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Integrating sexual health promotion within your organisation

Did you know that young people in Australia face higher risks of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) yet are less likely to undergo screening compared to the general population? This is just one reason that shows the need for professionals working with young people across NSW to embed sexual health promotion within their organisations. As professionals dedicated to supporting young people, you hold an important role in promoting healthy sexual practices, such as condom use and regular STI testing. But what does this health promotion look like in real life? Alongside the right policies and procedures, sexual health promotion is about enabling people to make the most informed decisions for their health and take control (over the things they can) to achieve good health outcomes. This includes fostering a culture where discussions about sexual health are welcomed, where resources and accurate information are readily accessible, and where staff are empowered and equipped to address sexual health topics and support young people to achieve the best health outcomes possible. 1. Provide access to staff training One of the most important elements of successfully embedding sexual health promotion into an organisation, is staff education and upskilling. There are various free training programs available from trusted organisations across NSW. If you’re short on time during the busy workday, you can include some of the online trainings mentioned below as part of new staff onboarding. They are a great way to introduce staff to sexual health promotion with young people and will greatly benefit both your organisation and the young people you work with. Sticky Stuff Online Developed by Yfoundations, Sticky Stuff Online offers engaging tools and activities for organisations and workers involved in youth care to promote sexual health. New to the topic? This is for you. Need a refresher? This can help. This free self-paced online training is free, takes about an hour, and grants a certificate upon completion. Access it through Play Safe Pro.    Nitty Gritty Online Developed by Family Planning NSW, Nitty Gritty Online is a free self-paced course with five modules, designed to build on from the knowledge gained in Sticky Stuff. The core module covers communication strategies, health literacy, consent, STIs, and contraception. The other four modules, each around 45 minutes long, focus on effective strategies for working with priority groups like LGBTIQA+ young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and young people with disabilities. This self-paced training also grants a certificate upon completion. Access it through Play Safe Pro. Play Safe Pro Play Safe Pro also has various easy-to-read factsheets, which provide additional information for working with diverse audiences: Sexual health promotion with young people of diverse gender and sexuality Sexual health promotion with culturally & linguistically diverse young people Sexual health promotion with Aboriginal young people Sexual health promotion with young people with a disability Trauma Informed Care Booklet (especially helpful if you work with young people in out of home care) While not formal training, these resources can be used to upskill in down time and learn more about working with diverse groups of young people. ACON Pride Training ACON’s range of paid LGBTQ+ inclusion and awareness eLearning will help your organisation improve safety and inclusion for people of diverse sexualities and genders (the LGBTQ+ community). They can also work with your workplace to arrange bespoke training packages, and in-person training. 2. Assess your values and create a supportive environment As well as training staff on the facts around sexual health, think about the culture of your organisation. What can be done to create a safe space, where young people feel comfortable talking openly? Setting your organisation up Is your organisation set up to create a supportive environment around sexual health promotion? Play Safe Pro has developed an organisational checklist to help you assess where you are at and plan sexual health activities as part of your work. It is based on the five areas of action for health promotion in the integrated health promotion kit by Vic Health. Organisational policy As part of creating a supportive environment, having an organisational policy that ensure all young people have access to the information and support they need to achieve optimal sexual health and wellbeing, is important. Not sure where to start? We have drafted a model policy you can use to adapt to your organisation’s needs. It outlines the rationale for developing a safe, non-judgemental and sex positive environment that provides the best possible sexual health outcomes for young people. As part of creating a safe space and before speaking with young people about sexual health or sexuality, it is important to be familiar with your own beliefs and values. Play Safe Pro has a factsheet that can help with exactly that. Other proactive steps you can take to create a supportive environment when chatting with young people about sexual health, are: Always use age-appropriate language Actively listen to and validate concerns, and address them honestly Keep explanations clear and free from medical jargon. When needed, call in the experts like Nurse Nettie who can help you answer questions you’re not quite sure about Emphasise that sexual health is not a shameful topic – explain that it’s important to look after sexual health in the same way you’d look after your physical and mental wellbeing Never make an assumption about a person’s sexual identity or their sexual behaviour. 