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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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Eight Strategies for Talking to Young People about HIV

Held every year on December 1, World AIDS Day serves as a reminder of our collective responsibility to combat the stigma around HIV. For professionals working with young people, this means being equipped with accurate information and effective communication strategies to talk about HIV and all things sexual health in a sex-positive and engaging way. Here are eight strategies to effectively navigate discussions about HIV, dispel myths, reduce stigma, and foster conversations with young people. 1. Establish trust When chatting with young people about sexual health, create a safe and confidential space for them to ask questions. Creating safe spaces is important to combat stigma and normalise conversations around sexual health. When it comes to HIV, there is a lot of stigma and many myths surrounding the virus. By creating a safe space for questions and discussions about HIV and sexual health, this will enable young people to ask questions, dispel myths and find the information they need. 2. Know the facts What is HIV/AIDS? HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) targets the immune system, the body’s defence against infections. Over time, if untreated, HIV can severely impair the immune system, leading to the development of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). There are a lot of rumours that go around about HIV, so let’s set some of those straight: You can’t tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them, you can’t get HIV by kissing or cuddling, mosquitoes don’t pass on HIV and you can’t get it by shaking hands, sharing cutlery or cups, or by eating food made by someone with HIV. What are the symptoms of HIV? Most people with HIV do not have symptoms. That’s why it’s important to always recommend regular testing to the young people you’re working with (more on that below).  Sometimes, symptoms of HIV can include:  flu-like symptoms  a sore throat  swollen glands  a rash How is HIV transmitted? HIV is only passed on through the semen, blood, vaginal fluid, anal fluid or breast milk of a person with HIV who has a detectable viral load. This means vaginal sex, anal sex, or sharing needles can pass HIV. HIV may also be passed from pregnant person to baby while in the womb, during childbirth or breastfeeding. Is there a cure for HIV? HIV is treated with medication that you take every day. This protects your immune system, prevents AIDS, and keeps people living with HIV healthy. Treatment is not a cure for HIV, but it can keep you healthy and help prevent passing it on to others. The sooner you start taking it, the better – it is for your lifetime wellness. People with HIV can now live long and healthy lives, and it’s important to highlight this to any young person who might be concerned. Who is at risk of HIV? In Australia, the groups most vulnerable to HIV infection include: Men who have sex with men People having sex with people from regions with high HIV prevalence People who inject drugs People who got tattoos or piercings overseas using unsterile equipment People having sex with partners are categorised as high risk for HIV transmission How many people have HIV in Australia? According to Ending HIV, there are an estimated 29,460 people in Australia living with HIV. Around 95% of people diagnosed were receiving HIV treatment, and – of those receiving treatment – 98% had an undetectable viral load (more on what that means below). 3. Understand the importance of PEP, PrEP and treatment Since HIV was first recognised 40 years ago, there have been major medical advancements which have helped reduce and prevent the transmission of HIV. Advancements in HIV treatment means that most people can achieve an undetectable viral load (UVL) and live live long healthy lives. PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis): PEP stands for post-exposure prophylaxis. It should be taken by people who have been exposed to HIV as soon as possible (within 72 hours). When taken correctly, PEP prevents the virus’s cells from replicating in the body.  PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis): PrEP stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis. It involves HIV-negative people taking antiretroviral medication to protect them and prevent HIV infection. When used as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective at preventing HIV infection. 4. Dispel myths Despite this progression, there are still a LOT of myths surrounding HIV. Here are three of the most common myths to dispel when talking to young people: Myth #1:  You can’t live a healthy life with HIV Treatment has evolved immensely since the introduction of combination therapy in the 1990s. Thanks to these advancements, individuals diagnosed with HIV today can live long, active lives. Myth #2: HIV can be transmitted through kissing, sharing food or cutlery cuddling Let’s set the record straight – as the Play Safe website says: You can’t tell if someone has HIV just by looking at them, you can’t get HIV by kissing or cuddling, mosquitoes don’t pass on HIV and you can’t get it by shaking hands, sharing cutlery or cups, or by eating food made by someone with HIV. HIV is only passed on through the semen, blood, vaginal fluid, anal fluid or breast milk of a person with HIV who has a detectable viral load. Myth #3: HIV-positive individuals can’t have sex Another benefit of modern treatment is that it means that it’s not only possible to still have a sex life, but there’s also no risk of transmitting HIV to a partner if the positive person has an undetectable viral load. 5. Highlight prevention strategies When chatting with young people, focusing on safe sex and HIV prevention strategies in the context of all sexually transmissible infections (STIs) is important. Use condoms: Condoms are recommended not only for reducing transmission of HIV but also for other STIs and to prevent unplanned pregnancy for sex that can result in pregnancy. If someone needs advice on how to use condoms, direct them to the Play Safe website or try some of the condom tools and games on Play Safe Pro. Get tested often: Regular testing for STIs (including HIV) is recommended for young people. Simplify U=U: You’ve heard us chat about undetectable viral loads (UVL) in this article a few times, and U=U is related to this. It stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable. As explained by Ending HIV: U=U refers to people living with HIV who take treatment, lowering the amount of virus in their body – known as the viral load – to a level that is called undetectable. When it reaches undetectable, it means that person is unable to transmit the virus to others, stopping HIV in its tracks.  Let them know about PrEP and PEP: If a young person you’re speaking with is concerned they are at risk of HIV, they should know about PrEP and PEP (which you can read more about above). Always refer them to a GP or NSW Sexual Health Info Link (SHIL) for advice.  6. Use interactive tools to encourage conversations The Play Safe Pro website is packed with interactive tools and games that make having sexual health discussions with young people easier. Games such as the Condom Game are a great way to start conversations about safer sex, HIV and STI prevention. Why not have a browse and see what tools will help you in your service? 7. Use age and audience-appropriate language Always tailor your language and explanations to the age and comprehension level of the young person you’re speaking to. Avoid medical jargon and use simple, clear terms – and avoid any words that can trigger fear. Another great way to keep people informed about their sexual health is to use storytelling from real people. There are lots of resources online that can help with this such as Play Safe’s Pros selection of curated videos on sexual health, and videos on the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA)’s YouTube channel.  8. Always direct to a healthcare professional If the young person you’re speaking with is concerned about HIV or believes they are at risk, support them to contact their GP or chat to a nurse at the NSW Sexual Health Infolink (SHIL) for more information. Additional resources If you or the young people you’re working with want to know more information about HIV, the resources below can help: Ending HIV website Play Safe website NSW Sexual Health Infolink ACON NSW Health HIV Fact Sheet

