Hitting the sack used to mean it was time for sex or sleep. Not any more, says ANNALISA BARBIERI - just ask Hillary Clinton
Bed. Depending on where you are in your life you will either think "that safe, warm place I sleep in" or you will snigger and think of arms and legs (sometimes more than two pairs of each) intertwined and bouncing up and down.

But actually, we all do much more mundane things in our beds. Last week Hillary Clinton revealed in an interview that she and Bill "like to lie in bed and watch old movies - you know, those little individual video machines you can hold in your lap?" It is perhaps not surprising that this is the bed-place activity that Hills chooses to reveal. If the lascivious Bill spent more time in bed with his wife, she probably wouldn't have needed to give the interview in the first place. But it got me thinking, what do couples really do in their beds?

As an Italian I know that the bed is a sacred place used only to further the Catholic race or sleep in (after having said your prayers). Beds are stripped early in the morning, aired and made with strict hospital corners (duvets are regarded as the work of the devil). The shutters are then closed and the bedroom - let alone the bed - is not revisited again until either siesta or bedtime. And outdoor clothes are never, never, never allowed on the bed. Thus doing anything "daytime" in my bed makes me feel incredibly indulgent.

But it seems in this I lie alone. Those I quizzed under 40 saw nothing wrong with using their beds as an extension of their living rooms or kitchen tables. "We play Scrabble or chess in our bed," says Angela, 27, who owns a "futon with wooden ledge surround which is good for balancing cups of tea". Why not on the coffee table? "I'm too lazy". (Futons featured highly because their solid surface is perfect as table/floor extensions.) "When we got married, we had an enormous divan bed," says William, 38, "but after a while I missed my futon, on which I could leave a cup of tea all night and play Monopoly. In fact," he continues with a nostalgic sniff, "I could even build a house of cards on it when I was stoned."

Australian-born Richard, 30, not surprisingly, has a far more sportive element to his bed-place activities. "Me and Emma play a type of Aussie Rules Football whereby you get different points according to what the ball hits: the light, the wall, the ceiling etc. And if it goes out of the window then you have to promise to make breakfast."

Helen and Andrew, meanwhile, go for decadence in bed. "After a hard day's work," says Helen, "we creep into bed with our cat, for a good game of backgammon, a glass of wine and some olives."

But those over 40 are far more reverential. "I was brought up to believe that eating in bed was only for when you're ill," says Cathy, 43. "So it's only recently that I've `let' myself watch TV in bed, and it feels incredibly indulgent."

"I think it's absolutely disgusting," proclaims Luisa, 68, "not to mention unhygienic to use the bed to eat in!"

For those who are really serious about living from their beds, the one to buy is the Hulsta "Rumat" double bed which has two individual single mattresses that go up and down by remote control. It is fantastically expensive (pounds 2,600-pounds 5,000) and has been around for nearly 30 years - just about the time folk were starting to use their beds for more than just lounging about in. "It is fine," said a Hulsta spokesperson, "if people use our beds for anything other than sleeping, although the mattresses won't last as long."

Bill and Hillary actually sleep - I am reliably informed by the world's press - in separate bedrooms, so this cosying up with hand-held TV sets seems oddly forced. And perhaps indicative. "A television in the bedroom," says William, "kills your sex life." Ahh, so it wasn't Monica's fault then.