3. Example sexual health topics to discuss with young people Sexual health is complex and there are many different topics that may come up in conversations. However, some of the most important messages to covey to young people are: Regular STI testing Encourage young people to prioritise regular STI testing. Discuss the importance of testing, where to get tested, and how often it should be done. These resources can help: Navigating STI testing: Separating fact from fiction for young people Sexual health Check Fact Sheet And example statements you might use in conversations, are: “Regular sexual health checks are simple and usually only require a urine sample and sometimes a blood test.” “Most STIs can be easily treated with a short dose of medication.” “If you’re sexually active, have a sexual health check once a year or every time you change partners.” “STIs often have no symptoms so people may not know if they have one. If left untreated, STIs can lead to health problems.” Safer sex practices Discuss the importance of safer sex practices, such as using condoms and other forms of contraception, to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancies. It’s particularly important to be well-versed in condoms, as they are 99% effective when used correctly so are a great one to be able to talk about confidently. These resources can help: Condom Ordering Tool (did you know we provide free condoms to services working with young people) Condom Protocol – guide to providing condoms at your service Condom Card Game Contraception conversations: Supporting young people And example statements you might use in conversations, are: “Contraception is the best protection against unintended pregnancy.” “There are many different types of contraception available. Talk with your GP about which would suit you best.” “Condoms are the best protection against STIs.” “Take condoms with you when you go on a date, whether or not you think you might need them.” Consent Educate young people about the significance of consent during everyday life and sex. Explain what consent means, how to ask for it, and how to respect someone’s decision if they say no. These resources can help: Beyond yes and no: How to navigate conversations about consent with young people Consent Age and the Law Fact Sheet  And example statements you might use in conversations, are: “Just because you agree to going out with someone, doesn’t mean you have to have sex. It can take time before you, or your partner, feel ready.” “You may consent to sexual activities, but you can still change your mind at any time, for whatever reason, and your partner must respect your decision.” 4. Incorporate sexual health discussions into the day-to-day If you’ve completed training, delved into your values and familiarised yourself with the latest information on sexual health, condoms, consent and STIs, it’s time to make sure that everything you’ve learned is put into practice. Continual staff training and development: Implement or ensure you take part in training sessions to ensure you feel confident and equipped to initiate conversations about sexual health with young people. This ongoing development ensures that staff remain up-to-date and comfortable with addressing the topic of sexual health. Sign up to the PS Pro newsletter for new tools and resources. Utilise sexual health promotion resources: Introduce resources like posters into your service environment to foster spaces that encourage conversations and normalise STI testing and condom use, and don’t forget to order your free condoms. These materials can act as conversation starters, sparking interest and encouraging dialogue about sexual health among young people Normalise discussions: When you’re speaking with young people, integrate discussions about sexual health into broader conversations about overall wellbeing. By weaving these topics into everyday conversations, you help normalise discussions around sexual health, reducing stigma and promoting a culture of openness. Our Talking About Sexual Health Tool offers a practical way to do this: STEP 1 – Seek permission: Begin by asking for permission to discuss relationships and sexual health. This demonstrates respect and helps young people feel safe. STEP 2 – Open the conversation: Find out what the young person already knows and let them guide the discussion. Use open ended questions like ‘What do you already know about…?’ (e.g. sexual health/condoms/STIs/going on a date). STEP 3 – Provide information: Provide relevant information to address concerns and expand on existing knowledge, such as the importance of condom use and regular sexual health checks. STEP 4 – Check-in: Acknowledge their thoughts and understanding of what you’ve spoken about – this gives you a chance to address any misconceptions. STEP 5 – Resources: Offer access to additional information and resources, such as websites or videos. STEP 6 – Referral: You’re not expected to be a sexual health expert, so always introduce them to appropriate support services, such as GPs or sexual health clinics for more information and support. Making sexual health promotion a natural part of your organisation’s culture is crucial. When conversations about sexual health are easy, resources are available, and staff feel confident discussing sexual health topics, we can help to improve the sexual health of young people across NSW.

