poor and as forgiving those who have wronged you; and that’s God’s design for this.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So, I became a Christian my junior year in college, and I started being mentored by Bill—Bill Krimmens.
Ann: You’re talked about Bill a lot on our program.
Dave: Yes, I mean, he was a senior student, actually. You know, you’d think, “He’s a staff person.” No, he was just a student. He and his wife Corky were living in married housing. Anyway, the first meeting we had, after I was a brand-new Christian—I mean, I’m a college kid; I just gave my life to Christ; I’m coming out of the world and the culture. My first question (very appropriate) was, “What’s the Bible say about sex?” I mean, that is my number one question.
Ann: That was my question, too. I remember—I didn’t grow up in a Christian home—[that] I started going by myself to a church that taught the Bible, but nobody was talking about it! So, I went into a Christian bookstore at 16 years old, and totally embarrassed. I asked the lady up there if there were any books on this topic; but that was my question, too.
Dave: Yes; you know what? You wish there were a book, that I have in my hand, back in the day! [Laughter] It’s called Pure, and we’ve got the author here. Dean Inserra is back with us at FamilyLife Today. Thanks, Dean, for coming back.
Dean: It’s great to be with you to discuss an important topic.
Ann: It is!
Dave: Is this pretty common? You know, that question for a college kid?
Dean: I think it is! They want to know how they’re supposed to be thinking about this topic. But here’s what I think is flipped in our culture: each of you wanted to know, you know, what the Bible says—
Dean: —about sex, as believers. Now, a lot of believers don’t really care what it says. Now, professing believers—are they really real? We don’t know their hearts, obviously.
Dean: But they don’t really care, because we’re letting culture really define how we approach this topic. I think a lot of believers are really unaware of how influenced they have become by what the society says about sex and sexual ethics, rather than asking the Scriptures.
Ann: And I think—
Dean: So, we have to talk about it.
Ann: And our kids are being discipled by the culture.
Dean: Oh, completely!
Ann: And if we, as parents, aren’t being intentional, that will be their worldview.
Dean: From YouTube to social media, TV, friends, older siblings, you know? Everyone is already framing the narrative for them oftentimes, before parents even begin to talk about it.
Dave: Yes. Well, you’re a pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, so you’re right next to—are you on the campus of Florida State?
Dean: We’re really close. We have a lot of college students at our church. We have a large college ministry.
Dave: Yes, that’s right. So, me as a college student—you’re dealing with that every day. So, I’ll mention your book. It’s called Pure: Why the Bible's Plan for Sexuality Isn't Outdated, Irrelevant, or Oppressive.
Obviously, this is a very important topic, not just for college kids, but especially for us as parents of teenagers or college kids.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Dave: Or a five-year-old or ten-year-old, as they’re walking into this culture. So, what was your thinking? Why a book called Pure?
Dean: Well, I started noticing all this pushback, including a New York Times op-ed, on what people refer to as “Purity Culture.”
Dave: Oh, yes!
Dean: Which was the “True Love Waits” movement that I grew up in in the ‘90s. We didn’t call it “Purity Culture” then; it’s called that in retrospect. But they acted like it was the most oppressive and worst thing to ever happen to the history of the faith. And I’m just kind of looking at it thinking, “Well, I was okay during that time!”
But then, I started thinking about it, and started thinking about friends of mine who, maybe, went through at the same time I did, and now, maybe, are living with a boyfriend or girlfriend and, maybe, have been married multiple times; never really had a biblical, sexual ethic they lived out. They were part of those meetings we had—those rallies—and signed the “True Love Waits” card.
Ann: The purity ring.
Dean: The purity ring; all the things. You know, the big idea was, the whole word “waiting.” That was the word that was always used: “You’re going to wait.” Or they would say, “Save yourself.” So, the goal was to get you to sign a card. You know, “I make a commitment to God, to myself, and to my future mate,” was the wording used; that I will, basically, not have sex until I’m married.
Dave: Did you sign the card?
Dean: I did sign the card!