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Contraception conversations: Supporting young people

Contraception prevents unplanned pregnancy. It is an important part of having a healthy and fulfilling sex life, but with so many choices available, it can be overwhelming for a young person to know where to start. If a young person you’re working with has questions about contraception options, preventing pregnancy and safe sex, this article will help guide your discussion.  What is contraception? Contraception is used to prevent pregnancy. It’s sometimes referred to as birth control and includes various options, including the pill, implants, and injections. Anyone who is sexually active and can get pregnant should consider if they need contraception – it’s a personal choice that provides people with autonomy over their body and their future. It’s important to remember that contraception protects against pregnancy, but only condoms protect against sexually transmissible infections (STIs).  Types of contraception available There are many methods of contraception that work in different ways. The type of contraception a young person uses is their choice. A doctor can help them to understand the benefits and side-effects of different options and work out the one that best suits. There are four main ‘types’ of contraception:​ Hormonal methods (the Pill or the mini-pill, vaginal ring): Hormonal contraception uses hormones such as oestrogen and progestogen to make changes to the body to prevent pregnancy​. Long-acting reversible contraception (the hormonal IUD, the copper IUD, the Implanon and the contraceptive injection): Contraceptive methods that last a long time but aren’t permanent. Some use hormones while others don’t.  Barrier methods (the internal and external condom): Barrier methods stop the transfer of bodily fluids.​ These types of contraception also work to prevent STIs as well as pregnancy. Other methods (fertility awareness method, withdrawal method): These methods do not involve hormones or barriers to stop the transfer of bodily fluids and are usually less effective. Below, we explore these options in more detail.  A GP is the best person to discuss contraception options with a young person. Another excellent resource for young people is Family Planning NSW’s free and confidential Talkline service. Hormonal methods Hormonal contraception methods operate by gradually releasing either estrogen, progestogen, or both into the body via tablets or a device. A doctor’s prescription is required for all hormonal contraception options. Hormonal methods do not offer protection against STIs, so it’s important that young people know they still need to use condoms as part of a healthy and safe sex life.  The contraceptive pill: The combined oral contraceptive pill, commonly known as ‘the Pill’, contains two hormones (oestrogen and progestogen) and is taken daily, preferably at the same time each day. The oestrogen prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg and the progesterone thickens the cervical mucus, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. When taken correctly, the pill can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. There’s a lot of different brands of the pill that contain different hormone levels. Each work to prevent pregnancy in the same way.  The minipill: The minipill is also known as the Progestogen-Only Pill (POP). The minipill contains only one hormone, progestogen, and prevents pregnancy by thickening the cervical mucus so sperm can’t get into the uterus. Sometimes it also stops the ovaries from releasing an egg too.  It must be taken at the same time every day to be effective. When taken correctly, the minipill can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy.  Vaginal ring: The vaginal ring is a soft plastic ring which slowly releases low doses of two hormones, oestrogen, and progestogen. The ring is self-inserted and remains in the vagina for three weeks. After three weeks, the ring is self-removed, and a new ring is self-inserted a week later.   Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) methods LARC are contraceptive methods that last a long time but aren’t permanent. They’re a ‘set and forget’ option, which means young people won’t need to remember to do something every day. This also means they’re the most effective form of contraception.  Just like hormonal methods, LARC methods do not offer protection against STIs, so it’s important to remind young people to always use condoms anytime they have oral, vaginal or anal sex.  The Contraceptive Implant (Implanon): The contraceptive implant is also known as ‘the rod’ or the Implanon. It is a small plastic rod inserted beneath the skin on the upper arm, which releases progestogen slowly into the blood stream and can remain effective for up to three years. This is one of the most effective contraceptive options at 99.9% effective to prevent pregnancy. Hormonal IUD: The hormonal IUD, also known the Mirena or Kyleena, is a small ‘T’ shaped plastic device inserted into the uterus by a specially trained healthcare provider. It works by slowly releasing a very low dose of the hormone levonorgestrel and can prevent pregnancy for up to five years and is 99.9% effective at preventing pregnancy. Copper IUD: The copper IUD is a small t-shaped device made from plastic and is wrapped in a small copper wire. It is inserted into the uterus by a specially trained healthcare provider. The copper on the IUD is toxic to both the egg and sperm which prevents the sperm from fertilising the egg. Copper IUDs are 99.2% effective in preventing pregnancy and can also be inserted as an emergency contraception method.   The contraceptive injection: The contraceptive injection, also known by its brand name Depo Provera, is given every 12 weeks and prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation. In Australia, it’s sometimes referred to as ‘the injection’ or ‘Depo’ and is between 94-99.8% effective. Barrier methods Condoms are a barrier method of contraception and prevent the exchange of body fluids during sex. They offer protection against both pregnancy and STIs when used consistently and correctly.  