How do I start talking about sex and relationships?

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Sex and relationship therapist Maria Schopman encourages parents to try and remember what it was like to be a teenager.

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Maria SchopmanMaria Schopman: It is easy to forget that you were once a teenager, isn't it? Can you remember how you felt as a young person going through puberty? Starting to have an interest in the opposite sex? How did you feel? What questions did you want to ask?

When I use the word sex, I'm not just talking about intercourse. I mean sex in a broader sense. Sex is about our bodies, our sense, our minds. Approach your children as young people on the verge of adulthood, who are discovering they have sexual needs. When many parents talk about sex with their teenagers, they base it around infections and pregnancies, but young people want more than just the biological facts. They want to talk about the sensual, emotional side of sex.

However, it is a two way street. You must be prepared to listen as well as give advice. Using a storyline from a soap or a television programme is a good way of raising a subject. Try telling them about the house rules you had when you were younger, and how you dealt with them. You need to make them realise that you were their age once.

Talking about sex should be an ongoing conversation that, where possible, involves mum and dad. By raising the subject, you have broken the ice. Remember, sex is a healthy, normal part of everybody's life. Have a look at this family, who are just starting to open up about sex.

The Harrison family

The Harrison family Maria: OK, who thought it was a good idea to come and see me, and why?

Teenager: It was my idea because I feel there's a lack of communication between us three, and I thought this might help us. No matter how someone might say to you "Just go and talk to your mum", it's not as easy as that because you feel awkward. I'd love to be able to speak to you more and tell you more, but the reason why I can't is that I know that you judge. It's really difficult to be able to sit down and talk about it.

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Teen viewpoint: Jemma and Hayley suggest parents should keep the conversation casual.

Jemma and HayleyHayley: I think parents should really speak to the children about sex and relationships more casually. It shouldn't be made into a big deal. You should be confident when you speak to your child because you should have a good relationship anyway. It shouldn't be made into a big farce - it should be airy and light and right to the point, where you're not jumping down your child's throat. So it should just be calm and relaxed, and not a massive thing to be speaking about.

Jemma: It's probably best if you're already talking about something and you gradually build it in. You don't give them a chance to run off then, do you? If you're already talking and you're good friends with your child as well, talk to them as if you're talking to a friend. You're not sitting them down, pointing a finger in their face and saying "Don't do this - this will happen". You've just got to be more casual about it - don't bite their heads off and scare them.

Teen viewpoint: Liam and Courtney want parents to draw on their own experiences.

Liam and CourtneyLiam: Parents should start the conversation, I think, by chatting about it. I remember my head teacher talking to us about it at the end of Year 5. He started off by saying what his experience is of it, and then he got into us. So I think parents should do that - they should tell the children their experiences, and then go on to your experiences, and stuff like that.

Courtney: I reckon they should start off the conversation by saying "Oh, we're going to have this talk" and not get straight into it, because it could be like - "Woah!". They should just talk about their experiences, and how it was when they were younger, and how they understand what you're going through.

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Bare Facts

Everything parents ever wanted their children to know about sex, love and relationships but were too embarrassed to tell them

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