Creative Nonfiction

When They Start Asking Questions

STEPH AUTERI has written about sexuality for The Atlantic, Vice, Pacific Standard, and other publications. She is the author of A Dirty Word.

“What’s that, Mommy?” asks my daughter, pointing to a long, clear plastic canister filled with individually wrapped condoms. The condoms are on my desk, next to my laptop, on which I’m typing an article on innovations in condom technology. “Open?”

“It’s a maraca, sweetheart. See?” I shake the canister so it makes a muffled schick-schick sound.

She doesn’t buy it.

“No! Open!” she wails, reaching for the canister, her fingers scrabbling to pop off the end piece. I roll my eyes because I can’t even, and then I pluck it from her hand. Place it out of reach.

I am all about educating my daughter, and I subscribe to the philosophy that sexuality education should begin at birth. At three, she already knows the proper names for all her body parts, and I gamely respond to questions about my nipples. But there are limits to what she’s developmentally ready for, and a discussion about condom use and other forms of contraception seems several bridges too far.

But when you

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