External (male) condom: Made of latex rubber or non-latex polyisoprene and rolled onto an erect (hard) penis, condoms can be up to 98% effective if used correctly. Internal (female) condom: Made of pre-lubricated nitrile, the internal condom is inserted into the vagina before sex. With perfect use, it’s up to 95% effective.  Other methods There are a range of other non-permanent methods that can be used to prevent pregnancy. These include: Fertility awareness methods: The fertility awareness method, also referred to as period tracking or cycle tracking, is when a person monitors their period cycle and/or any fertile signs (cervical mucus, body temperature etc.) to see when they are most fertile. A person would need to avoid having sex during their fertile period (the week before ovulation until a day after ovulation occurs) to reduce their chances of becoming pregnant. Read more about pros and cons of this method here.   Withdrawal method: The withdrawal method, also known as ‘the pull-out method’ or ‘pulling out’, is when the penis is removed from the vagina during sex before ejaculating (orgasming/cumming). It’s typically only about 78% effective in preventing pregnancy because it requires precise timing to ensure the penis is fully removed from the vagina before ejaculating. It’s important to know that there may be some sperm in the fluid that comes out of the penis before ejaculation occurs too.    Emergency contraception Emergency contraception, commonly referred to as the ‘morning-after pill’ or ‘Plan B,’ can be used after unprotected sex to lower the risk of pregnancy. It comes in two forms: the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) and the copper IUD. Emergency contraceptive pill (ECP): This can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex, but it is most effective if taken in the first 24 hours. In Australia, you do not need a prescription, but can simply ask at the pharmacy counter. When taken in the first 72 hours (three days), it prevents about 85% of pregnancies, but doing a pregnancy test a few weeks later is recommended. It’s important to know that the ECP is not an abortion pill. The ECP can be between $5-40 per pill and shouldn’t be relied on as ongoing contraception.     Copper IUD: A copper IUD can also be used as emergency contraception. When inserted in the first 120 hours (five days) after sex, it prevents about 99% of pregnancies. Keep in mind that these need to be inserted by a trained doctor or nurse but could be a good option if someone is looking for immediate and ongoing contraception. We hope this has helped shed some light on the contraceptive choices available in Australia but if a young person you’re speaking with wants specific advice, always direct them to their GP or a family planning clinic.  Choosing the right contraception There are many contraception choices available, so it can take some time for a young person to research and understand the different options.  If you’re chatting with someone about contraception, you can help them to research the different options available to them and support them to chat with a GP, who will be able to advise on: Effectiveness Ease of use Any side effects Reversibility Cost and availability Benefits and disadvantages Impact of any existing health issues on contraception choice Before going to their GP, you can encourage young people to read through the fact sheets on Family Planning NSW’s website or Body Talk, along with the latest blog about contraception on the Play Safe website. These are fantastic resources that provide an overview of the different types of contraception, how it works, the pros and cons, where to get it, and how to take it.  Reading these ahead of their appointment will help them feel prepared and also get a better understanding of their circumstances and preferences. They could even start thinking about things like: What is their lifestyle like? Is taking a pill every day tricky, or manageable?  What are their periods like? Some hormonal contraception can positively impact painful or heavy periods – this may be something they wish to consider. Thinking about these upfront will help them prepare for their appointment and prepare any questions they might have for their GP.  Whose responsibility is contraception? One question that might come up in conversation is whose responsibility contraception is. Although the person taking the contraception is the one who can get pregnant, if they’re in a relationship, fostering a sense of shared responsibility in contraceptive choices is important.  As Body Talk says: “It’s important to consider all the contraception types available and pick one that best suits you and your partner’s health and lifestyle needs”. How to talk to young people about contraception If someone is seeking specific advice on contraception, always direct them to a GP or Family Planning NSW’s Talkline service.  As with any conversation about sexual health, it’s important to create a safe, confidential and open environment.  Be aware of the person’s cultural and religious background: Some cultural and religious backgrounds may influence thoughts, attitudes and beliefs around contraception. These may show in someone experiencing shame or stigma discussing contraception or sexual health. Always be aware of these sensitivities, have youth-led conversations and ensure the young person you’re working with is comfortable with the conversation. Consider LGBTQI+ inclusivity: When chatting with young people, be aware of using language that is inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ communities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual).  Use age-appropriate language: Tailor your language and explanations to the age and comprehension level of the young person you’re speaking to. Avoid medical jargon and use simple, clear terms.  Practice active listening: Listen actively to young people’s questions and anxieties, validate their feelings, and alleviate fears through accurate information. Address concerns honestly: Provide transparent information about contraception, its benefits, and potential risks, but always direct to a GP for further information. Helpful external resources If you want to learn more about contraception to guide your discussions with young people, or someone in your service wants to know more, check out the links below. Family Planning NSW Family Planning Talkline Body Talk International Student Health Hub Contraception.org.au Play Safe website 

