Buying back-to-school essentials last week, the shops were crowded like a train during rush-hour.
A long list in hand, our No 1 priority, according to my 12-year-old, was to buy an iPhone screen protector.
We found one, and as the assistant laboriously polished the glass of my son’s phone, from the corner of my left eye I spotted the shop I didn’t know I needed.
‘I’m just going in there,’ I gestured toward Ann Summers as though I were off to buy a pint of milk.
‘For a joke present,’ I continued, pointing in vaguely the right direction, and managing to walk in three circles before I was propelled through the door like a woman possessed.
I must have looked frazzled and confused, and no bloody wonder — zero orgasms and a long summer can do that to a 49-year-old single mum of two.
Yet within the garish, low-lit interior of Ann Summers, I knew I would find what I needed.
I settled on a Womanizer (the type of sex toy I firmly believe should be prescribed on the NHS).
The truth is that, in the past few years I have often felt a similar, disorienting compulsion — a pulse of sexual energy that hits me at the most random of times and feels, frankly, untameable.
It is, of course, quite unexpected behaviour in a middle-aged mum. But no, I am not hooked on the female version of Viagra, although sometimes feel like it.
Instead, my libido skyrocketed thanks to the hormonal surge associated with the perimenopause — and has steadily grown even more combustible thanks to HRT.
I had felt my mood begin to lower as my 40s rolled on, so I began treatment at the age of 46.
I had no other symptoms or hot flushes, but I had witnessed my mother’s hellish menopause and assumed all that was to come thundering down the track at me.
So I went to the doctor as soon as I could for the HRT elixir. At last, I felt calmer — but my sex drive, which had been on an incline anyway, increased even more.
Not to put too fine a point on it, my clitoris became a veritable alarm bell, sounding loudly at every opportunity and most often when a random, half-decent-looking passer-by caught my attention. Awkward in the queue at Sainsbury’s.
I had no idea that fake hormones could have this effect on some women. That my daily dose of oestrogen — a single pump of EstroGel on each thigh — would result in a rabid sexual awakening of the kind I’d never experienced before. (And if you’re one of those women who knew, how come you kept that nugget of info to yourself?)
There are many listed side-effects on packages containing HRT but, as far as I’m concerned, the one they forgot to mention was: ‘High chance of making you feel so sexy you’ll want to sleep with the postman.’
It is honestly the best-kept secret of midlife womanhood, as though we’ve all stumbled on a female Viagra by accident.
I had been living away from the family home for six months when I began taking HRT, and in some ways it was a balm, allowing me to express myself sexually amid the terrible pain of my separation.
Like most girls who grew up in the 1980s, I spent my teens and 20s resolutely believing in ‘The One’.
My safe harbour, keeper of secrets, saviour and all-round prince, this was the man who would sweep me off my feet and then stay with me for life.
When it came to The One and sex, I couldn’t care less if it was good, bad or frankly indifferent — I just wanted the fairy tale I’d inhaled as a child to come true.
Now, however, whether it was The One or simply the one for tonight, I was ready to find someone.
It was how I found myself alone in a rented house one night, separated from my husband for just over a year and on my weekend without the children, logging on to a website called Toyboy Warehouse. A ridiculous name for a ridiculous site, I thought, even as I clicked on it.
Sure, I told myself, this will make for some funny banter with girlfriends later, especially when paired with wine. Yet secretly, I was intrigued for other reasons.
I was single and fancied a date or two, but why, really, would I log on to Toyboy Warehouse when there’s Hinge, Tinder and a plethora of other dating sites out there packed with more appropriate, like-minded men?
The truth is that I didn’t want to meet another life partner. I wanted sex without the boring build-up.
Was this what it felt like to be a hot-blooded young man, I wondered?
For a couple of days, I ogled profiles of ‘cubs looking for cougars’ and realised with a shudder that I was now classed as a potential ‘sugar momma’ in the online dating vernacular.
The site began to feel a little ominous and dark, and I began to feel grubby for looking at it.
But then, just as I was planning to delete my profile, I happened upon the profile of a Frenchman 13 years younger than me whom I quickly nicknamed Napoleon, despite him being 6 ft 2 in.
He looked ‘normal’ enough, with gorgeous lips, nice clothes, and no axes peeking out from cupboards in the background of his profile images. We arranged to meet.
He came to visit me, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pounce on first, my Deliveroo Lebanese or my tall, gorgeous Frenchman.
Around lunchtime on day two, a glimpse at our naked reflections in the mirror told me all I needed to know. This was fun. It was hot, wild and truly liberating.
Society suggests it’s practically a crime for women to be up for sex in middle age.
How revolting we must look in bed, compared with young 20-somethings with their perfectly toned physiques.
But such a view not only consigns half the world’s population to an arid sexlessness almost as soon as they’re past 30, but fails to recognise how real women really feel.
I’d rather be the woman I am today, rippling belly from birthing two large babies, upper arms that wobble, and a dimpled bottom that I know Napoleon finds sexy — all the imperfections that come with midlife, in other words — than the younger woman I once was who lay there like a sex doll with rigor mortis.
Newsflash: the idea that women mostly go off sex post-40 is a myth.
