Maternal and paternal effects can lead to complicated evolutionary dynamics, including evolution in the opposite direction to selection. Recent studies demonstrate that parental effects on sexually selected traits, as well as preferences for those traits, might be large. Although these findings are likely to have consequences for both the evolutionary dynamics and equilibria of sexual selection, theory is lacking. Because parents are expected to maximize their own fitness, rather than that of a specific offspring, the magnitude (and even direction) of parental effects are context dependent. By extension, this dynamic nature of parental effects might help to explain the maintenance of variation in many sexually selected traits.