Australia’s population is made up of people from all over the world. This means that what may be appropriate for one community may not be appropriate for another. Sexual health is a very sensitive topic in many of these cultures.

Kanwal Saleem & Tapuwa Bofu (MHSS) spoke about some strategies that may assist in Engaging with refugee and migrant communities on sensitive issues – Sexual Health, BBV & STIs” at the CERSH 2021 Professional Development Day/Conference.

These strategies include:

  • Know your audience

Knowing communities, you work with helps to understand what people care about and informs about specific cultural issues related to sexual health.

Engaging with some populations may also require support and approval from community leaders to access these groups.

  • Choosing the topic

Do not use ‘sexual health’ in the session title as it can be a sensitive topic for some people. Promote sexual health sessions/workshops as a ‘health event’, ‘Men’s/Women’s health session’ rather than a ‘sexual health’ information session. 

  • Training peers/people from the communities

Being from same cultural background can also make conversations easier. Many people feel more comfortable when the facilitator looks like them, speaks the same language and is from the same cultural background.

  • Gender-segregated sessions

In some cultures, it can be inappropriate to discuss sex and relationships in a mixed gender environment. Ask the community groups you are working with if they prefer gender segregated sessions. Gender-segregated session also encourage people to ask questions about topics they generally feel shame about (particularly on topics such as menstruation, sex etc.)

  • Storytelling, pictures & interpreters

English literacy may be an issue for people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. Pictures (drawings and illustrations preferably) and images are great tools for people with low English literacy.

Professional interpreters and culturally specific resources may also help.

  • Training for service providers

Cultural competence training helps service providers to understand and communicate better with people from other cultures.

CEH provides practical & specialist training to make organisations, staff, and systems more responsive to clients from migrant & refugee backgrounds. For more information, please visit

To address cultural and language issues across all aspects of STIs, MHSS has developed Australia’s first and only dedicated STI Testing Website tailored specifically for Victoria’s multicultural communities

It includes plain language and in-language information for community members, as well as resources and social media assets to help health workers with conversations about sexual health with clients from non-English speaking backgrounds.