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Tackling Herpes: A guide for professionals working with young people

Did you know that herpes affects 1 in 8 Australians? Clinically speaking, it’s an incredibly common and rarely severe skin condition, similar to a mild skin condition. Yet, there’s often unnecessary shame surrounding it. When chatting with young people, it’s important to calm any fears, let them know how common it is, and reassure them that their sex life is definitely not over. We’ve prepared this article to equip you with all the information you need so that you can dive into these conversations and answer young people’s questions with ease.  Let’s talk about herpes (and worry) There’s no cure for herpes, which means there can be a lot of fear and worry if someone has symptoms or has been diagnosed, especially if they have been diagnosed with genital herpes. They might be worried about what it means for them, their sexual health, and their future. As Play Safe’s sexual health nurse, Nurse Nettie, says, this worry is not usually about the infection itself but about the misinformation surrounding it. “Most people have herpes,” says Nurse Nettie. “So why do we act like it’s shameful? From a medical perspective, herpes is an incredibly common and rarely severe skin condition, nothing more! We tend to hear and read about the worst-case scenarios, but in reality, for most people, it’s so mild they don’t even realise they have it.” If the young person you’re speaking to is concerned, take the time to reinforce this with them and you can also direct them to Nurse Nettie for more information. What is herpes? Before we start delving into the most common myths around herpes — which will help you with any discussions with young people — let’s take a quick look at exactly what herpes is: Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) There are two main types of HSV: HSV1 and HSV2 Both can lead to uncomfortable and painful lesions and sores  Generally, HSV1 leads to oral herpes (commonly called cold sores), but it also accounts for approximately half of genital herpes cases HSV2 is rarely found in the oral region (but accounts for the other half of genital herpes) There’s no cure for herpes, but even if someone is diagnosed, they can continue having a healthy and active sex life with the right precautions. What are the symptoms of herpes? Many people with herpes show no symptoms and live their whole lives not knowing they have it. For those with symptoms, it usually starts with tingling or itching, followed by painful blisters or ulcers on the genitals, mouth, or anus. Symptoms last up to two weeks, but in more severe cases, they can last longer and be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, fatigue, fever and headache. How many people have herpes? Statistics show that around 75 in every 100 Australian adults have been infected with HSV1, and around 12 in 100 have HSV2. How do you get herpes? Herpes is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact during oral, vaginal, or anal sex, non-penetrative genital-to-genital contact, rimming, and kissing. The virus is most contagious when symptoms are present, but it can also be passed on asymptomatically (when no symptoms are showing). How do you prevent herpes? Using a condom or dental dam is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of contracting herpes. It’s also important to let young people know to avoid any sexual contact with someone who has symptoms and remind them that regular STI testing and condom use is the best way to stay protected from all STIs. How to talk to young people about herpes (and other STIs) When chatting with young people about herpes — or any STI — always use age-appropriate language, actively listen to and validate their concerns, and address them honestly. Keep explanations clear and free from medical jargon. Most importantly, emphasise that an STI diagnosis is not a source of shame and that treatment and management options are available. Remember, you can send them over to Nurse Nettie for more information on their specific situation. Dispelling the myths about herpes We’ve done some digging, and the myths below are the most common when it comes to herpes. You’ll know some of this already now, but by equipping yourself with the answers, you’ll be ready for any questions young people might have. Herpes is uncommon, so the risk is low Myth. Herpes is one of the most common STIs in Australia, impacting 1 in 8 Aussies. A lot of people don’t know they have it, as they never show any symptoms. Anyone who has had sex (including non-penetrative sex) can contract herpes. You always know when you have genital herpes because you have lesions Myth. A lot of people who have herpes have no idea they have the virus because they have no symptoms. If someone does have visible lesions, it’s often referred to as an ‘outbreak’ and it’s best to avoid all sexual contact during this time. A full STI test detects genital herpes Myth. Herpes isn’t part of a routine STI screening in Australia. However, if someone displays symptoms, a doctor can perform a herpes test by taking a swab from the ulcer or blister. Your sex life is over if you have herpes Myth. Lots of people who have herpes go on to have healthy and happy sex lives, with the right management techniques in place.That includes using condoms, avoiding sexual contact during any outbreaks, and taking antiviral medications (if recommended by a doctor) to minimise symptoms and transmission.The important thing is for young people to understand what herpes means and to be able to talk to their partners about it with confidence. Herpes can only be transmitted via penetrative sex Myth. Herpes is transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, which can include penetrative sex but can also include oral sex, rimming, kissing, or other activities where there is skin-to-skin contact between genital and/or oral regions. If you’re in a monogamous relationship and get herpes, your partner must be having sex with someone else Myth. Someone might have had herpes for years but never had any visible symptoms. So if they get symptoms whilst they’re in a monogamous relationship this does not necessarily mean that they’ve had sexual contact with someone else. Additionally, herpes does not transmit 100% of the time. So, it’s possible to have a long-term partner who has herpes and for the infection never to be transmitted to a partner. Want to know more about herpes? So there you have it. Armed with this knowledge, you’re well-prepared to tackle conversations about herpes with confidence. Remember, herpes is a common condition, and there’s no need for unnecessary shame.  By dispelling myths and providing accurate information, you’re not only empowering young people but also contributing to a healthier, more informed community.  If you’re eager to dive deeper into this topic, these additional resources can help: Dating with herpes – recommended read from Nurse Nettie Play Safe Low Down on Herpes Herpes.org.nz Herpes guide from ASHM

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Sexuality and sexual health education and working with parents, carers and families

Parents and carers are the first and continuing educators of their young people. They have a shared responsibility to determine what is considered appropriate, which includes sharing information as well as sharing personal and cultural values with their young people. The guidance document for schools on working with parents, carers and families about sexuality and sexual health education aims to support secondary schools in NSW in their communication with parents, carers and families about sexuality and sexual health education (SSHE) in school. These materials are for use by any school staff who are working with parents, carers and families. This document supports a whole-of-school approach, which recognises that SSHE messages are more effective when they are well-planned and consistent across schools and the community.   Download Guidance document for schools on working with parents, carers and families about sexuality and sexual health education   Documents in this series: Sexuality and sexual health education best practice statement Guidance document for school leaders on sexuality and sexual health education Guidance document for school wellbeing staff on sexuality and sexual health education Resources for parents, carers and young people  

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Sexuality and sexual health education for school wellbeing staff

Sexuality and sexual health education is a key aspect of overall health and wellbeing. In partnership with parents and carers, schools play a crucial role in equipping students with the age-appropriate knowledge, motivation, and skills needed to have respectful and healthy relationships and to support and enhance their sexual and reproductive health as they mature. The guidance document for school wellbeing staff on sexuality and sexual health education is to support school wellbeing staff in implementing sexuality and sexual health education (SSHE) within the scope of their role. Evidence based SSHE is intrinsically linked with respectful relationships and consent education. This document supports a whole-of-school approach, which recognises that SSHE messages are more effective when they are well-planned and consistent across schools and the community. A whole-of-school approach has been shown to promote communication and confidence, allowing staff to feel supported in their work with students and their communication with parents.   Download Guidance document for school wellbeing staff on sexuality and sexual health education   Documents in this series: Sexuality and sexual health education best practice statement Guidance document for school leaders on sexuality and sexual health education Guidance document for schools on working with parents, carers and families about sexuality and sexual health education Resources for parents, carers and young people  

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Sexuality and sexual health education for school leaders

