LANGUAGE MATTERS: Using respectful language in relation to sexual health, substance use, STBBIs and intersecting sources of stigma

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The words we use to discuss health and relationships can have a powerful impact on our conversations with and about the people who access our services. Research shows that the words used to describe someone can influence our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour toward them, including the care decisions we make as health or social service providers.

By being thoughtful and inclusive with our language choices, we can avoid using words or expressions that exclude groups of people or that are considered hurtful toward particular communities. Respectful language can also help us to be more clear and accurate when communicating with the people who access services.

Sexuality, substance use, and sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs) can be challenging to talk about. It is important that the diversity of people who access services feel safe and comfortable when having these discussions, and the language we use is a big part of that.

Our understanding of respectful and inclusive language continuously evolves as societal views change and individuals and communities choose to redefine their own identities. It’s important to keep in mind that the respectfulness and inclusivity of language about a particular group must be determined by the group itself.

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