A study was conducted to assess the frequency of episiotomy and spontaneous tears in 807 primiparas during singleton births. The incidence of episiotomy was 50%, spontaneous tears 22% and intact perineum 28%. A significantly lower frequency of episiotomy (P less than 0.001) as well as epidural anaesthesia (P less than 0.001) was found among immigrant women. There were no indications registered for 58% of the episiotomies. The non-episiotomy group experienced more clitoris/labia tears (P less than 0.01). On the other hand there was a tendency towards an increased risk for second and third degree tears, 4.2% in the episiotomy group compared to 1.7% in the non-episiotomy group (P = 0.06). Haemorrhage (greater than 600 ml) was more frequent in the episiotomy group than in the non-episiotomy group (P less than 0.001). We conclude that there is little support for the claim that episiotomy prevents tears in normal deliveries, and that the rationale for the practice of episiotomy is in need of reappraisal.