Previous research showed that ferrets of both sexes recognize potential opposite-sex mates on the basis of volatile body odors. We compared the ability of estrogen and androgen treatments to activate a preference in gonadectomized male and female ferrets for distal cues (volatile body odors alone or volatile odors+sight+sounds) from male versus female stimulus ferrets using an airtight Y-maze and a ‘stimulus proximity’ or a ‘discrete trials’ testing paradigm. Sexually naive, gonadectomized male and female ferrets that received either testosterone propionate (TP) or estradiol benzoate (EB) spent equal time in proximity to goal boxes that provided either volatile odors alone or odors+sight+sounds of male and female stimulus animals. After they received coital experience, male and female subjects (treated with either EB or TP) showed a significant preference for both types of opposite-sex stimuli. When discrete trials tests were given to these ferrets prior to receiving coital experience, EB-treated females preferred to approach odor only cues, as well as odors+sight+sounds of stimulus males, and this preference was further strengthened after coital experience. Sexually naive, TP-treated males preferred to approach volatile odor cues from stimulus females; however, these animals showed an equal preference for odors+sight+sounds of stimulus females and males. Again, after coital experience, males' preference for both sets of cues from stimulus females was significantly enhanced. Thus, in sexually naive ferrets, discrete trials, but not stimulus proximity tests, revealed a preference for distal cues (body odors with or without concurrent sight and sounds) from opposite-sex conspecifics in subjects of both sexes. Coital experience significantly enhanced these preferences for heterosexual distal cues under both testing paradigms.