Some perimenopausal and menopausal women, even those not on HRT, are experiencing a surge in hormones and confidence that is seeing them enjoy sex much more in their 40s and 50s than they did in their vulnerable 20s.
I swear if this were a male midlife phenomenon, it would be front page news every single day.
Indeed, despite the silver fox images of the earlier James Bond movies, some middle-aged men experience a decrease in libido just as their wives enjoy the opposite. He’s sloping around in tartan slippers while she’s raring to go. Oh dear.
Napoleon and I have a committed (and recently monogamous) relationship, and it’s an unconventional one that works wonders for us.
We have spent long periods spanning many months apart, and during one of our ‘apart’ moments, we both enjoyed sex with other people.
Except, as we both discovered, it wasn’t as absolutely fabulous as we are together, and so, a little dramatically, we got back together again.
And yes, you guessed it, the sex on that occasion was better than ever.
Clearly, I haven’t always been this confident or experimental. Far from it.
Sexually active since the age of 17, I didn’t experience an orgasm until the age of 25, and that was with a toy, not a man.
In fact, it was during a series of short relationships in my 20s that I perfected my inert sex doll act, playing along but never feeling or enjoying it myself.
I suspected that great lovemaking was out there, and I hoped against hope it would happen with someone I was in a relationship with, but it never really seemed to. Perhaps, I thought, that too was a myth.
Ten years after we walked down the aisle and by now 44, I resigned myself to settling into a traditional marriage where motherhood took priority over my passions and desires. I wasn’t a young bride and yet in some ways I barely knew myself.
Fast forward a few years, and I bumped into an old school friend I hadn’t seen since the age of 17 outside a pub.
He asked for my phone number and in the days that followed, despite being married with children himself, the school friend pursued me.
You don’t need to be a genius to work out what happened next. For a while, we exchanged missives long into the night detailing how unhappy and unloved we felt in our marriages, and then one day, meeting for a drink at The Groucho Club in central London, we had sex.
The sex was not rocket-launch brilliant, but it wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about him either. It was about me feeling desired and sexy.
And I really did feel sexy. At 46, turbo-charged by HRT, I began to dress differently.
With a long career in fashion under my Valentino belt, I know all about the power of clothes, and now I chucked out the voluminous dresses and sensible flat shoes of my early 40s and replaced them with an array of short skirts, 10 denier tights and stiletto heels.
I felt seen again — by my friends, by men and by myself, and suddenly it felt as though the last hurrah of my ovaries was all I had to live for.
‘There’s nothing lonelier than feeling alone in a marriage,’ I’d tell myself to justify the fling — four weeks of texting and a single night in a hotel.
But it was enough, and, of course, my husband discovered it, filed for divorce, and I really was now utterly alone.
Alone, but still in possession of all this newfound sexuality. Ditching the old school friend but keeping up with the HRT, I started to date.
I met men in nightclubs and hot new restaurants. There were some spectacular howlers — the rich man I met in a flat with a gold console table and piles of expensive art books who reminded me of the lead character in American Psycho.
The men with the beefcake, fake-tanned bodies, which seem a male requisite nowadays but are so alien to women my age.
The narrow escape from the man outside a hotel who put his hands around my neck.
The men who spent the entire date talking about their wives. And yet I was amazed to find myself the opposite of self-conscious in those early days of separation.
Once, on the dance floor at a private members’ club, my eye even caught that of another woman, and tugging her long, blonde Rapunzel plait towards me, I started kissing her there and then.
Emboldened, on another night, I ended up with a gorgeous woman in a black corset in the loos at celebrity hangout Chiltern Firehouse. It felt a long way from polite coffee mornings.
I even went to a fetish night, only to discover it wasn’t really my thing.
The truth was, I was, slowly but surely, beginning to find myself. And it wasn’t about the sex — though that was an enjoyable pastime.
No, it was about meeting the woman I truly am — for the first time.
So now here I am, three years after the end of my marriage. I’d be lying if I said the pain of divorce does not still linger around the edges of life. It does.
And some may question why I pursued my own happiness to what might have proved the detriment of my family life.
But in doing so, I’ve discovered I am now a far more patient and present parent, a better friend and I am more understanding of other people’s needs.
I am also at last sexually fulfilled. Or at least I am when I’m with either Napoleon or my latest purchase from Ann Summers.
That post-school drop-off ritual is now well-established. Sunglasses off, car keys down on table, dogs popped into the kitchen, back to bed, explosive orgasm within five minutes, coffee, cigarette and I’m ready to start the day. (Joking. I don’t smoke.)
Is it all thanks to HRT? Perhaps not all — five years of therapy have made a major contribution too — but the magic of EstroGel certainly plays its part.
For so long, it feels, women’s bodies are dedicated to the duties of motherhood, and then comes these years in the late 40s when they’re not.
For me, one year off 50, HRT has unlocked something — my imagination, my desire, my inhibitions.
The real reason I’m finally having the mind-blowing sex I always hoped for? It’s not the men, not even the lovely Napoleon. It’s me.
- In Pursuit Of Happiness: Mating, Marriage, Motherhood, Money, Mayhem by Stacey Duguid (£18.99, Piatkus) is out now.