This study aims to determine the relative contribution of oocyte and/or sperm dysfunction to the reduction of fertilization rates in vitro in cases of minor endometriosis and prolonged unexplained infertility. The results of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment with ovarian stimulation have been compared between couples with the above conditions and women with tubal infertility (as control for oocyte function) and the use of donor spermatozoa (as control for sperm function). Fertilization and cleavage rates using husband's spermatozoa were significantly reduced in endometriosis couples (56%, n = 194, P < 0.001) and further significantly reduced in couples with unexplained infertility (52%, n = 327, P < 0.001) compared with tubal infertility (60%, n = 509). Using donor spermatozoa the rates were the same as using husband's spermatozoa in tubal infertility (61%, n = 27) or endometriosis (55%, n = 21) but significantly though only partly improved with unexplained infertility (57%, n = 60, P < 0.02). In unexplained infertility, a significantly increased proportion of couples experienced complete failure of fertilization and cleavage in a cycle (5-6% versus 2-3%). However, complete failure was not usually repetitive, and the affected couples did not account for the overall reduction in fertilization and cleavage rates, which remained significantly lower in the rest of the unexplained and endometriosis groups. Implantation and pregnancy rates appeared similar in all groups. The benefit of IVF treatment in cases of minor endometriosis and prolonged unexplained infertility is due to superabundance of oocytes obtained by stimulation. The reduction in natural fertility associated with endometriosis appears to be at least partly due to a reduced fertilizing ability of the oocyte. In unexplained infertility, there is distinct impairment due to otherwise unsuspected sperm dysfunction but probably also oocyte dysfunction.