This review comprises the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of natural and synthetic estrogens and progestogens used in contraception and therapy, with special consideration of hormone replacement therapy. The paper describes the mechanisms of action, the relation between structure and hormonal activity, differences in hormonal pattern and potency, peculiarities in the properties of certain steroids, tissue-specific effects, and the metabolism of the available estrogens and progestogens. The influence of the route of administration on pharmacokinetics, hormonal activity and metabolism is presented, and the effects of oral and transdermal treatment with estrogens on tissues, clinical and serum parameters are compared. The effects of oral, transdermal (patch and gel), intranasal, sublingual, buccal, vaginal, subcutaneous and intramuscular administration of estrogens, as well as of oral, vaginal, transdermal, intranasal, buccal, intramuscular and intrauterine application of progestogens are discussed. The various types of progestogens, their receptor interaction, hormonal pattern and the hormonal activity of certain metabolites are described in detail. The structural formulae, serum concentrations, binding affinities to steroid receptors and serum binding globulins, and the relative potencies of the available estrogens and progestins are presented. Differences in the tissue-specific effects of the various compounds and regimens and their potential implications with the risks and benefits of hormone replacement therapy are discussed.