We compared menstrual characteristics and constitutional factors in 268 white women with primary infertility due to endometriosis and in 3,794 white women admitted for delivery at seven collaborating hospitals from 1981 to 1983. Adjusting for confounding factors, including location, age, religion, and education, women with short-cycle lengths (≤27 days) and longer flow (greater than or equal to one week) had more than double the risk for endometriosis compared with women with longer cycle lengths and shorter duration of flow. There was a trend for increasing risk for endometriosis to be associated with increasing menstrual pain. Adjusting for these menstrual characteristics, we found decreased risk for endometriosis associated with smoking or exercise that was largely confined to women who began either habit at an early age and were heavier smokers or more strenuous exercisers. We conclude that risk for endometriosis may relate to menstrual factors that predispose to greater pelvic contamination with menstrual products and to constitutional factors that influence endogenous hormonal levels.