Young people, according to a recent report, are very confused on the issue of "consent" in an intimate relationship. Some are not entirely clear what "consent" is. Some aren't sure if it's ongoing, or temporary. Some feel unable to voice their consent, or lack of consent, within a relationship. Some lack the confidence to express their "desires and dislikes". Some are worried about feeling bullied, or forced, into sexual relationships, or acts. Some are afraid of repercussions if they refuse to yield. Some are afraid of being judged, rejected, or described as "frigid".
So far as I know, a lot of these worries, concerns and doubts have been around for quite a while. I once trawled through the agony aunt pages back in the 1950s. That's a long time ago, so it's history. Relationships were conducted according to different norms. But one thread was constant, when it came to relationships: anxiety.
The question that most frequently occurred was from young women who felt under pressure to do as their boyfriends requested. This was the perennial, "Should I sleep with my boyfriend? He says that, if I truly loved him, I should do as he wants." There was also, "He says he will leave me unless I do." Girls also asked: "If I sleep with my boyfriend, will he lose respect for me?"
Back in those days, the doyenne of agony aunts, Evelyn Home (real name Peggy Makins) in Woman magazine, invariably replied that sleeping with the boyfriend should only be done when there is a plain gold band on the third finger of the left hand - ie marriage.
The agony aunts of this decade were prudish, but they were also protective of young women, who, frankly, might well be left "holding the baby" in those pre-Pill times.
In that era, the feelings and desires of the women themselves were seldom explored; that changed as time went by, when a new generation of agony aunts began to encourage women to express their own sexuality and to seek a relationship that was rewarding and satisfying for them.
And, yet, the anxieties always continued: the veteran agony aunt Irma Kurtz, who served international Cosmopolitan magazine for many years, says that, although circumstances alter, the same anxieties about relationships arise again and again. In fact, she gave up the gig because the questions became so repetitious.
I suppose that, in past times, the rules were simpler and, some would say, crueller. "Thou shalt not," was often the advice given. A woman might pay a high price, either by pregnancy or "loss of reputation" (quite a consideration), for being sexually active.
With the demand for equality, the rules changed: they became much more liberated; they also became fuzzier and more complicated.
And maybe the young people who are the target audience for explaining these rules should be told the honest truth about sexual relationships; which is that things often are complicated when it comes to "consent".
As far as I recall, it can be excruciatingly embarrassing if someone fancies you, but, though the desire is not reciprocated, you don't want to be unkind. It can be excruciatingly embarrassing and humiliating, too, when it's the other way around. And while "No means No" was a catchy phrase, coined with the best of intentions by the feminist movement, unfortunately it is contradicted by numberless songs, legends, novels, movies, operas and movies which we've loved.
From Jane Austen to the Hollywood rom-com, the narrative of seduction is about persuading a reluctant object of romantic yearnings to succumb to the lover's ardour. Coercion is odious, but persuasion has been blessed by every form of storytelling that we know.
And to repeat, yes, coercion, or any form of force, or bullying, is unacceptable, there is a vocabulary of stigma for those who engaged in such tactics - "cads", "bounders", "rotters", "blaggards".
But it would also be untruthful to teach young people that individuals don't get persuaded, charmed, attracted, bewitched, enticed, excited, or enraptured into relationships, at a moment when it all feels entirely voluntary.
Human beings are not robots. "Consent" isn't like signing a contractual rental agreement: what you feel on Tuesday may not be what you feel on Friday, particularly if, on Friday, you have partaken of a particularly decent few glasses of Prosecco.
Campaigners are, I'm sure, serious and sincere in seeking to guide the young through what can be something of a quagmire. They are, surely, right to encourage self-confidence, to resist pressure to comply for the sake of others; it is also right to report abusive relationships which involve harassment, or exploitation, by a person in a position of power.
But tell the truth: sex is frequently complicated; often volatile; not necessarily rational; and there can be unspoken elements. Shakespeare suggests that consent is signalled by a silent message from a woman's eyes: "Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages."
This might not stand up in a court of law today, but for some people, and at some times, it may still be what they feel.