Courtship displays are often important in determining male mating success but can also be costly. Thus, instead of courting females indiscriminately, males might be expected to adjust their signalling effort strategically. Theory, however, predicts that such adjustments should depend on the rate with which males encounter females, a prediction that has been subject to very little empirical testing. Here, we investigate the effects of female encounter rate on male courtship intensity by manipulating the time interval between sequential presentations of large (high quality) and small (low quality) females in a fish, the Australian desert goby Chlamydogobius eremius. Males that were presented with a small female immediately after a large female reduced their courtship intensity significantly. However, males courted large and small females with equal intensity if the interval between the sequential presentations was longer. Our results suggest that mate encounter rate is an important factor shaping male reproductive decisions and, consequently, the evolutionary potential of sexual selection.