Animals have evolved a bewildering diversity of mechanisms to determine the two sexes. Studies of sex determination genes – their history and function – in non-model insects and Drosophila have allowed us to begin to understand the generation of sex determination diversity. One common theme from these studies is that evolved mechanisms produce activities in either males or females to control a shared gene switch that regulates sexual development. Only a few small-scale changes in existing and duplicated genes are sufficient to generate large differences in sex determination systems. This review summarises recent findings in insects, surveys evidence of how and why sex determination mechanisms can change rapidly and suggests fruitful areas of future research.