The lipid bilayer moiety of biological membranes is considered to be the primary barrier to free diffusion of water and solutes. This conclusion arises from observations of lipid bilayer model membrane systems, which are generally less permeable than biological membranes. However, the nature of the permeability barrier remains unclear, particularly with respect to ionic solutes. For instance, anion permeability is significantly greater than cation permeability, and permeability to proton-hydroxide is orders of magnitude greater than to other monovalent inorganic ions. In this review, we first consider bilayer permeability to water and discuss proposed permeation mechanisms which involve transient defects arising from thermal fluctuations. We next consider whether such defects can account for ion permeation, including proton-hydroxide flux. We conclude that at least two varieties of transient defects are required to explain permeation of water and ionic solutes.