Schools have a vital role to play in supporting the sexual health education of young people. The guidance document for school leaders on sexuality and sexual health education has been developed to provide guidance for school leaders in the provision of sexuality and sexual health education (SSHE) within their school. Evidence-based sexuality and sexual health education is intrinsically linked with respectful relationships and consent education. The document supports a whole-of-school approach, which recognises that SSHE messages are more effective when they are well-planned and consistent across schools and the community. A whole-of-school approach has been shown to promote communication and confidence, allowing staff to feel supported in their work with students and their communication with parents. Download Guidance document for school leaders on sexuality and sexual health education   Documents in this series: Sexuality and sexual health education best practice statement Guidance document for school wellbeing staff on sexuality and sexual health education Guidance document for schools on working with parents, carers and families about sexuality and sexual health education Resources for parents, carers and young people  

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Resources for parents, carers and young people

Parents and carers are the first and continuing educators of their young people. They have a shared responsibility to determine what is considered appropriate, which includes sharing information as well as sharing personal and cultural values with their young people. We have compiled a range of resources and professional organisations who provide evidence-based information and support on a range of sexuality and sexual health education topics. Topics include: Consent Puberty Sexual health STIs and more   Download Resources for parents, carers and young people  

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Best Practice Statement

Sexuality and sexual health is a key aspect of overall health and wellbeing. Schools play a crucial role in equipping all students with age-appropriate knowledge and skills needed to have respectful and healthy relationships and to support and enhance their sexual and reproductive health as they mature. The sexuality and sexual health education best practice statement provides guidance for planning, delivering and evaluating sexuality and sexual health education (SSHE) programs in New South Wales schools. The content is based on current research evidence and internationally recognised best practice for effective education in this field. Evidence-based SSHE is intrinsically linked with respectful relationships and consent education. This document supports a whole-of-school approach, which recognises that SSHE messages are more effective when they are well-planned and consistent across schools and the community. A whole-of-school approach has been shown to promote communication and confidence, allowing staff to feel supported in their work with students and their communication with parents.   Download Sexuality and sexual health education best practice statement   Documents in this series: Guidance document for school leaders on sexuality and sexual health education Guidance document for school wellbeing staff on sexuality and sexual health education Guidance document for schools on working with parents, carers and families about sexuality and sexual health education Resources for parents, carers and young people    

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Mpox (monkeypox): Need-to-knows if you’re working with young people

Did you know there have been five new cases of mpox in NSW in August 2023? With just a handful of cases in such a short time, it’s important to stay up to date with the latest information so you can chat with any young person who may have questions, or might be curious. Here’s everything you need to know. What is mpox? Mpox, is an infectious disease caused by the monkeypox virus. Usually transmitted via skin-to-skin contact, mpox virus symptoms include a painful rash or skin lesions, swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, muscle aches and severe fatigue. These symptoms usually begin 7-14 days after exposure but can take a few weeks to show. Most people with mpox only experience mild symptoms, but severe disease, especially in people who are immunocompromised, is possible. Who is at risk of mpox? Most young people in Australia are not at risk of mpox, but they could still have questions. Those who are most at risk of contracting the mpox virus are sexually active men who have sex with men and sex workers. It’s important to know that anyone in close contact with someone infected with mpox can contract it.  How is mpox transmitted? One of the most common questions you might get asked by a young person is ‘how do you get mpox?’. Mpox primarily spreads through skin-to-skin contact but also via respiratory droplets, bodily fluids like semen and contaminated bedding. Testing and treatment of mpox Mpox is diagnosed through lesion swabbing at sexual health clinics or by a doctor. As most confirmed cases are mild, treatment focuses on symptom management.  If a young person you’re talking to is concerned they have been exposed to mpox, chat with the NSW Sexual Health Infolink for information and support.  When it comes to mpox, it’s really all about prevention. Vaccination is recommended for people at risk. You can find out who is eligible for vaccination here.  Effective communication with young people There can be a lot of fearmongering and stigma around mpox and other sexually transmissible infections (STIs). As someone working with young people, you can play an important role in providing accurate information, alleviating fears and talking about sex and sexual health in an open and positive way. Always: Use age-appropriate and sex-positive language: Tailor your language and explanations to the age and comprehension level of the young person you’re speaking to. Keep it sex-positive, avoid any words that can trigger fear or shame, and trade the medical jargon for simple, clear terms. Actively listen: Create a safe and non-judgemental space where the young people you work with feel comfortable expressing their concerns. Listen actively to their questions and anxieties, validate their feelings, and alleviate fears through giving them accurate information. You can also support them to chat to a doctor, or to a nurse at the NSW Sexual Health Infolink. Address concerns honestly: Be upfront about mpox risks and prevention. Emphasise that the risk is low for anyone who does not fall into the at-risk categories, that most cases are mild, and stress the importance of knowledge and precautions about safe sex (especially safe sex practices, like condom use). How to stop the spread of STIs If you’re working with young people who are at-risk or worried about mpox or any other STIs, advise the following: Regular STI testing: Let young people know the importance of regular STI testing, especially if they are sexually active or considering becoming sexually active. Mention that testing can detect infections that may not display symptoms. Explain the testing process, including where and how to access STI testing services, and reassure them that it’s a confidential and straightforward procedure. Hygiene matters: Stress the importance of good hygiene, including hand washing, cleaning sex toys, or ideally avoiding sharing sex toys altogether. Contact tracing: Encourage sharing contact information with new sexual partners to make contact tracing easier. Condom use: Explain the correct and consistent use of condoms to prevent STIs. Emphasise that condoms are readily available and affordable, making them an essential tool for protection. Address any misconceptions or concerns they may have about condom use. Informed choices: Encourage young people to seek accurate information about sexual health from reliable sources. Discuss the importance of consent, communication, and mutual respect in sexual relationships. Help them understand that they have the right to make informed choices about their bodies and their sexual activities. Responsible communication: Highlight the importance of open and honest communication with sexual partners. Encourage them to discuss their sexual health with their partners, and teach them how to ask about their partner’s STI status and whether they have been tested recently. More about mpox If you want to know more about mpox, the resources below can help: NSW Sexual Health Infolink resource NSW Health mpox website ACON – mpox prevention factsheet Healthdirect – mpox resource World Health Organization (WHO) mpox factsheet Frequently asked questions about mpox Can you get mpox in Australia? Yes, you can get mpox in Australia but the risk is very low. Since May 2022, at least 58 cases have been identified in NSW. Most cases are mild. Most cases in Australia have been acquired overseas, but a small number of people have caught it locally. What are the symptoms of mpox? Mpox symptoms include a skin rash or skin lesions. Other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, headache, fever, muscle aches and fatigue. Avoid physical contact with anyone who has symptoms. What does mpox look like? The most visible mpox symptoms are the skin lesions or sores. These bumps can be pus-filled, open, or maybe look like a blister. Some people with mpox might have just a few sores; others may have a painful rash. Is mpox painful? Mpox sores and rashes can be very uncomfortable and itchy. For people who do develop symptoms like this, it may last 2−4 weeks. A doctor usually advises over-the-counter pain medication and hydration.  

