The plethora of studies devoted to the topics of male competition and female mate choice belie the fact that their interaction remains poorly understood. Indeed, on the question of whether competition should help or hinder the choice process, opinions scattered throughout the sexual selection literature seem unnecessarily polarised. We argue, in the light of recent theoretical and empirical advances, that the effect of competition on mate choice depends on whether it results in the choosy sex attaining high breeding value for total fitness, considering both direct and indirect fitness benefits. Specifically, trade-offs may occur between different fitness benefits if some are correlated with male competitive ability whilst others are not. Moreover, the costs and benefits of mating with competitive males may vary in time and/or space. These considerations highlight the importance of injecting a life-history perspective into sexual selection studies. Within this context, we turn to the sexual selection literature to try to offer insights into the circumstances when competition might be expected to have positive or negative implications for pre-copulatory female choice. In this regard, we elaborate on three stages where competition might impact upon the choice process: (i) during mate detection, (ii) mate evaluation, and (iii) in dictating actual mating outcomes. We conclude by offering researchers several potentially rewarding avenues for future research.