Dave: You did?
Dean: Yes, if you didn’t, you were frowned upon!
Dean: It’s kind of like passing the offering plate, and everybody puts something in but you, you know? [Laughter]
Dean: It kind of felt that way.
Ann: Well, I’m thinking even listeners—some hear that, they recall it, they remember it with fondness, like, “Oh, I’m so glad I did that.” And others are like, “That was horrible!”
Dean: Yes, and I think the motives behind the “True Love Waits” movement were right.
Dean: I mean, the fact that there were adults saying, “We want to make sure that we’re communicating the significance of abstinence outside of marriage to this next generation.” I think we should give some grace as well, because a lot of them were coming out of the ‘60s, when they were growing up, which was sex everywhere, in terms of the whole [free] love movement—
Dean: —and Woodstock and all those types of things. I want to give grace there because of that. But I think we saw two kinds of different results of much of the “True Love Waits” movement. One was this kind of shame idea and guilt idea. Again, I don’t think it was intentional, but the whole messaging was, “You don’t want to be the one who doesn’t save yourself. What if you get to your honeymoon, and you’re the one who didn’t?”
So, people started thinking that because, maybe, they had fallen into sexual sin or given into temptation, that they—and I can’t stand this wording, but these were the words that were used—felt like they were “damaged goods.” You know, they felt like they weren’t good enough for someone who had saved themselves. (I put up air quotes.) Where the other side was kind of a legalistic, Pharisaical approach where, “I’m the one who’s righteous. I’m the one who did this! Therefore, I deserve someone who has also saved themselves!” Both of those two extremes, I don’t think, are the gospel of Jesus Christ, right?
So, I wish that what would have happened was, rather than the emphasis simply being on your honeymoon, and your emphasis being on, “You’re not being—” We were 16 years old, talking about our honeymoon?! [Laughter] You know, it was just kind of hard to grasp that. But rather than that being the influence: “Save yourself!” or “You don’t want to be the one—“, I wish instead, the focus had been on God’s design, actually teaching us what God really says about this, and why it’s for His glory and for our good. How it plays out throughout the Scriptures, and how it’s a gift God gives to us, rather than an approach of, you know, “Don’t be the one. Make sure that you stay strong.”
That kind of idea [was] almost more of a willpower kind of approach than it was actually helping us unpack and understand what God’s actually doing with this.
So, how the book came about was, I started asking the question, as I was reading all of this “angst” stuff out there: let’s just, for the sake of argument, say that everything that they negatively say about purity culture looking back on it is true; just for the sake of argument. Does that change the fact that God has a clear design? The answer is not even a little bit. You know, the Bible is just as clear on God’s design for sex and sexuality as it is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s that clear!
So, I’ll tell our church, whenever we talk about sexuality, “What I’m about to tell you is nothing radical. Christians have believed this forever! God is not the one who has moved on this. You know, the Scriptures have not moved. It’s the culture that’s moved. So, I’m going to tell you something that’s just as clear in the Bible as loving your neighbor and as helping the poor and as forgiving those who have wronged you; and that’s God’s design for this.
I just think it’s so important for us to talk about, so I decided I was going to write about it and just kind of take on the whole topic in a way that, hopefully, can connect with everyday church members.
Ann: How has that been received from the pulpit to your congregation? You’ve got a lot of college students coming, and you’re just teaching out of Scripture: “This is what God says about it.” How do people receive it?
Dean: What we’re seeing is a lot of folks who have only been told, “No.”
Dean: You know, that sex is “bad,” that “you shouldn’t do this.” We’ve—very rarely are people saying anything but, “I’ve never heard that before.” Again, we’re still very clear on that it’s as clear as it can possibly be that sex is not for “ready” people, or in love people, or mature people. It’s for married people, and God has designed marriage [to be] between a man and a woman. So, we’re very clear on that. But what they’ve never heard before is the big picture of it all; how there’s a consistent thread throughout Scripture of this design being held up.
