The use of norethisterone to control the timing of the preceding menstrual cycle and in consequence the timing of the in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle has been evaluated in a therapeutic IVF programme in which oocyte recovery was limited to 2 days each week. A consecutive series of 181 cycles after norethisterone and 29 untreated controls were compared. Menstruation occurred 2- 3 days after norethisterone as planned in 82% of patients overall and in 87% of patients whose menstrual cycle length varied by no more than 2 days about the median. Norethisterone treatment did not significantly affect the outcome of IVF treatment compared with the controls in respect to cycles abandoned (12 versus 0%, respectively), peak follicular diameter (mean 18.1 mm versus 18.3 mm 48 h before laparoscopy), oocyte recovery rate (4.6 versus 4.5 per patient), oocyte morphology (63% versus 52% mature), or fertilization rate (72 versus 65% of mature oocytes). Clinical pregnancies were too few for comparison (rates 27 versus 9% per laparoscopy) but the overall rate (23%) indicated effectiveness of the methods. Prior norethisterone treatment appears to be an effective and useful means of controlling the timing of the oocyte recovery in IVF treatment. © 1986 IRL Press Ltd.