The means by which stress influences reproduction is not clearly understood, but may involve a number of endocrine, paracrine and neural systems. Stress impacts on the reproductive axis at the hypothalamus (to affect GnRH secretion) and the pituitary gland (to affect gonadotrophin secretion), with direct effects on the gonads being of less importance. Different stressors have different effects and there are differences in response to short- and long-term stress. Many short-term stresses fail to affect reproduction and there are reports of stimulatory effects of some 'stressors'. There are species differences in the way that specific stressors affect reproduction. Sex differences in the effects of a particular stressor have been delineated and these may relate to effects of stress at different levels of the hypothalamo-pituitary axis. The significance of stress-induced secretion of cortisol varies with species. In some instances, there appears to be little impact of short-term increases in cortisol concentrations and protracted increases in plasma concentration seem to be required before any deleterious effect on reproduction is apparent. Issues of sex, sex steroid status, type of stressor and duration of stress need to be considered to improve understanding of this issue.