Helen’s dilemma illustrates the disorientation that women in her position can experience.

What they all agree on is one thing: that they need is a place to go to, real or virtual, where they can meet others going through the same experience - and to find ways of regaining control of their lives.

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Others, like Veronica*, found that friends who knew the truth were suddenly too busy to see them.

“Either they were embarrassed by what I told them,” she told me, “or they simply didn’t want to know.

Contrary to popular belief, they come from all walks of life, from teenagers to pensioners.

Nor are they all lonely men seeking solace; many have partners and are in long-term relationships or marriages. Numerous academic studies and articles have explored the demographics of punters and sex workers, the horrors of trafficking, and the merits or otherwise of decriminalising prostitution.

What’s more, those women who were brave enough to confide in a friend did not always find a sympathetic ear.

The advice given was often to “pull yourself together”.

Deeply moved by her predicament, I decided to write a novel on the subject.

Like many of the women I subsequently interviewed, Sarah had believed that hers was a happy relationship, with a healthy sex life.

The obsession brought her close to a breakdown and “completely took over my days”.