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Beyond yes and no: How to navigate conversations about consent with young people

People ask for and give consent every single day. Not just in the bedroom, but in everyday life too. Can I have this chair? Could I borrow your pen? I haven’t seen you in ages, can I give you a hug? No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, consent is important. And when it comes to sex, consent is critical. As someone who works with young people, consent is a topic that is very likely to come up in conversations. Understanding what consent is and being able to help young people set boundaries and navigate conversations around consent with confidence, is important. We have put together six strategies to help you guide those conversations. 1. Know the age of consent In New South Wales (NSW), the legal age of consent for sexual activity is 16. However, many young people may begin to explore relationships and behaviours at an earlier age as a natural part of their healthy sexual development. While the age of consent for sexual activity in NSW is 16, it also important to know that the age of consent in Australia differs across each state. 2. Be clear on what consent is Consent, as defined by the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, is a continuous and voluntary agreement between people involved in any form of sexual activity – not just vaginal, oral and anal sex but also other sexual activities like: engaging in masturbation alone or with partners kissing body rubbing using sex toys phone sex or ‘sexting’ reading or watching pornographic material As Youth Law Australia says, consent requires ongoing and mutual communication and is freely and voluntarily given. If one of the young people you’re chatting with has questions about what consent is, give them real life examples of how we use consent every single day. For example, they might ask if they can borrow a friend or sibling’s personal belongings like a bike or clothes – that’s asking for consent. Another example might be taking someone’s photo or petting someone’s dog. Asking before doing it is important and always needed. What’s also important is how someone responds. Is their ‘yes’ enthusiastic? Or, are they hesitant and unsure? Remind young people you’re working with that enthusiastic ‘yeses’ are what’s needed for consent. Then, steer the conversation back to sexual activity, and explain that consent works in exactly the same way. Do they want to kiss someone? Ask! Do they want to try something new in bed? Ask! If they’re still wondering, ‘what is informed consent?’, share this ‘Consent is like a cup of tea’ video. It’s an oldie but a goodie; and really helps simplify the concept of consent. Finally, it’s also important to talk about when consent can’t be given – for example, if someone is underage, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, because they are under coercion (more on that below), or because they’re feeling scared or unsafe. Affirmative consent is also law in NSW.  Laws make it clear that if a person wants to engage in sexual activity with someone, then they need to do or say something to show consent, and a person needs to do or say something to seek consent. Under the new affirmative consent laws: You can’t assume someone is consenting because they don’t say no. Silence is not consent. Consent is an ongoing process. A person can change their mind and withdraw their consent at any time. A person can’t consent if they’re so intoxicated that they can’t choose or refuse to participate. Consent can only be given freely and voluntarily. If you force or coerce your partner into sex, it’s not consensual. Consent must be present for every sexual act. If someone consents to one sexual act, it doesn’t mean they’ve consented to others. A person can’t consent if they’re asleep or unconscious. 3. Understand the role of boundaries When chatting with young people about consent, introduce them to the concept of boundaries and how they can develop their own, and respect others’. One way of explaining this is: Boundaries are like the invisible lines that define the limits of what we’re comfortable with and what we’re not. When we respect others’ boundaries, it means understanding and accepting when someone says ‘no’ or expresses discomfort. It’s also important to express your own boundaries and communicate what you are and aren’t comfortable with. Boundaries aren’t fixed; they can change over time and vary from person to person. That’s why open communication is key. But it’s worth the effort – because, by understanding and respecting boundaries – we create a space where everyone feels safe, heard, and respected. 4. Give practical examples By providing clear examples to young people, you can help equip them to handle any real-life situations that might arise. Below are a few examples you could use to guide conversations. Reinforce the need to check in regularly and make sure that the other person is still comfortable, especially if they start to look unsure, are not responding or look a little distant. However, while body language can offer cues about comfort, verbal communication is essential, and it’s always necessary to directly ask for consent. SITUATION WHAT TO ASK SAYING YES OR NO Before sexual activity Can I kiss you? I was thinking about trying oral sex, how do you feel about that?  I’d like to have sex, would you? It’s OK, no matter what your answer is Do you want to do what we were doing yesterday? I would really like to___would you be into that? Yes, I’d love to!  