Despite the call for universal access to reproductive health at the 4th International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, sexual and reproductive health was omitted from the Millennium Development Goals and remains neglected (panel 1). Unsafe sex is the second most important risk factor for disability and death in the world's poorest communities and the ninth most important in developed countries. Cheap effective interventions are available to prevent unintended pregnancy, provide safe abortions, help women safely through pregnancy and child birth, and prevent and treat sexually transmitted infections. Yet every year, more than 120 million couples have an unmet need for contraception, 80 million women have unintended pregnancies (45 million of which end in abortion), more than half a million women die from complications associated with pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period, and 340 million people acquire new gonorrhoea, syphilis, chlamydia, or trichomonas infections. Sexual and reproductive ill-health mostly affects women and adolescents. Women are disempowered in much of the developing world and adolescents, arguably, are disempowered everywhere. Sexual and reproductive health services are absent or of poor quality and underused in many countries because discussion of issues such as sexual intercourse and sexuality make people feel uncomfortable. The increasing influence of conservative political, religious, and cultural forces around the world threatens to undermine progress made since 1994, and arguably provides the best example of the detrimental intrusion of politics into public health.