There have been conflicting opinions regarding the superiority of open and laparoscopic surgery in preserving bladder and sexual function after rectal cancer surgery. This systematic review and meta-analysis aims to pool the available data comparing the impact of surgical approaches on postoperative sexual and urinary function. A search of Pubmed, Medline, Cochrane and Embase was undertaken and studies from January 2000 to February 2013 were identified. We included, in our meta-analysis, both prospective and retrospective studies that compared laparoscopic surgery and open surgery for rectal cancer. A total of 876 patients undergoing rectal cancer surgery (lap n = 468, open n = 408) were examined. In men, postoperative ejaculatory function and erectile dysfunction evaluated from two studies comprising of 74 patients showed no difference between groups. The rate of overall sexual dysfunction evaluated from five studies comprising of 289 patients revealed a rate of 34 in both the open and lap groups. Postoperative urinary function evaluated from five studies comprising of 312 patients showed no difference between groups. In women, postoperative sexual and urinary function were evaluated from five studies comprising of 321 patients. Three studies (n = 219) reported no difference in sexual function between groups. Postoperative urinary function evaluated from four studies comprising of 212 patients was found to be comparable. The available data are limited, but suggest that neither form of surgical approach be it laparoscopy or open surgery demonstrate superiority in preservation of sexual and bladder function. Further research into the technical aspects of surgery and evaluating newer minimally invasive technologies such as the robot may prove to be useful in improving functional outcomes of rectal cancer patients.