I know I did that yesterday, but I’m not comfortable today – can we just do___instead? I’m not ready yet, but I’m happy to___ I don’t want to try that During sexual activity Do you want to keep going? Does it feel good for you Do you feel comfortable doing this Is this okay? That feels good, I’d like to carry on Okay, I’m not as into this as I thought before, I want to stop here   Revoking consent Consent can be revoked at any time with no reason given. Some things young people could say are: I’ve changed my mind and I want to stop I’m not feeling this anymore. I want to stop It is also important to help young people spot coercion and peer pressure and offer advice on how they can handle the situation. Being pressured might look like: If you loved me, you would ____ Come on, everyone else is doing it. What’s wrong with you? Please I really, really want to. You’re being unfair A firm no or action that shows discomfort is all that is needed, and if someone continues to pressure them to do something they don’t want to, this is coercion. Support and guidance is available for anyone who has or is experiencing coercion or assault (see our referral pathways below). It is also important to keep in mind your Mandatory Reporting responsibility for disclosures that may arise from discussions around consent. Get interactive We have a detailed Consent & the Law Fact Sheet that supports this article. Other tools that can help guide discussions are our Scenarios and Alphabet Soup tools which offer an interactive, informal way to guide conversations around consent, STIs, and sexual health in general. Consent is a complex yet highly important subject for young people, and we hope that this article has helped prepare you for these conversations. Remember – it’s always important to recognise the limitations of your role, and immediately direct young people to other sources if they have concerns, questions, or are in immediate danger. 1800 Respect – a confidential information, counselling and support service for people experiencing domestic or sexual violence Relationships Australia – provider of relationship support services for individuals and families Lifeline – 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention Fullstop Australia – provides counselling, training and advocacy to support people impacted by sexual, domestic and family violence NSW Sexual Assault Services – every NSW local health district has a Sexual Assault Service that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week NSW Sexual Health Infolink – for general sexual health and STI enquiries 000 if they are in immediate danger

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Navigating STI testing: Separating fact from fiction for young people

Getting regular sexually transmissible infection (STI) testing is an important way that young people can look out for their health and is a normal part of a healthy sex life. Navigating where to go, what’s involved in getting an STI test and what it might cost can be tricky – especially if it is the first time a young person is getting tested. In this article we delve into all things STI testing so you can be ready to answer any questions young people you’re working with might have. What you need to know about STI testing 1. What is an STI test like? It’s normal for a young person to feel nervous about getting an STI test (also known as a sexual health check), but the good news is that it’s a straightforward process, and often free at bulk billing GPs. It’s also confidential (more on that below) which should help make them feel more comfortable about getting tested. As for the actual process, STI tests are quick and easy, usually requiring a blood test and either a self-collected swab, or a urine sample. The important thing is to let them know not to worry – their doctor will talk them through the process. 2. How often should someone get tested? This depends on a person’s specific needs and levels of risk. Generally, STI testing for young people is recommended every 6-12 months. However, testing more often might be needed depending on the kind of sex a young person has, their sexual health history, what medication they take (for example PrEP) and a range of other things. Testing may also be needed more regularly if a young person has had condomless sex, if they are experiencing any symptoms (not all STIs have symptoms though), if they have a new sexual partner, or if they are man who has sex with men. 3. Where to get an STI test? STI testing is widely accessible across NSW through various services. Young people can find their local STI testing location by visiting the Play Safe website as well as the healthdirect website. These services include: GPs: GPs can diagnose, treat, and provide information about STIs (as well as general health concerns), however some young people might be nervous about heading to a GP as they might be worried their family may find out, or may not even have a regular GP. Rest assured, GPs must keep health information confidential, unless a concern about duty of care or risk of harm comes into play. Sexual health clinics: These are confidential and free clinics run by NSW Health, mainly for people at higher risk of STIs and HIV. To find out about your local sexual health clinic, you can contact the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 (Monday – Friday). The Sexual Health Infolink can also find the most suitable service for your young person. Alternatively, Play Safe and healthdirect also outline a range of services available for young people. Youth centres: Some youth centres offer free STI testing for people under 25. Check out the headspace website for locations. Peer based models: Specialised services like aTEST and Check OUT clinic offer STI testing that is peer led. These services are run for the LGBTIQA+ community, by members of the community and