Summary. When maintained under a 14L:10D photoperiod, the duration of behavioural receptivity in female golden hamsters was about 18–21 h depending on age and/or parity. The effectiveness of mating stimuli in initiating pregnancy was shown to be a function of when in the receptive period (early, middle, late) that mating occurred. During the 9-h period before ovulation, 5 ejaculatory series were sufficient to produce a nearly 100% pregnancy rate and maximum litter size. During the ovulation period, however, high pregnancy rates were achieved only when mating continued to satiety (12–15 ejaculatory series plus 10–24 long intromissions). Late in the receptive period even mating to satiety failed to result in a pregnancy. In general, pregnancy rates were significantly higher for young virgin than for older multiparous females when mating occurred during or after the ovulation period. The reduced fecundity of females mating during or after ovulation was due to insufficient vaginocervical stimulation to induce functional luteal activity and not to lack of spermatozoa. Females mating late in the receptive period did not show a cessation of oestrous cycles which characteristically follows the induction of a luteal phase. Greater amounts of vaginocervical stimulation during this time increased the number of females which delivered litters but had no significant effect on litter size. These results suggest that levels of male copulatory behaviour considered 'excessive' when mating occurs early in the receptive period are essential for pregnancy initiation when mating occurs later.