The study of insect seminal fluid proteins provides a unique window upon adaptive evolution in action. The seminal fluid of Drosophila melanogaster contains over 80 proteins and peptides, which are transferred together with sperm by mating males. The functions of many of these substances are not yet known. However, those that have been characterized have marked effects on the reproductive success of males and females. For example, seminal fluid proteins and peptides can decrease female receptivity, can increase egg production and can increase sperm storage, and are necessary for sperm transfer and success in sperm competition. In this review we focus on the currently known functions of seminal fluid molecules and on new technologies and approaches that are enabling novel questions about their form and function to be addressed. We discuss how techniques for disrupting the production of seminal fluid proteins, such as homologous recombination and RNA interference, along with the use of microarrays and yeast two hybrid systems, should allow us to address ever more sophisticated questions about seminal fluid protein function. These and similar techniques promise to reveal the function of naturally-occurring variants of these proteins and hence the evolutionary significance of genetic variation for them.