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Sexual Health Promotion with Young People: Video Resources

Young people experience higher rates of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and lower screening rates than the general population in Australia. Here at Play Safe Pro, we have collated a range of videos that you can use to engage young people on a range of different topics around sexual health. Topics include: Sexual health checks and STIs Sexual health for International Students Sexual health for Aboriginal young people Ending HIV You can use these videos to initiate conversations or display them on screens within your service to show young people you are open to having sexual health conversations with them.   Everything you need to know about STIs and HIV Developed by International Student Health Hub in collaboration with students from the University of New South Wales Peers Advocating for Sexual Health (PASH) Program, these videos explore STIs and HIV from a student’s perspective. https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/08.-Play-Safe-Programs-International-Students-STI.mp4 Download video file to play remotely https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/09.-Play-Safe-Programs-International-Students-HIV.mp4 Download video file to play remotely   Frank Developed by Family Planning NSW, the Frank videos explore sexual health checks, STIs, testing and safe sex. When is a good time to get a sexual health check-up? https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/02.-Frank-When-is-a-good-time-to-get-a-sexual-health-check-up.mp4 Download video file to play remotely What are some of the symptoms of an STI? https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/03.-Frank-What-are-some-of-the-symptoms-of-an-STI.mp4 Download video file to play remotely What’s involved in getting a STI test? https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/04B-Frank-Whats-involved-in-getting-a-STI-test.mp4 Download video file to play remotely How common are STIs in 20 year olds? https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/05B-Frank-How-common-are-STIs-in-20-year-olds.mp4 Download video file to play remotely How to protect yourself from STIs https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/06B-Frank-How-to-protect-yourself-from-STIs.mp4 Download video file to play remotely   Yfoundations Developed by Yfoundations, this video explores sexual health from a young person’s perspective. https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/07.-Yfoundations-Are-you-ready-to-talk-about-sex.mp4 Download video file to play remotely   Take Blaktion Developed by Take Blaktion, these videos explore positive messages around condoms, safe sex and testing for Aboriginal communities. Condom Cupid https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/11.-Take-Blaktion-Condom-Cupid.mp4 Download video file to play remotely When should you test for STIs? https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/12.-Take-Blaktion-When-should-you-test-for-STIs.mp4 Download video file to play remotely Pregnancy, STIs and blood tests https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/13.-Take-Blaktion-Pregnancy-STIs-and-blood-tests.mp4 Download video file to play remotely What’s involved in getting an STI test? https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/14.-Take-Blaktion-Whats-involved-in-getting-an-STI-test.mp4 Download video file to play remotely   Ending HIV Developed by Ending HIV, this video explores HIV and HIV testing. https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/15.-Ending-HIV-We-test-for-HIV-and-STIs-four-times-a-year.mp4 Download video file to play remotely   Play Safe Programs Developed by the Play Safe Programs team, this video explore what you can expect when getting a sexual health check. https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/16.-Play-Safe-Programs-What-to-expect-for-a-sexual-health-check.mp4 Download video file to play remotely

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Trauma informed care: A guiding tool to discussing sexual health with young people

Engaging with young people who have experienced trauma around the topic of sexual health poses unique and sometimes complex challenges. It is important to engage young people with an experience of trauma, particularly those in Out of Home Care (OOHC) and justice services in sexual and reproductive health conversations. Through positive experiences of education and support, these young people can experience positive sexual health outcomes. This resource aims to assist you in having discussions about sexual health with young people through a trauma informed lens. Use of trauma informed practice will reduce re-traumatisation of young people and foster positive outcomes for all. This booklet was developed in close consultation with, and input from, leading OOHC and trauma informed services, and organisations.   Download Trauma Informed Care: A guiding tool for discussing sexual health with young people  

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Youth friendly checklist

Young people experience higher rates of sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and lower screening rates than the general population in Australia. General practitioners (GPs) are the main provider of STI care in NSW and play a key role in sexual health promotion for young people. Making your practice more youth friendly will help you enhance your connection with the local youth community and engage new patients. This checklist is for practice managers, GPs and other staff working in primary health care settings to plan how to improve health services for young people by making them more youth friendly.   Download Checklist – Youth Friendly Checklist for NSW General Practice  

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Youth worker factsheet

Youth workers can be the first point of contact for young people who have questions about sexual health and sexual health checks. As a youth worker, you have an important role to support a young person to access a sexual health service, a youth health clinic, Aboriginal Medical Service, or a GP for a sexual health check. This factsheet supports youth workers to have the knowledge to support young people around reproductive and sexual health.   Download Factsheet – Supporting young people to get a sexual health check.  

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Sexual health check factsheet for young people

A first sexual health check can be a daunting experience. Knowing what to expect can make the experience easier and help a young person prepare. This factsheet contains some useful information that can help young people out when going for their first sexual health check.   Download Factsheet – Getting ready for your first sexual health check.  

