Mobile genetic elements may be molecular parasites that reduce the fitness of individuals that bear them by causing predominantly deleterious mutations, but increase in frequency when rare because transposition increases their rates of transmission to the progeny of crosses between infected and uninfected individuals. If this is true, then the initial spread of a mobile element requires sex. We tested this prediction using the yeast retrotransposon Ty3 and a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae lacking Ty3. We infected replicate isogenic sexual and asexual populations with a galactose-inducible Ty3 element at an initial frequency of 1%. In two of six asexual populations, active Ty3 elements increased in frequency to 38 and 86%, due to the spread in each population of a competitively superior mutant carrying a new Ty3 insertion. Ty3 frequencies increased above 80% in all sexual populations in which transposition was induced in haplophase or in diplophase. Ty3 did not increase in frequency when active during both haplophase and diplophase, apparently because of selective sweeps during adaptation to galactose. Repressed Ty3 elements spread in sexual populations, by increasing sexual fitness. These results indicate that active Ty3 elements are more likely to become established in sexual populations than in asexual populations.