At the moment of insemination, millions of mammalian sperm cells are released into the female reproductive tract with the single goal of finding the oocyte. The spermatozoa subsequently ignore the thousands of cells they make contact with during their journey to the site of fertilization, until they reach the surface of the oocyte. At this point, they bind tenaciously to the acellular coat, known as the zona pellucida, which surrounds the oocyte and orchestrate a cascade of cellular interactions that culminate in fertilization. These exquisitely cell- and species- specific recognition events are among the most strategically important cellular interactions in biology. Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underpin them has implications for the etiology of human infertility and the development of novel targets for fertility regulation. Herein we describe our current understanding of the molecular basis of successful sperm–zona pellucida binding.