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Sexual Health and Peer Education (SHAPE) Program

What is SHAPE? SHAPE stands for Sexual Health and Peer Education. The SHAPE Program is a best practice peer education program for organisations that want to start a new sexual health peer education program with young people, incorporate sexual health into an existing peer education program, or enhance an existing sexual health peer education program. There may already be groups of young people attending your service or group activities who are suitable to be trained as peer educators. Why not engage them and encourage them to become peer educators? The SHAPE Program not only educates young people but also provides a great opportunity for young people to develop skills.   Why is peer education important? Peer education is an effective way in educating and changing behaviours to better address sexual health concerns amongst young people. The SHAPE Program not only educates young people, but also provides a great opportunity for young people to develop skills and communicate key sexual health messages in a comfortable and supportive way. To implement this program, you will need to download & review the materials below: Play Safe Pro SHAPE Checklist Download the self-assessment checklist which is for workers and services that want to start a new SHAPE Program or strengthen a current sexual health program. It will also help you incorporate sexual health topics into an ongoing peer education program. Play Safe Pro SHAPE Guidelines Download the guidelines which are for workers and services that want to start a new SHAPE Program or strengthen a current sexual health program. The guidelines will also help you incorporate sexual health topics into an ongoing peer education program. They provide essential information that will help you complete the SHAPE Checklist. Play Safe Pro SHAPE Training Manual Download the training manual to implement the SHAPE Program with your team. The SHAPE Program training manual provides step by step instructions on how to run the SHAPE program, train peer educators and incorporate sexual health as part of peer education. Covering everything from sexual health & peer education, skills training session and evaluation forms – you have the full program at your fingers. Play Safe Pro SHAPE Fact Sheet Download the fact sheet which offers more information and resources around sexual health peer education programs available in Australia. Check out peer education in action Watch UNSW students setting the record straight around STIs and HIV. https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Play-Safe-HIV.mp4   https://pro.playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Play-Safe-STIs.mp4   These videos were developed in collaboration with the students from the University of New South Wales Peers Advocating for Sexual Health (PASH) Program. NSW Health thanks them for their contributions.   More about SHAPE Promotional Toolkit  Tools  

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Gender affirming care: guidelines and resources

The Sexual Health Infolink (SHIL) have collected key guidelines and resources to support gender affirming care of young people. These include clinical resources, patient information, links to services that offer psychosocial support, resources for family and friends of trans and gender diverse young people, and guidelines for making your service more accessible and appropriate for young people of diverse sexualities and genders. Find more about gender affirming care on the SHIL site.

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Sexual health promotion for young people with an experience of trauma

Engaging with young people who have experienced trauma around the topic of sexual health poses unique and sometimes complex challenges. An experience of trauma can lead to poorer health outcomes. It is important to have discussions about sexual health and relationships with young people from settings where there is a likelihood of trauma in a young person’s history – such as young people in Out Of Home Care or justice services. This will help them to have positive interactions and experiences, despite what their history may be. The way to achieve this is by empowering these young people to confidently make safe choices based on accurate information. This fact sheet may assist you when working with young people in Out Of Home Care around the topic of sexual health. Download Factsheet – Sexual health promotion for young people with an experience of trauma.

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Sexual health promotion with young people with a disability

People with disability are a diverse group of people with diverse needs and experiences who are too often forgotten in sexual health promotion. The United Nations (2009) identifies people with disability as ‘those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual, or sensory impairments which, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others’. People with disability have the right to have sexual relationships, to access sexual health services and information, and to make decisions about their own bodies. Yet young people with disability often have numerous barriers to attaining good sexual health and wellbeing. It is commonly assumed that they don’t or can’t have sex, or that they don’t have diverse gender or sexual identities. Where these assumptions are held by support workers or professionals, this may impact a person’s ability to access sexual health information and services. Young people with disability, particularly young people with intellectual disability, may receive limited sexual health education at school and may therefore miss out on learning key sexual health messages. Sexual health programs and resources are often inaccessible or not suited to the person’s particular needs or circumstances. For more information on sexual health promotion with young people with a disability, see the references here. Download Sexual health promotion with young people with a disability.

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Using the Play Safe website

The NSW Health Play Safe website has everything young people need to know about safe sex, condoms, STI testing and treatment. It also has a range of interactive features for self-assessment and peer support. Ensure you are familiar with the website so you can help young people use the site to find the information and support they need. Features of the website are also great tools to use alongside your clients. Below are a few of the great features on the site. See playsafe.health.nsw.gov.au for more. Download Using the Play Safe website fact sheet PDF

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Consent, age & the law

In NSW, the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years. However, young people often express their sexuality earlier through behaviour with their peers as part of their normal sexual development. The challenge for the law and those working with young people is to ensure young people are protected from sexual exploitation but not disempowered or criminalised for normal sexual exploration. Distinguishing the behaviours that require a child protection or legal response, and those which represent healthy sexual development can be difficult. Resources that can help include: child protection policies and procedures, mandatory reporting guidelines, and guides to understand, identify and respond to sexual behaviours in children and young people. For more information on consent and the law, and sexual behaviours in children and young people, see the references here. Download Consent and the law fact sheet

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Sexual health promotion with young people of diverse gender and sexuality

This factsheet uses the acronym LGBTIQA+ to refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and asexual people. The ‘+’ symbol refers to individuals who are not represented by these terms and who are not cisgendered or heterosexual. Sexual health promotions often focus on messages for the heterosexual community. This provides LGBTIQA+ young people with little relevant information about how to look after their sexual health. High rates of STIs and pregnancy among LGBTIQA+ young people indicate the need for health promotions that are inclusive and relevant. This Fact Sheet below may assist you when working with these communities. Download Sexual health promotion with young people of diverse gender and sexuality fact sheet PDF

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Sexual health promotion with culturally & linguistically diverse young people

Engaging with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) young people around the topic of sexual health poses unique challenges. CALD communities in Australia encompass over 200 different language groups. This means that what may be appropriate for one person or community may not be appropriate for another. Sexual health can also be a very sensitive topic in many of these cultures. This fact sheet may assist you when working with CALD young people around the topic of sexual health. Download Sexual health promotion with culturally & linguistically diverse young people fact sheet PDF

