Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) is a common condition in women and rates of consultation for CPP in general practice are similar to those for asthma and migraine. US and UK population-based studies, together with data from UK hospital settings demonstrate a substantial impact of CPP on health-related quality of life. In this review, we will examine the current evidence on the aetiology and management of CPP, focussing on the randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that are available to date. CPP is a heterogeneous condition and causation is often unclear. There are associations with specific pathological processes but a barrier to understanding is that many studies have data that are not comparable. In the community setting, as many as 60% of women with CPP have not received a specific diagnosis and up to 20% have not undergone any investigation. The factor most commonly associated with CPP in the community is irritable bowel syndrome, although in a tertiary setting with laparoscopy, pathology associated with CPP in ascending order of frequency is endometriosis (33%), adhesions (24%) and 'no pathology' (35%). Current RCT evidence provides some support for the use of ultrasound scanning as an aid to counselling and reassurance, progestogen (medroxyprogesterone acetate) or goserelin for pelvic congestion and a multidisciplinary approach to assessment and treatment. Adhesiolysis is not shown to be of benefit other than in women with extensive adhesions. While studied in relation to dysmenorrhoea rather than CPP, the short term results for presacral neurectomy (PSN) and laparoscopic utero-sacral nerve ablation (LUNA) seem to be similar, although PSN has better results in the long term. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants have not been shown to be of benefit in CPP. Most of these conclusions are based on the outcome of single randomised trials and therefore need replication.