The benefits and risks of episiotomy in labor and delivery as recorded in the English language literature in over 350 books and articles published since 1860 are reviewed and analyzed. Episiotomy is performed in over 60 per cent of all deliveries in the United States and in a much higher per cent of primigravidas. Yet, there is no clearly defined evidence for its efficacy, particularly for routine use. In addition, although poorly studied, there is evidence that postpartum pain and discomfort are accentuated after episiotomy, and serious complications, including maternal death, can be associated with the procedure. Therefore, carefully designed controlled trials of benefit and risk should be carried out on the use of episiotomy.