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Sexual health promotion with Aboriginal young people

We need to be highly proactive and aware of cultural requirements when working with Aboriginal young people. These young people can face many barriers in accessing sexual health services and education, including a lack of access to culturally appropriate resources and services. This is also a culturally diverse group. Materials or approaches that are appropriate for one person or community may not be appropriate for others. Aboriginal young people are a priority population group in the NSW Health STI Strategy. The following fact sheet may assist you when working with Aboriginal young people around sexual health. Download Sexual health promotion with Aboriginal young people fact sheet PDF

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Sexual health activity evaluation tools

Evaluating sexual health programs can test the effectiveness of activities in prompting behaviour change and any increases in knowledge. The results can be used to advocate for more sexual health programs and provide information for reporting on program outcomes for funders and managers. You can print the evaluation sheet on the next page and use it at the end of activities and programs. You may choose to use a pre and post evaluation to track changes in knowledge and intention. The evaluation sheet template can be adapted to investigate the success of specific program objectives. Download Evaluation sheet template PDF

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Sexual health group work

Providing sexual health information to young people in groups helps create positive attitudes toward prevention, testing and treatment. This approach can counter negative messages. Sexual Health Group Work (I’ve add this in) invites young people to take responsibility for providing their peers with positive messages and strategies for sexual health and wellbeing. Group work uses proven, creative tools to encourage young people to canvass options, practise skills and explore values. The resource kit includes a range of activities that use group dynamics to explore an issue or generate ideas. The quality of these activities often depends on questioning, debriefing and reporting during and after the activity. You are encouraged to practise group work skills and obtain training in this if possible. Download Sexual health group work fact sheet PDF

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Talking to parents, guardians & carers

In this fact sheet, ‘parents’ includes guardians, carers and any other significant adult that may encourage, or hinder, young people’s engagement with sexual health. Actively engaging with parents about sexual health programs and activities may overcome potential misunderstandings and build parental trust and support for your work with young people. Research shows parents want their children to be well informed about sex, relationships and sexual health. Parents want to be kept informed about programs being offered. They also want reassurance that the people providing the information have the skills and qualifications to do the work in a way that respects the diversity of values among young people and their families. Parents appreciate communication about programs and their content, and value opportunities to discuss questions they have with workers. Parents often lack confidence in fulfilling their role as sexual health educators for their children. They often request information and guidance in sharing their values with their children. And they often ask for help with having conversations about sex, including how to deal with sexual health information prominent in the community. Download Talking to parents, guardians & carers fact sheet PDF

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Talking about sexual health

Youth workers are trusted as a source of information on sexual health by young people. They may want to talk to you about their relationships and sexual concerns, but want you to raise the subject first. So how do you start the conversation? The Talking About Sexual Health tool and guide are great approaches to facilitate conversation with young people about sexual health. These resources can assist you to understand what their thoughts and concerns might be, and how you can support and assist them in making informed decisions in relation to their sexual health. The tool is designed to jog your memory, with a quick glance you will be able to start the conversation and keep it on track. Adapt the tool as necessary for the young people you work with. The key steps of the conversation will generally be the same, however, the language you use or the opportunity to start the conversation will always be slightly different. This will depend on your service, the young person you are talking with, and the amount of time you have. Download Talking About Sexual Health Tool Talking About Sexual Health Guide

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Exploring values

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to values, just differing thoughts and opinions. It is possible for our values to shift and change over time, depending on our life experiences, the people we meet and the things we learn. It is also important to note that personal values may not align with organisational or professional values – and that’s OK. However, in planning sexual health interventions for young people, we need to have considered and reconciled these differing values. Download Exploring values fact sheet PDF

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Key sexual health messages

Clinical knowledge can change over time and there are many sources of authoritative information for workers and young people listed in this resource kit, such as the Play Safe website. It is important that health, youth and other workers use the same key messages about young people’s sexual health. The messages below are consistent in all the material in this resource kit. They are designed to help young people address their sexual health needs and concerns. You are in a unique position to design or identify opportunities to communicate these messages to young people and to guide them in developing strategies to apply this learning in real life situations. The Resource Kit includes activities chosen and designed to generate discussions with young people and provide opportunities to convey each of these key sexual health messages. Download Key sexual health messages fact sheet PDF

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Condom Protocol

You don’t need to be an expert in sexual health. But as a worker, you are in a great position to give young people the knowledge they need to make informed decisions and the skills to use condoms correctly. Making condoms available to young people is one of the easiest and most effective things you can do to protect their health – and the health of our population. This guide covers the ins and outs of providing condoms to young people, legal considerations and strategies for implementing condom distribution at your service. Download Condom Protocol Guide PDF    

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Model Policies

This policy ensures all clients have access to the information and support they need to achieve optimal sexual health and wellbeing. 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. Download Model Policies PDF

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Organisation Checklist

It will help you 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. Please use this checklist alongside the Youth Friendly Checklist for Health Services, Working with Aboriginal people and communities – Health and community services audit. Download Organisation Checklist PDF

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Sexual Health Advocacy

It includes advice for working with all young people, including those who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, LGBTIQA+, and young people with disability. Anyone working with young people can use this tool – including workers in youth services programs, schools, sports clubs, homelessness services, and youth advocacy and legal services. Sexual health initiatives are most effective when delivered as part of larger, holistic program provided by trusted workers. However, organisations may face barriers when being proactive with young people about their sexual health. These can include workers feeling it is not part of their role, management seeing sexual health as ‘too risky’, competing priorities, lack of resources and concerns around parent/guardian consent. This tool addresses these concerns by providing information to integrate sexual health into pre-existing programs and frameworks using Kotter’s 8-step change model. Anyone, at any level in an organisation, can be an effective advocate for change. By following these easy steps, you can help build your organisation’s capacity to support the sexual health of young people. Consider using this tool alongside the organisational checklist. It is designed to help you plan sexual health activities as part of your work. Download Sexual Health Advocacy Tool PDF

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