1. Important sex differences exist in ischaemic heart disease. Oestrogen has been conventionally regarded as providing a cardioprotective benefit and testosterone frequently perceived to exert a deleterious effect. However, there is accumulating evidence that argues against this simple dichotomy, suggesting that the influence of oestrogen and testosterone conferring benefit or detriment may be context specific. 2. Cardiomyocyte calcium (Ca(2+)) loading is recognized to be a major factor in acute ischaemia-reperfusion pathology, promoting cell death, contractile dysfunction and arrhythmogenic activity. Ca(2+)/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII) is a mediator of many of the cardiomyocyte Ca(2+)-related pathologies in ischaemia-reperfusion. Cardiomyocyte Ca(2+)-handling processes have been shown to be modulated by the actions of oestrogen and testosterone. A role for these sex steroids in influencing CaMKII activation is argued. 3. Although many experimental studies of oestrogen manipulation can identify a cardioprotective role for this sex steroid, there are also numerous reports that fail to demonstrate sex differences in postischaemic recovery. Experimental studies report that testosterone can be protective in ischaemia-reperfusion in males and females in some settings. 4. Further studies of sex steroid influence in the ischaemic heart will allow the development of therapeutic interventions that are specifically targeted for male and female hearts.