Fecal incontinence is a devastating condition that has a severe impact on quality of life. This condition disproportionately affects women and its incidence is increasing with the aging United States population. Fecal continence is maintained by coordination of a functioning anal sphincter complex, intact sensation of the anorectum, rectal compliance, and the ability to consciously control defecation. Particularly important are the puborectalis sling of the levator ani muscle complex and intact innervation of the central and peripheral nervous systems. An understanding of the intricate anatomy required to maintain continence and regulate defecation will help clinicians to provide appropriate medical and surgical management and diminish the negative impact of fecal incontinence. In this article, we describe the anatomic and neural basis of fecal continence and normal defecation as well as changes that occur with fecal incontinence in women. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.