The Importance of Sex Education
Pranavi Hiremath explores the use of sex education to prevent child abuse in a powerful piece.
Caption (Fabiana Duglio: Artistic co-ordinator): The artwork by Ellie Ibbotson portrays her childhood trauma regarding her fear of bath-taking. It represents the power of disturbing memories in unleashing an overwhelming sensation of fear. Likewise, sexual violence and abuse have similar traumatic psychological impacts on victims - thus correct sexual education is key to overcoming the phenomenon and its lasting consequences on an individual and collective level.
“With trust, I let you in
With innocence, I believed
But you played with me
Blinded by innocence
I never realised you made me a victim
But soon to be shattered
Soon to be in pain and regret
As my innocence grew to knowledge”
Most children victims of child abuse are unaware of the crimes being done to them, which leads to them realising too late or is some cases not at all.
The fact that most people have a story to tell about their experience of sexual violence is extremely scarring and devastating. Although there isn’t an exact definition for what sexual violence or sexual assault is, the bottom line is that any intentional act of sexual advance: physical, verbal or imagery, towards an un-consenting or unaware individual, is a crime. Here, I say ‘unaware’ because unfortunately, even children are victims of sexual abuse and in most cases, children are not aware of what is happening.
Eradicating sexual violence from our society is a battle that has only begun. The most important step that should be taken to do this would be by teaching children about sex and sexual violence in schools. Sexual abuse towards minors usually occurs because they are vulnerable, unaware and most of the times the abuser is known and trusted by them. Even more alarming is the fact that the victims usually do not report or inform their guardian because either they are ashamed, confused or do not know that they have been abused.
Therefore, providing education in schools about what is wrong and what is right, educating them about sex, sexual abuse, what constitutes ‘good touching’ and ‘bad touching’, relationships and most importantly what they must do if they ever find themselves or their peers in such a situation, will help children set boundaries and will help prevent abuses and the consequent trauma. This will also help them grow into responsible citizens who are aware of how to treat others and not indulge in such a crime themselves.
Interviews and research have shown how due to lack of sex education, young girls and boys do not know about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and most importantly, are unaware of the importance of consent. Studies have also shown that being sexually abused at a young age causes mental health issues like depression, PTSD, substance use disorders, anxiety, eating disorders. Sex education and awareness at a young age can prevent harm and consequential mental health issues.
Sex education is still a controversial subject in most countries and has not been made compulsory to learn about, including in European countries as well. It was only in 2019 that the UK government’s Department for Education made sex education mandatory for primary and secondary schools in England. The curriculum was revised after almost 20 years (last revised in 2000).
Sex and sexual violence education have many obstacles such as economic factors, religious beliefs and differences in opinions. Even countries that have made sex education compulsory face backlash from parents because of their opinions and religious beliefs. For now, at an individual level, we have to be responsible citizens by trying our best not to cause any harm and not be harmed by taking measures to stay safe, talking to people you trust or professional counsellors in case of an unfortunate event. Do what you can to educate and spread awareness about sex and sexual violence.
Students at University of Edinburgh:
All the help and guidance the university provides.
More about how not having access to sex education will ultimately harm children and teenagers. This article includes how different communities react to sex education in the UK and how the victims and possible victims themselves are not being given a chance to have their say. Includes interviews of teenagers, young victims in the UK:
Sexual violence against children and prevention:
For more information on sex education in European countries, UK:
Sex Education in UK: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn06103/
Sexual Abuse and Mental health:
Pranavi is a second year Astrophysics student at the University of Edinburgh.