You know, when Jesus was asked about marriage, or when Paul wrote about marriage, they referenced Genesis as an actual, historical event, and referenced the one-flesh union of a husband and a wife as what helps us understand what God was actually doing with this design, this oneness; that marriage was really intended to symbolize the oneness of Christ and the Church, the bride and the Groom. How the one-flesh union that we see in the Scriptures is more than sex, but it’s definitely not less. So, we have to understand the oneness side of marriage and how God intended it to be.
Ann: And you have three kids?
Dean: Three kids!
Ann: How old are they?
Dean: Sixteen, twelve, and eight.
Ann: Oh, you are in it!
Dean: In it! [Laughter]
Ann: So, you’ve probably had these discussions for a while now?
Dean: Definitely. I had to tell my middle one even earlier! We had to talk about it because he has a brother. So, I tell parents regularly, if you think it’s time to have “the talk,” you might be a little late.
Dean: That shouldn’t alarm you, but probably [add] a little bit of urgency. You shouldn’t feel bad about that, but you should feel some urgency. I think even earlier, now, we have to talk about it, because now it has infiltrated, even subtly, into every area of natural-born life, from radio, to references on TV, to books that kids read. It’s little things here and there: commercials on TV, ads on YouTube. So, we’ve just got to be even more intentional now about helping them understand.
Dave: Well, you know, I didn’t have a dad growing up. He left when I was seven, and my mom—she was a wonderful single mom—I could tell she was like, “I’ve got to talk to David about this,” you know? So, do you know what she did? She took me to the Episcopalian priest where we went to church, and I’ll never forget this. I was probably eleven, or maybe 12, which was late; but I sat down with this guy who I barely knew, and it was really, you know, awkward! It was just too bad I didn’t have a dad to do it. And mom sort of tried to do it.
So, walk us through a little bit of what God’s design is.
Dean: Yes. I think if we walk out of a conversation and the thought is that—the person that received the counseling or the instruction’s thought is: “This is bad,” that sex is a bad thing, then we’ve really missed the mark.
Dean: Because God’s the Designer of it, and it’s important to know that marriage and sex, which were created together—God said they were “naked and felt no shame,” that “for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”—again, that’s more than sex, but it’s not less.
Dave: Genesis, Chapter 2, yes.
Dean: This existed—you said Genesis, Chapter 2.
Dave: And one.
Dean: And one.
Dean: Which means, it existed before the Fall.
Dean: So, it’s not marriage and sex that are the problem.
Dean: It’s sin and brokenness that are the problem.
So, this amazing institution that God has given us was existing before sin ever entered the world. So, in brokenness, which means now, this beautiful gift God has given us of a man and a woman in this one-flesh union, has been taken out of God’s design. So, of course it’s supposed to bring about brokenness. Anytime we go out of God’s design, it’s supposed to be messed up.
That doesn’t mean we gloat in that or that, you know, we are Pharisaical about that. We’re just saying, “This is the result.” So, now, we recover and pursue what God’s design was; we point people to what it was actually meant to be from the beginning. It is that one-flesh union between a man and a woman. So, one, it’s God’s glory. He created this! So, we don’t want to be people who attack His creation; but second, it’s also for our good. God cares for His people, and He wants His glory to be made known in this amazing institution He’s given us.
So, the one-flesh union side is so critical in understanding this, because when Jesus is asked in Matthew 19 about divorce, He immediately points them to Genesis and says, “Don’t you know that He who made them male and female—?” He talks about the one-fleshness. He quotes Genesis.
When Paul’s talking to the Corinthian church—and this one’s fascinating to me! In 1 Corinthians 6, they’re engaged in temple prostitution. So, he rebukes them for that. When you first hear that, you maybe think that Paul is rebuking them because of prostitution. It’s very non-controversial to say that prostitution’s not a good idea. It’s demeaning to people; now in our country, it’s illegal; it fuels human trafficking. I mean, there are health issues. There are so many things you could point to about why it’s, obviously, wrong.
