In a perfect world we would do without it

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AS A CHILD I was convinced that sex before marriage was against the law. As I grew older, I began to wonder why so many people were getting away with it. But now, what with condoms and consent forms, sex is practically illegal] The IRA bomber was treated like a criminal in the press for being bisexual as much as for being a bomber. We've developed a squeamishness, worthy of the Victorians, about all things human. Any physical contact between parents and children is suspect. The mere mention of child sexuality brings you under attack. Nudity is banned - adults are not supposed to look at naked children, nor children at adults (going to a swimming-pool changing room should therefore qualify as a traumatising event).

They'll ban the human body next. There's good reason to ban it: at least there would be no more rape. I'm sick of hearing that men find it hard to learn the signs; they misread signals; make innocent mistakes about 'No' meaning No; get confused. These symptoms indicate to me a man who's out of his depth. Perhaps he should take the trouble to learn the lingo before he descends on the country. A woman's body is not the Costa del Sol, where you can get fish and chips any time you want without knowing a word of Spanish.

The alternative is just as scary though: those frightened types fingering their legal consent forms in their trouser pockets. What good is a consent form filled out when the women is sober? Once drunk, her inhibitions may disappear only to reveal a deep revulsion, utter contempt, or any other variety of antipathy to the proposed, signed, sealed and delivering partner. Is he still legally entitled to have a go? If not, what use is the document? It really seems safer and easier to do without sex. Masturbation is cheap, efficient, and you can't catch a disease (unless you're particularly clumsy) and, as Woody Allen said, at least it's sex with someone you love.

There are areas of human life that resist legislation, yet there's a drive to ban not only sex, but all forms of eccentricity, darkness and fun. People want to expel anything they don't understand.

The first to go, as we know, are Jews, blacks, gypsies and the disabled. Next come the latest renegades from propriety: fatties, smokers, cyclists, single mothers, sluggards at traffic lights and people who persist in writing cheques. These are the untrustworthy elements of our society, and they are blamed for everything.

Oh, and funny people. Where is Victoria Wood? She used to be funny. Then she got slimmer, richer, famous and married, and now is nowhere to be seen. How about John Cleese? Shaped up, got all the anger psychoanalysed out of him, disappeared. Goodness is no laughing matter.

Woody Allen is another victim of the conformism crusade (as with Oscar Wilde, they were bound to get him in the end). Neurosis ain't fashionable - it reminds all those self-improved, aerobically aroused positive thinkers of what they're missing. I don't know what Woody Allen got up to with his kids. He's clearly made a lot of bad choices of sexual partner in his time, but who hasn't? Guilt was his trade mark; unfortunately for us, it's now his ruin. Sleeper was a superb movie; full of life, with slapstick and rag- time clarinet music. Now all we get is shadows and fog, crimes and misdemeanours, husbands and wives. Some of this is Ingmar Bergman's fault, but much of it is Mia Farrow's. Her innumerable children have to live under her edicts; we shouldn't.

Why has imperfection got such a bad press? Because we watch too goddam much American televison. There we see the well-groomed, good guys confront clear moral issues, and it all seems enviable. That seductive Happy Ending, just like the shopping mall or the Jumbo Burger or the White House: an illusion of ease and plenty and a good constitution. We don't see from over here the casualties of the American dream, the kangaroo-meat that went into that burger. American television teaches only happiness and violence, diverting us from our real pain and passions. Worst of all, it makes weirdness seem weird.

I have a friend who acted as unofficial agony uncle to his local community in Devon. He was approached by an elderly couple worried about their adult son and daughter, who'd been having an incestuous affair for years. He met and talked to the children, then suggested to the parents that the affair was doing no one any harm. The parents were comforted by this thought. In other words, there are kinder ways of dealing with taboos, than simply enforcing them.

Wallace Arnold is on holiday

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