"You put that word 'sex' out there, and the youth will come," Hanson said. "They want to know more, and they asked questions."
Her sessions at Purdue University were standing room only, attended by more than 200 people in two days. Hanson, the United Church of Christ's minister for sexuality education and justice, led a series of three workshops on sexuality and relationships.
A Wednesday workshop, titled "Let's Talk About Sex," and a screening later that night of a documentary with the same title, were meant to help adults communicate positively with teens about human sexuality. The sessions also explored differences in how teens and parents discuss the topic of sex in the U.S. versus Europe.
Hanson said when she visited Europe and spoke with people there about the effects of sex education, she got a first-hand description of the different attitudes between the two continents. Hanson said one man told her, "You Americans have such shame about sex." According to the documentary, European countries use sex education openly to inform teens to make responsible choices, such as abstinence, condoms or contraceptives. There are mass media campaigns, and the public accepts sexual activity as normal and healthy teenage development.
"Scientists in Europe have told me that our country has the best studies on sexuality," she said. "And that's what they rely on to develop their programs, and they tell me we're ignoring them."
During the Thursday workshop, which was more teen-centric than the other two, Hanson talked to more than 100 young people. The session went beyond basic sex education, and highlighted signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships by asking teens to respond to several scenarios for relationships – heterosexual and homosexual alike.
"I feel exhilarated because the ears are open and the passion for education is there," Hanson said at the conclusion of her Thursday workshop.
The workshops also aimed to dispel several myths. Critics of sex education claim it makes teens more sexually active, but Europe has a much lower teen pregnancy rate compared to the U.S.
Statistics provided in the film and on its website, on teen pregnancy and STDs in the United States are alarming:
• There are 750,000 teen pregnancies a year, 82 percent of which are unplanned, that cost U.S. taxpayers about $9 billion annually.
• One in four women has an STD, which costs the U.S. healthcare system $15.9 billion annually.
• The U.S. teen-pregnancy rate is four times higher than that of the Netherlands, and three times higher than France or Germany. American teens diagnosed with an STD outnumber those in the Netherlands 3 to 1.
Both adults and kids were equally active in the discussions by asking questions and offering their opinions. At the end of her sessions, Hanson distributed envelopes that contained condoms, had information about ways to discuss sex, and questions for teens to consider before they become sexually active.
"So often, (kids) have had few adults in their lives who can openly and honestly talk about sex," Hanson said.
Find more information on the UCC's sexuality education programs.