But what he points them to actually has nothing to do with prostitution. What he says is, “Don’t you know that when you lie with her, you become one-flesh with her?” As in, you’re taking God’s design and placing it somewhere where it was never meant to be carried out. God does not want us doing permanent things with temporary people in our lives. It was meant to be a one-flesh union “‘til death do us part.”
Dave: Hey, have you ever preached that? That’s a—
Dean: I have, yes.
Dave: That’s a big idea sermon!
Dean: We talk about it at our church a lot, but in that, I also want to lift up high grace to people as well.
Dean: Because Jesus is also in the restoring business. That’s what He does! You know, He came to save sinners, right? So, some of the marks of the “True Love Waits” movement are that they would, maybe, just leave you in that.
Ann: Well, that was me.
Ann: I thought, “I’ve already blown it! It’s too late for me!”
Dave: So, you’re “impure.”
Dave: “You’re no longer, ever, going to be pure again.” That’s sort of the idea.
Dave: It’s like, “I blew it!” So—
Ann: “Too late! I might as well just keep messing up!”
Dean: Yes. What happens at our salvation? God makes us pure.
Dean: All of us are impure apart from the Lord. He makes us pure; He makes us righteous. So, it’s good news for us! But He cares deeply for His people. This male and female, husband and wife union points us ultimately to a greater union, and that’s of Christ and the Church, the ultimate wedding of the bride and the Groom, Christ and the Church.
So, God has a much bigger design for sex than we can ever even imagine, so the conclusion to draw in all of that is that it’s never “just sex.” That is a lie our culture tells us. At FSU—Florida State University—where I live, it’s “just sex.” It’s never “just sex” when we read the storyline from the Bible; and I think our culture knows that!
Ann: You feel like they’re feeling the effects of it now?
Dean: I do. And I want to say this carefully and present this lightly, but let’s say that—here’s how much we know this—for a young, high school couple, or a college couple, I always tell people, either of two things happen when they’re dating, unless someone tragically dies: either you get married, or you break up. [Laughter] Those are the two things that happen no matter if you’re 12 years old and you’re a little girl from the playground, all the way to 50, right? You either get married or you break up.
So, let’s just say they were just kind of—you know, they held hands and just sort of that kind of idea. Maybe they had their first kiss. I’m not condoning that, but just say that’s just what happened; and then, they break up, which many young couples do. They’re either going to be, maybe, embarrassed, or have their feelings hurt a little bit, awkward and that kind of thing. But if a couple was physically involved, sexually, how much different is the breakup?
Ann: So different!
Dean: It’s so different, because you’re doing permanent things.
Dean: Our culture knows, believer and unbeliever alike. But of course, we believe the lies that there’s more to be gained by disobeying God than there is to be gained by obeying Him: “I have to go around God for what I’m looking for rather than right to Him for the things I need in my life.” And we rebel, right? That’s the human story. “God, no thanks! I don’t want what You have for me. I want what I want for me!” That’s the human story. But what is God doing? He is restoring and recovering and pursuing a people to do things His way.
Dave: So, is that why you would say Scripture—because you walk this from Genesis, all the way to Ephesians 5. You get into 1 Thessalonians 4.
Dave: And you see, “Abstain from sexual immorality.”
Dean: God says it’s His will.
Dean: It’s God’s will for you, yes.
Dave: So, the question would be, and any high school kid or college kid is going to say, “Why?” I mean, you know, you hit it. It’s more than just sex, but even, I remember, even after sitting down with Bill, I remember hearing the good, but I also walked away with, “Why? Why not? What’s the harm?” You know, “I’m not married yet, but it can’t be that big of a deal.” But it is!
Dean: Yes; I compare it to fire in the fireplace.
Dean: You guys are from Michigan. You know all about a fire in a fireplace.
Dean: It’s a rare occasion down here in Florida where I live. [Laughter] But a fire in the fireplace is a wonderful thing! You know, put on the fuzzy socks; light the Christmas tree; cuddle together; watch the movie. People love fire in the fireplace. Fire in the couch is a big problem!
