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A reproducible electrophysiological technique is described to determine the latency of reflex contraction of the external anal sphincter in response to stimulation of the dorsal genital nerve: the pudendo-anal reflex. This was studied in 38 asymptomatic control subjects and 20 women with neurogenic faecal incontinence, supplemented by determination of the mean motor unit potential duration (MUPD) of the external anal sphincter and anorectal manometry. The reflex latency in the control group was 38.5 +/- 5.8 (SD) ms and appeared to be independent of age or sex. Three patients with faecal incontinence had absent reflexes; the remainder showed significant prolongation of latency (56 +/- 12.2 SD ms) and diminution of amplitude. MUPD was prolonged in incontinence and showed significant correlation with the corresponding reflex latency determination (tau = 0.56, p less than 0.001). The latency of this polysynaptic spinal reflex hence provides a reliable index of neuropathy of the external anal sphincter.