are primarily run in the Sydney metropolitan region. Aboriginal Medical Services (AMSs): These locations provide culturally safe healthcare, including sexual health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. AMSs’ are bulk billed meaning there is no cost to see a health professional at these services. Family planning services: Family Planning NSW offers reproductive and sexual health services, including STI testing for young people. Some of their clinics like Penrith and Newcastle offer youth drop-in services on particular days of the week meaning no appointment is needed. To find out more, head to the Family Planning NSW website. Telehealth and online services: Telehealth services usually involve having an online video conversation with a doctor instead of visiting a doctor in person. Telehealth and online services can be great first steps and a great option for sexual health check ups, however, may not be suitable if a young person is experiencing any symptoms. If the doctor thinks that you should be tested for STIs, they will email or text you a pathology referral. You can then visit the relevant pathology provider/service to get the tests you need. If you have a Medicare card, the tests may be free but you may still need to pay the doctor for the appointment. There are many telehealth/online options so it’s a good idea to compare prices and choose a service with Australian registered doctors. Want to know more? You can read and share Play Safe’s most recent article on how to choose the right STI testing service. 4. How much does an STI test cost? If a young person has a Medicare card, they can get an STI test at a bulk-billing GP practice at no cost. If a young person gets an STI test at a non-bulk billing or part-bulk billing GP practice, the pathology (urine, swab and blood tests) will be free, but there may be a cost to see the doctor to get the test. There are a number of other testing locations that young people can go to. It is best to call each service to find out what their costs are. 5. Are STI tests confidential? STI tests and a person’s results are always confidential, so there’s no need for young people to worry about anyone finding out. If they’re over 14 years old, their entire Medicare records are kept confidential – even from their parents. You can share Play Safe’s information on confidentiality with young people to help put their mind at ease. 6. How long do STI test results take in Australia? STI test results are often very quick (within one week) and can even arrive via text message. When a young person gets their STI test, their doctor should let them know how and when they will get their results. If you’re supporting a young person to book their appointment, or to get there, remind them to ask their doctor when and how they’ll get their results. Dispelling common myths about STI testing There are so many myths around testing, and as someone who works with young people, it’s important to be prepared to debunk them. Myth 1: Only people who have multiple sexual partners or engage in risky behaviors need STI testing Anyone who is sexually active could be at risk of an STI and should have a regular STI test. STIs can be passed on through any type of sexual activity, including oral and anal sex. Myth 2: A person will always have noticeable symptoms if they have an STI This is a common one! Many STIs can be asymptomatic, meaning a person may not have any noticeable symptoms or know that they have an STI. Regular STI testing is important because it not only helps detect infections early, but also allows for prompt treatment and prevention of ongoing complications. Myth 3: STI testing painful and invasive STI testing is typically quick, easy, and straightforward. Depending on the type of test, it may involve providing a urine sample or a swab of the genital area (usually self-collected) as well as a blood test. Healthcare professionals will always make sure that the testing process is as comfortable and discreet as possible. They’ll ask for consent before starting any type of test and talk their patient through the process. Myth 4: STI testing is only necessary before having sex with a new partner Regular STI testing is important for maintaining sexual health, regardless of relationship status or sexual activity. It’s recommended for young people to get tested regularly (typically every 6-12 months), and more often if they have multiple sexual partners, engage in regular condomless sex, are experiencing any symptoms (not all STIs have symptoms though), or are a man who has sex with men. Myth 5: Condoms provide complete protection against STIs Condoms are highly effective in reducing the risk of getting an STI, but they don’t provide complete protection. Some STIs, such as genital herpes, can be passed on through skin-to-skin contact and a condom doesn’t cover all parts of skin around the genitals. While condoms offer great protection, getting regular sexual health checks is important. Help them get their regular STI test booked in So, there you have it – everything you need to know to help put young people’s minds at ease when it comes to STI testing. The main thing to remember is to let them know that getting tested is normal, confidential, straightforward and often free. You can support them to use the STI clinic locator or call NSW Sexual Health Infolink for more information or to get their regular STI test booked in. Our Youth Worker factsheet summarises this article in an easy to read resource. Check it out! If young people themselves want to know more about how they can prepare for their first sexual health check, you can point them in the direction of our Getting ready for your first sexual health check factsheet.