Dean: It’s not the fire that’s the issue; it’s the location of it. So, I think we need to help people see that we are not anti-sex. God is not putting up the hammer and saying, “Sex is bad.” It’s the location of it. It’s where He wants it to be for His best; for His design; for our good. So, I think for Christians—for professing believers—who are in high school or who are in college, it needs to be a critical part of discipleship.
In the same way, there are other areas of your life where you’re trying to grow, this is not exempt. If anything, this is maybe even more important than those things, because God is so clear on this throughout the Scriptures. So, we’re teaching people to have a Quiet Time and to have a prayer life, but we’re not teaching them sexual ethics at the same time. I think all those things need to go together.
Ann: So, what is the balance? Because [with] the purity culture, you can see how the purity culture came about. They’re saying, “This is really important!” And yet, there are some things that the purity culture, as we talked about, weren’t great. So, that healthy balance. Here, you’re saying, “Here’s God’s will. This is what He intended and He planned.” So, what’s the balance with it?
Dean: I think it is an all-in on God’s design for every area of life. God’s design for you at the workplace is, you know, to bring Him glory; to be a missionary; to work unto the Lord. You know, the President of my Christian university used to always say, “If it’s Christian, it should be better.” And by that, he doesn’t mean flashy. He means, if you’re a believer working in a business—
Dean: Excellence! There’s the word. Yes, because we’re working for a greater purpose.
Dave: An unblemished lamb; bring an unblemished lamb every day.
Dean: Yes, we’re working for a greater purpose.
Dave: The best you’ve got!
Dean: Right. All of us, in what we do, we’re working for a greater purpose than the people of this world.
So, that’s God’s design in [work]; God’s design for your family; God’s design for sexuality. So, I think we need to restore confidence in the Scriptures.
Ann: Yes! So, it’s not just one area.
Dean: The authority of Scriptures. Not just one area.
Ann: It’s everything!
Dean: But in general, God has given us His Word. One of the things I pray regularly before our congregation before I preach is, I thank God for the privilege of having the Scriptures. How amazing that our God has spoken to us! He has told us what He wants us to know. It’s amazing! I mean, think about the Creator of the universe [having] told His people what He has for them. So, I think we need to restore our confidence in Scripture. I think in our discipleship process. I think that youth ministries and college ministries need to be teaching it.
Of course, I do believe, for Christians, it starts in the home. Those conversations need to happen. You mentioned earlier, kind of as you go.
Dean: Put it as part of the “as you go” Christian story, rather than kind of isolating it. Yes, I do think we need to have that original, “Alright, here is what—I’m going to explain to you, as your father”—or whoever’s going to be in your life, like, “as your grandmother, as your mom”—“what God has designed, and what this actually is.” But from there, then it’s like, let’s place that in every area of our lives.
So, I would say, then, if you start dating someone, to have a conversation. I remember a family member of mine, my uncle, when his daughter started dating someone, and the guy started picking her up, he just pulled him aside. He wasn’t trying to be the macho dad, but he said, you know, “Here are my expectations.” And he explained to him his expectations in terms of how he treats her physically, and he said, “I’m trusting you with her.”
Dave: Oh, yes.
Dean: Yes; he said, “If her clothes cover it, you don’t touch it.” That’s what he said to him. And he wasn’t objectifying his daughter. It was nothing like that. He was just declaring expectations so that young man knew right then, and then his daughter also knew how important this was.
Dave: She probably wore gloves every time she went out on a date. [Laughter]
Dean: Yes, seriously! We’ve kind of lost that, right?
Dean: Either dad tries to be macho, kind of trying to prove a point, or he’s silent, absent, and passive during it. Instead, let’s just have someone who’s just clear.
Dean: Just clear on expectations like that. And then, you know, one of the things I tell my boys regularly is, “One of the most important things about you is how you treat ladies.” So that’s their mom and their sister in our house—my wife and their sister—and then, from there, that plays out to every other area of life. So, I think we need to elevate that as well. “This is what it actually looks like to honor the people in our lives.”
