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Teenagers have sex - you can't stop it and it's questionable whether you should. Obviously, it's preferable that they begin as late as possible but the important thing is they know what they are doing. But how can you ensure they know everything they need to know? The only way is by talking to them.

This may fill some parents with dread but it's usually not nearly as bad as you think. And if you think that discussing sex with your children will only serve to encourage them to go out and do it, you couldn't be further from the truth. Research shows that teenagers who have spoken about sex with their parents tend to wait longer before losing their virginity and more crucially they're more likely to practice safe sex.

How to talk to your child about sex?

- start young (before they reach their teens) and gradually increase the depth over time

- find out what sexual education they are receiving at school

- try to establish what they already know; you may have less work to do than you thought

- don't force your values on them; focus on getting the facts over

- don't overreact if they admit to doing something; alienation is the biggest danger here

- make it as informal as possible: don't start with 'sit down, I need to talk to you'

- understand that teenagers especially need privacy and may not want to talk about sex

- if you child is having their first relationship, always be their to offer support

The most important aspect of your role as a parent in the area of sex, is making sure they understand contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. After this, the best you can do is make sure you are there to give emotional support when your child needs it. You can't stop them having sex. If you sit them down and tell them you forbid it, you've probably just ensured they're half way to doing it. Sex is part of growing up and worrying about sex is part of being a parent. A couple of comforting thoughts is that our children are more informed than ever and our secondary schools are not a raving hot bed of underage sex.

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