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Syphilis 101: A resource for professionals working with young people

Did you see the latest from Sydney’s Kirby Institute? Australia is seeing its highest number of syphilis cases in a decade. If you’re working with young people and they have questions or concerns about this, a little bit of knowledge can really make a difference in reassuring them. Now, you don’t have to be an expert, but it’s always good to be prepared. This article will help you get ready for any questions that might come your way. We’ll cover the basics of syphilis, including how it’s transmitted, its symptoms, and the available treatments. Plus, we’ll discuss how to create a safe and supportive environment for the young people you’re working with. Six strategies for talking to young people about syphilis 1. Understand what syphilis is What is syphilis? Syphilis is an STI caused by the bacteria Treponema Pallidum. The good news is, it’s treatable with antibiotics and injections. However, if left untreated, it can lead to some serious and sometimes life threatening health issues. Some of the common symptoms of Syphilis include: Painless ulcers around the mouth, genitals, or anus A red rash on the body, especially on the palms and soles Syphilis transmission happens through skin-to-skin contact during oral, vaginal, or anal sex, particularly when there are symptoms like ulcers or rashes. Even though syphilis symptoms may go away on their own, the infection will stay in the body until a person has treatment. Treatment is the key to saying goodbye to syphilis for good. 2. Let them know syphilis is 100% curable One question you’re likely to be asked by a young person is ‘can syphilis be cured?’ or ‘is syphilis treatable?’. As we’ve mentioned already, the good news is that syphilis is 100% curable through a course of antibiotics and injections. Of course, before treatment, it has to be diagnosed. Diagnosis happens via a blood test or the swab of an ulcer, usually by a doctor or sexual health nurse. After treatment, follow-up testing is completed to make sure the infection has cleared. When chatting with young people it’s important not to alarm them about syphilis or any STI. Instead,  encourage young people to have a regular STI test with their GP or healthcare provider. It’s an important step you can take to normalise sexual health and foster healthy decision making among the people you work with. For information on where a young person can get a sexual health check at or for other questions about STIs and syphilis, call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink (SHIL) to speak to a sexual health nurse. 3. Create a safe space Talking about sexual health can be daunting for both professionals and young people. As professionals, it’s important to do everything possible to make them feel comfortable to open up and talk about what’s on their mind. Let them know they’re in a safe space where there’s no judgement and no silly questions. Keep your answers simple and clear, avoiding unnecessary jargon. And remember, validation of feelings and concerns can go a long way in building trust. If you’re asked questions you don’t know the answer to, that’s not a problem! You can explore the Play Safe website to find your answer, or call the the NSW Sexual Health Infolink (SHIL) to speak to a sexual health nurse. 4. Use it as a chance to speak about sexual health in general The best way to protect against syphilis is to use condoms and to get regular STI tests.  When chatting with young people, speak about sexual health in general and how condoms and regular testing are the cornerstones to staying safe and enjoying sex with all of the fun and none of the worry. A good resource for them would be the 30-second ‘Could I have an STI?’ quiz on the Play Safe website, which will let them know in no time if they need an STI test or not. Don’t forget to give free condoms to anyone who needs them too. You can order a bag of 144 Play Safe branded condoms and lubricant to your service for free every month using Play Safe Pro’s condom ordering tool. 5. Use interactive tools to encourage conversations in a group setting Interactive games can be a fantastic way to break the ice and open up conversations around sexual health with less pressure than a straightforward conversation. Why not try the Handshake Game? This easy-to-follow game visually demonstrates the transmission of infections such as syphilis and the benefits of safe sex. It only takes around 10 minutes and is suitable for up to 30 people. Everyone who takes part will be introduced to sexual health concepts relating to safer sex, STIs, and sexual health testing and treatment — without an awkward moment in sight. 6. Always refer to a healthcare professional While it’s important to be able to open up conversations with young people about syphilis and sexual health, it’s always important to know the scope and limitations of your role and to direct them to a GP or their healthcare provider for personalised information, testing, and treatment. If they’re unsure where to go, they can give NSW Sexual Health Infolink a call, or they can use the online ‘Where can I get tested?’ tool on the homepage of the Play Safe website. Helpful external resources If you want to learn more about syphilis to guide your discussions with young people, or someone in your service wants to know more, check out the links below. Play Safe website NSW Health Fact Sheet Health Direct website

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