Dave: Do you think there should be a modern-day purity culture?
Dean: I think we—
Dave: A “true love waits” type thing, or just totally do it differently?
Dean: No, I think we just need—and I’m not trying to oversimplify this, but I think we just need—to teach the whole counsel of God.
Dean: I mean, really; because, if we isolate it, then you can see where it becomes this, “What is going on!” You know, this intimidation kind of idea; this pressure, when really it should be a joyful thing to follow Jesus, right?
Ann: A purity of lifestyle.
Dean: Yes, a purity of lifestyle. The whole counsel of God; joy of discipleship. Kind of like, a “Make holiness great again” thing. You know, not in a legalistic or Pharisaical—
Ann: That’s good.
Dean: Not in a legalistic or Pharisaical way, but responding to the goodness and grace of God.
Dave: Last thought before we end this one: you have a dad listening to you right now—
Ann: Or a mom.
Dave: —and a mom. It could be a blended family, you know, or whatever. They are being inspired right now, like, “Gee whiz! I’ve got a 12-year-old; I’ve got a 15-year-old. We’ve got to have a conversation tonight!”
Ann: An eight-year-old!
Dave: Where would you say to start?
Dean: Yes; I would let them know that you’re going to have that conversation, instead of just like busting at it out of nowhere. Just say, “Hey, I want to have a conversation with you. It’s really important, you know, for parents to have it with their kids. My mom had it with me (or my dad or someone had it with me). It’s what God says about men and women and marriage.” Then, go forward, and just see it, first, as teaching. Out of the gate, you’re teaching.
And then, from there, there are no dumb questions. Let them giggle in awkwardness if they need to for a minute. That’s okay. Let the innocence and the childlike faith be there, with what’s appropriate for that age. You know your child better than I do. You know what’s appropriate for that child at that stage of their life. Go ahead and have that conversation.
So, my advice is: don’t hesitate anymore. You know, my dad used to always say that, when I first started driving, I would say, “Do I turn my headlights on?” This is before they were all automatic, right? I’m showing my age. My dad would say, “If you have to ask the question, the answer’s ‘yes.’” Like, if you had to ask if you need to turn your headlights on, you probably do. So, if you think you need to have the conversation with your kids, you probably do. I don’t want someone else to have it first.
Dean: With my oldest, I was beaten to it.
Shelby: We’ll hear some more encouragement from Ann and Dean as you engage with your kids about having this potentially awkward conversation. So, I love this, because he said, “If you think you need to have the conversation, the answer is yes.” There are no dumb questions. Let them giggle. Let them feel awkward. That’s really good advice, helping us to lean in and engage in those conversations with our kids.
I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Dean Inserra on FamilyLife Today. Dean has written a book called Pure, and the subtitle is Why the Bible's Plan for Sexuality Isn't Outdated, Irrelevant, or Oppressive. The book is our gift to you when you partner financially with us today, in order to make more conversations just like this actually possible.
So, you can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, here’s some more encouragement from Ann and Dean as you engage with your kids, having potentially awkward conversations.
Ann: And I would add, too, there are a lot of mini-conversations along the way.
Dean: Along the way.
Ann: Kids are asking a ton of questions. I mean, we have grandkids. They’re asking questions at three and four, so do not be embarrassed to even go there and have those conversations and be open about everything so that, when the most important talks come, they won’t be like, “This is weird and awkward!” but “This is just an ongoing conversation.
Dean: Yes, they know boys and girls are different.
Dean: You know, those kinds of conversations: “God made us different.”
Dean: Yes, I think it’s great! “As you go,” that’s the story.
Ann: As you go!
Dave: As you go.
Dean: As we go.
Ann: Deuteronomy 6.
Shelby: We hope you’ll join us again tomorrow when Dean Inserra joins Dave and Ann Wilson once again to talk about how virginity is not the goal, but holiness is, and that churches really need to be ready to receive with grace those hurt by the sexual revolution.
That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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