Our aim was to study the effect of temperament and sexual experience on female sexual behaviour. We used ewes from a flock that had been genetically selected for 'calm' or 'nervous' temperament, in which oestrus was synchronized by a 14-day treatment with intravaginal progesterone sponge. Using standardized behavioural tests to measure the proceptivity (initiative in establishing interaction with the male and active sexual solicitation) and the receptivity (acceptance of the male nudges and adoption of mating posture), we compared the sexual behaviour of females from four groups that differed in their temperament (calm or nervous) and their sexual experience (2-4 years experienced or 1-2 years naive). Compared to nervous ewes, calm ewes were significantly more proceptive 32 h after sponge withdrawal (P < 0.05) and more receptive 48 and 72 h after sponge withdrawal (P < 0.05). Experienced ewes, both calm and nervous, were more receptive than inexperienced ewes 64 h after sponge withdrawal (P < 0.05). We conclude that temperament and lack of sexual experience and/or age can affect female sexual behaviour in sheep and that these two factors should be taken into consideration for flock management. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.